Verbs indicate the action or state of the subject noun.

The Rules of Stem-Ending Combination

The simplicity of the Russian language has been mentioned before in this grammar. Unfortunately, Russians cannot control every aspect of their grammar and one aspect of verb formation causes a few problems. While vowels and consonants get along quite well in Russian, vowels don't like other vowels and most consonants don't get along with each other.

This means that when endings are added to stems, so long as the stem ends in a vowel and the ending begins with a consonant, or vice versa, the process of building a verb from stems and endings is a simple matter. When you add an ending beginning with a vowel to a stem ending on one, however, one of them has to go—and it is usually the one on the stem.

Consonants are different, however; they are stronger than vowels and all but four of them put up a fight. The weaklings are й в н м; like vowels they simply vanish from the stem in the presence of a consonant at the beginning of any ending. The remainder manage some sort of resistance, and sometimes they pay the price and sometime the invader on the ending pays. This page will give you the specific rules for adjusting the vowels and consonants when combining endings and stems.

OOO The General Rule of Combination OOO

The basic rules for combining endings with stems of all forms in both conjugations are simply these:

(1) When an ending beginning with a vowel is attached to any stem ending on a vowel, the stem vowel is removed. This rule of combination will be coded red in the following examples. The Basic Spelling Rules are coded yellow. (You can control the motion of the verb forms on some browsers by pressing the button in the scroll bar on the right of the screen.)

вернётся "s/he/it returns"
смотрю "I look, watch"

(2) When an ending beginning with a consonant is added to a stem with a wimpy consonant (в й м н), the stem consonant is removed.

жил(а) "lived"
стать "to become, begin"

(3) When an ending beginning with an tough consonant (all others beside the wimpy ones fingered above), either the stem consonant or the ending consonant may be dumped, or the stem consonant may be significantly altered. The rules of combat are laid out in the concomitant rules to follow.

Yery Concomitant Rules Yery

Concomitant changes in the Present-Future Tense and Imperative:

  1. (ва) is dropped before the present-future endings (but not in the imperative where there is no ending for these verbs):

давать give : давать
(в)ставать get up
(у)знавать find out
даю даём
встаю встаём
узнаю узнаём
даёшь даёте
встаёшь встаёте
узнаёшь узнаёте
даёт дают
встаёт встают
узнаёт узнают
but давай! Give!
but вставай! Get up!
but узнавай! Find out!
  1. (ов)/(ев) are replaced by уй and юй, respectively, before the present-future ending.

паковать "pack" пакую пакуешь пакует
горевать "worry" горюю горюешь горюет
  1. (e) is dropped in consonant stems, but retained in stems ending on -a in the present-future tense.

зап(е)р- запру "I will lock"
выб(е)ра- выберу "I will (s)elect"
  1. In the Imperative, е replaces ь in the non-syllabic stems like пьй- : пей! "drink!", бьй- : бей! "beat!"

Concomitant changes in the Past Tense and Infinitive:

  1. д and т are removed before : велand so on: вела, вело, вели "led, took".

  2. After all other fixed consonants, is dropped if no vowel follows it (in cases of the zero masculine gender marker).

    могbut мог-ла мог-ло мог-ли "could"
    вез but вез-ла вез-ло вез-ли "hauled"
  3. Before a й which is removed from a monosyllabic or asyllabic stem:
    replace о with ы мой-ть > мыть "to wash"
    replace е with и брей- > брить "to shave"
    replace ь with и пьй- > пить "to drink"

    EXCEPTION: пой- : петь, пел, пела, пели "sang"

  4. In non-syllabic roots (stems without any affixes), н and м are replaced by а before consonant endings.

    начн-у, начн-ёшь, начн-ёт but начать"to begin"
    жм-у, жм-ёшь, жм-ёт but жать"to squeeze"

Concomitant Changes of Fleeting Vowels:

Fleeting vowels realize themselves in Russian prefixes before non-syllabic verb stems or in verbs stems which themselves have fleeting vowels when the fleeting vowel is not present.

