Great Russian Gifts


All you ever wanted to know about Russian verbs . . .
   
The Russian Verbal Stems
   

Phi THE BASICS Phi
In order to learn how to form Russian verbs here, you must already know the basic spelling rules of Russian and apply them after the rules discussed here are applied. If you are not sure of them, review them now before proceeding.

The General Nature of the Russian Verb

The Russian verb is always composed of two parts: (1) a stem and (2) a conjugational ending. Two basic types of stems and two types of endings determine the present-future form. Neither stems nor endings occur alone, but always in conjunction with one another.

The two major types of verb stems are Consonant Stems and Vowel Stems.

Consonant Stems are those verb stems which end on a consonant. There are two significant types: 'wimpy' consonant stems and 'tough' consonant stems. (You'll see in the next section why they are wimpy or tough; for the time being, just remember them.)

Wimpy consonant stems end on в н м or й.жив- "live"
стан- "become, begin"
плыв- "swim, float, sail"
делай- "do, make"
Tough consonant stems may end on any other consonant. ид- "go"
мог- "can, may"
нёс- "carry (on foot)"
грёб- "row"

Vowel stems are those verb stems which end on a vowel. There are two significant types of these: front-vowel and back-vowel stems.

Front-vowel stems end on either и or е. смотре- "watch, look"
виде- "see"
говори- "talk, tell"
купи- "buy"
Back-vowel stems end on а, у, or о. жда- "wait-for"
писа- "write"
верну- "return"
коло- "stick, impale"
OOO Russian Verbal Endings OOO
The Present-Future Endings.

There are two sets of endings used on Russian verbs to mark the present tense of imperfective verbs and the future tense of perfective verbs: those of the First or E-conjugation and those of the Second or И-Conjugation. The endings of the two conjugations are almost identical except for the initial vowel of all the endings. In the First Conjugation that vowel is e except in the 3rd person plural, where it is у (or ю). In the Second Conjugation the vowel is и everywhere except 3rd person plural where it is a (or я).

The First (E) Conjugation
The Present-Future Endings
First Person Singular (я) First Person Plural (мы) -ём
Second Person Singular (ты) -ёшь Second Person Plural (вы) -ёте
Third Person Singular (он она оно) -ёт Third Person Plural (они) -ут

First conjugation endings are added to

(1) consonant stems like стан- : стану "I will become"
жив- : живу "I live"
ид- : идёшь "you're going"
нёс- : несёт "(s)he's carrying"
мог- : могут "they can"
(2) to back-vowel stems, unless the vowel is preceded by ш ж ч or щжда- : ждёшь "you're waiting"but слыша- : слышишь
"you're hearing"
писа- : пишет "(s)he's writing" but стуча- : стучит
"(s)he's knocking"
верну- : вернём "we will return" but держа- : держим
"we keep, hold"
The Second (И) Conjugation
The Present-Future Endings
First Person Singular (я) First Person Plural (мы) -им
Second Person Singular (ты) -ишь Second Person Plural (вы) -ите
Third Person Singular (он она оно) -ит Third Person Plural (они) -ят

Second conjugation endings are added to

(1) front-vowel stems купи- "buy"
смотре- "look"
ходи- "go"
(2) stems on -a preceded by hushes: ш ж ч or щ держа- "hold, keep"
слыша- "hear"
стуча- "knock"
The Past Tense Endings

The Past Tense of a verb indicates that the action indicated by the verb occurred in the past. The Past Tense for both conjugations is formed by adding to the stem + gender marker, -o for neuter, -a for feminine, nothing for masculine, in the singular and in the plural. The past tense of сказа- "say, tell" is сказа-л-, as shown below.

(он) сказал "he/it said"
(она) сказала "she/it said"
(оно) сказало "it said"
(они) сказали "they said"

The stem does not change if the past tense ending is added to a vowel stem; however, this ending doesn't like consonants and usually makes some adjustments to consonant stems which we will examine further along.

The Infinitive Endings

The Infinitive corresponds to verb phrases beginning with to in English, e. g. I want to read (Russian: я хочу читать). Whenever an auxiliary is used in Russian, the main verb must be an infinitive whether it is in English or not, e. g. I must read versus Russian я доджна читать. Here are the rules for forming the Russian infinitive.

The Imperative Ending

The Imperative Mood is used in issuing a command or order, e. g. Give me that book! or Open the door!. Here are the rules for forming the Imperative Mood in Russian.


You should now know all the forms of the Russian verb except those of the participles. They will come later. Next we have to look at certain changes which take place in the stems when endings are added to them. Russian sounds are unsociable: they don't like sounds like themselves. Consonants get along with vowels and vowels with consonants, but consonants don't like other consonants and vowels don't like other vowels. In the next section we will see what happens when they end up next to each other in a verb form. Just click the right arrow below. Oh, yes, one other thing—there are a few exceptions.


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© 1996 Robert Beard