Time Expressions in Russian

*** Выражения времени на русском языке ***

The best way to think of time expressions in Russian is in connection with the aspects of the verbs; the major time expressions are associated with them. For example, imperfective verbs refer to actions or states which are in progress or which are repeated over a stretch of time. These verbs must then refer to the duration or frequency of the actions and states they refer to. Perfective verbs refer to actions which are completed in a single point in time, which may be referred to as punctuality. The cardinal time expressions specify the duration, iteration, and punctuality of actions and states expressed by verbs.

  1. DURATION (Imperfective Progressive: Accusative Case)

    a. Verbal Duration (duration of the activity of the verb)

    To indicate the duration of the activity or state indicated by the verb, use the accusative case alone.

    Мы работали там целую неделю/пять часов/долгое время.
    We worked there a whole week/five hours/a long time.
    Они ехали туда шесть часов/три дня/долгое время.
    It took them six hourse/three days/a long time to drive there.

    b. Postverbal Duration (duration after the action of the verb)

    To indicate the duration of a period of time following the action of the verb, use на + accusative. Notice in the sentences below that the amount of time mentioned occurs after the action referred to by the verb is completed.
    Она поехала в деревню на месяц.
    She drove to the country for a month.
    Иван пошёл в библиотеку на два часа.
    Ivan went to the library for two hours.

    c. Preverbal Duration (duration before the action of the verb)

    In order to indicate the amount of time before the beginning of the action, use через + accusative.
    Наташа принесет нам закуски через пять минут.
    Natasha will bring us some hors d'oeurves in five minutes.
    Я позвоню ему на работу через неделю.
    I'll call him at work in a week.

  2. FREQUENCY (Imperfective Iterative : Various)

    a. With a modifier like каждый : Accusative case alone

    To indicate the frequency of repeated actions with an adjective such as каждый in a temporal noun phrase, simply place the phrase in the accusative case.

    Мы встречаемся каждую неделю/каждый день/каждый вечер.
    We meet every week/every day/every evening.

    b. Without a modifier: по + Dative

    To indicate the frequency of an action without an adjectival modifier on the temporal noun, use по and the dative case.

    Я гуляю по вечерам/по пятницам/по средам.
    I take a walk evenings/Fridays/Wednesdays.

    c. Once a . . ./X times a . . . : X раз в + Accusative

    To specify the frequency of an activity within in given period of time, use the appropriate form of раз plus в and the accusative case as illustrated here.

    Я хожу в кино раз в неделю/два раза в месяц/пять раз в год.
    I go to the movies once a week/two times a month/five times a year.

  3. PUNCTUAL TIME (Perfective)

    a. Punctual Time (Non-specific)

    Expressions of the point of time at which some activity occurs vary with the length of period involved. The system revolves around неделя 'week'. To indicate in which week something occurred, Russians use на plus the prepositional case. For regular periods of time larger than a week, e.g. month, year, decade, century, в is used with the prepositional case. If the period of time is smaller than a week, e.g. day, hour, minute, second, в and the accusative case are the ticket.

    • Time periods shorter than a week : в + Accusative (also default)
    Митя придёт в пять часов/в субботу/в ту же минутку.
    Mitya is coming at five o'clock/on Saturday/this very minute.
    • Weeks: на + Prepositional
    Я не работаю на этой неделе/на следующей неделе.
    I don't work this week/next week.
    Я не работал на прошлой неделе.
    I didn't work last week.
    • Time periods longer than a week: в + Prepositional
    Я уезжаю в этом месяце/в ноябре/в следующем году.
    I leave this month/in November/next year.
    Exception: Nouns for periods of time which come in sets of four, such as those referring to seasons (весна "spring", лето "summer", осень "fall", and зима "winter") and the parts of the day (утро "morning", день "afternoon", вечер "evening", and ночь "night"), indicate a point in time in the instrumental case.
    Маша поедет туда завтра утром/летом/следующей осенью.
    Masha is going there tomorrow morning/in the summer/next fall.

    b. Punctual Time (Specific) : Genitive case alone

    If more than one period of time is combined in order to designate a very specific time at which an action occurred, Russian tends to use the genitive case. For instance, when the day, month, and year are combined to specify the point of time at which something occurred.

    Ленин родился 22-го апреля 1870-го года.
    Lenin was born (on) April 22, 1870.
    Ирина встала в восемь часов утра.
    Irina got up at eight o'clock in the morning.

    c. Punctual Time in the Future

    To indicate a future point of time by which an activity will have taken place, к plus the dative case is used.

    Надо кончить эту работу к пятнице.
    That work needs to be finished by Friday.

    d. Approximate Punctual Time

    There are several ways of indicating approximate punctual time in Russian. The simplest is to simply reverse the number and the noun (в часов пять "around five o'clock"). If no number is involved, the preposition под+Acc may be used (под вечер "near evening"). Finally, около+Gen has the meaning of 'about'.

    Надо кончить эту работу в часов пять.
    That work needs to be finished by about 5 o'clock.
    Надо кончить эту работу под вечер.
    That work needs to be finished by evening.
    Надо кончить эту работу около пяти часов.
    That work needs to be finished by about 5 o'clock.
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© 1996 Robert Beard