с(о)йд-: сойти but сойду, etc. "come down"
с(о)б(е)ра-: собрать but сберу, etc. "gather"
от(о)з(о)ва-: отозвать but отзову, etc. "call away"

Fleeting vowels in verb stems which end on the vowel a are realized in the present-future forms and not in the infinitive and past tense. For consonant stems on p, the rule is reversed: the vowel is pronounced in the past tense and infinitive but not in the present future. The following table illustrates.

Infinitive Past Tense Present-Future Tense
выб(е)ра-ть > выбрать выб(е)ра-у > выберу
выз(о)ва-ть > вызвать выз(о)ва-у > вызову
ум(е)р-ть > умереть ум(е)р-у > умру
зап(е)р-ть > запереть зап(е)р-у > запру

This completes the basic system of the Russian verb. Ready to show off your mastery? Here are a few exercises to see how well you are doing.

Yery Verbal Exercises Yery

In the exercises below, fill in the blank with the proper form of the verb stem given on the left: present tense, past tense, infinitive or imperative. If you are correct, you will see правильнo or отлично pop into the window on the far right. If you make a relevant error, you will receive a hint in the same box. Yellow vowels mark the positions of fixed accent; white vowelss mark the position of moveable accent in the infinitive and past tense. If the final consonant is yellow, the stem is end-accented, according to the rules of accent.

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

Learner's letter-for-letter and standard Russian keyboard layouts are available here if you need them. They will disappear when you scroll down this page. Refresh them by clicking the browser icon that comes up with them. Close the window in the usual way by clicking the "X" in the upper righthand corner. Don't forget to turn your popup blocker off!

OOO          Present Tense Exercises          OOO
Fill in the correct form of the verb stem on the left. Push
Were you right?

делай- Что ты с кошкой?
What are you doing with the cat?

смотре- Почему они так на нас?
Why are they looking at us like that?
читай- Она только рекламы в газете.
She only reads the ads in the paper.
пьй- Я никогда не водки.
I never drink vodka.
вед- Куда ты меня ?
Where are you taking me?
говори- Ельцин мне все.
Yeltsin tells me everything.
жив- Горбачев в Голливуде?
Does Gorbachev live in Hollywood?
писа- Маша редко на стенах.
Masha rarely writes on the walls.

OOO           Past Tense Exercises           OOO
Fill in the blank with the correct form of the verb to the left. Push
Were you right?

Образец (Example)
делай- Что ты с кошкой?
What were you doing with the cat?

смотре- Почему они так на нас?
Why were they looking at us like that?
читай- Мы только рекламы в газете.
We only read the ads in the paper.
писа- Она ничего не на стене.
She didn't write anything on the walls.
работай- Где Борис ?
Where did Boris work?
рассказа- Раиса мне всё.
Raisa told me everything.
жив- Горбачев в Голливуде?
Did Gorbachev live in Hollywood?

OOO          Imperative and Infinitive Exercises          OOO
Fill in the blank with the correct form of the verb on the left Push
Were you right?

Образец (Don't forget to CAPITALIZE where necessary!)
держа- Я люблю кошку.
I like to hold the cat.

смотре- На что они хотят ?
What do they want to look at?
писа- Она любит на стене.
She loves to write on the walls.
читай- только рекламы в газете.
Read only the ads in the paper!
смотре- на это!
Look at this!
рассказа- Раиса, мне всё!
Raisa, tell me everything.
читай- Надо статьи в газете.
You should read the articles in the paper.
принес- Митя, кошку сюда!
Mitya, bring the cat here!
принес- Я не хочу кошку.
I don't want to bring the cat.

Now that you have the idea of how verbs are conjugated, use the Russian Verb Analyzer by Russkii filolog to check your knowledge of the forms of other Russian verbs.

Russian Verb Conjugator by Sergei Starostin

Type in the infinitive of any Russian verb, press the button, and see all its forms in tables in a new window (KOI8 fonts). The analyzer works on all other parts of speech, too.

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© 1996 Robert Beard