Perfective and Imperfective Verbs in Russian

In Russian, verb aspect indicates whether an action is complete, frequent or in progress. There are two aspects in Russian: imperfective and perfective.

Almost every Russian verb has an imperfective and perfective variant. For example, the verb to learn can be translated into Russian as учить and выучить — the imperfective and perfective variants of the same verb.

To make things easy to understand, I will divide this lesson into four parts:

  1. When and how to use Imperfective Verbs
  2. When and how to use Perfective Verbs
  3. How to identify Perfective and Imperfective Verbs
  4. 50 most common Perfective and Imperfective Verbs

If there is any specific part of the lesson you would like to study first, you can go straight to that subject by clicking on the above titles.

Imperfective Verbs in Russian

First of all, it’s important to remember that, in Russian, imperfective verbs can be used in all the three tenses: present, past and future.

Imperfective verbs are used mainly in three situations. Let’s go over them one by one.

1) Repeated or habitual actions

When an action happens regularly or repeatedly, we use an imperfective verb. For example:

Present tense:

  • Я работаю в офисе.
  • (I work in an office)
  • Я хожу в спортзал каждый день.
  • (I go to the gym every day)

Past tense:

  • Он учился в университете.
  • (He studied at university)
  • Раньше я играл в футбол.
  • (I used to play soccer)

Future tense:

  • Я буду учиться в университете в следующем году.
  • (I will study at university next year)
  • Я буду работать больше в следующем месяце.
  • (I will work more next month)

If you don’t know yet how to use these verb tenses in Russian, you can start by checking out our complete lesson about the Past Tense clicking here.

2) Continuous actions or actions in progress

When an action is in progress or is not completed, we also use imperfective verbs. For example:

Present tense:

  • Маша разговаривает по телефону.
  • (Masha is talking on the phone)
  • Она готовит ужин.
  • (She is cooking dinner)

Past tense:

  • Мы смотрели фильм.
  • (We were watching a movie)
  • Сегодня утром я играл в игры.
  • (I was playing games this morning)

Future tense:

  • Завтра я буду заниматься целый день.
  • (Tomorrow I will be studying the whole day)
  • Я буду работать все выходные.
  • (I will be working all weekend)

3) Life experiences

When talking about an experience someone’s had in their life, we also use imperfective verbs.

These sentences are usually in the past tense.

For example:

  • Я пробовал китайскую еду.
  • (I have tried Chinese food)
  • Я видел президента.
  • (I have seen the president)
  • Он никогда не слышал об этом.
  • (He has never heard about it)

Perfective Verbs in Russian

Perfective verbs are mainly used to indicate completed actions with emphasis on result.

When we use perfective verbs, the focus is not on the fact that the action was or will be performed for some time, regularly or repeatedly. The focus is on the fact that the action was or will be completed.

For example:

  • Я прочитал книгу.
  • (I read the book)

The above sentence means that I read the book completely. I read it until the end.

Another example:

  • Маша помыла посуду.
  • (Masha washed the dishes)

The above sentence means that Masha has finished washing the dishes. The result is that the dishes are clean.

Note that, unlike imperfective verbs, perfective verbs can only be used in the past and future tenses. Perfective verbs cannot be used in the present.

To make a sentence in the future using a perfective verb, we don’t need any extra word, such as буду. When we simply conjugate a perfective verb, it already means that the action will be completed in the future.

For example:

  • Я помою машину.
  • (I will wash the car)
  • Завтра я напишу сочинение.
  • (I will write an essay tomorrow)

In both of the above sentences, the actions will happen and be completed in the future.

Understanding the difference between imperfective and perfective verbs can be a bit difficult in the beginning. To make things clearer, let’s compare some sentences:

  • Я буду учить русский.
  • (I will learn Russian)
  • Я выучу русский.
  • (I will learn Russian)

The above sentences both mean ‘I will learn Russian’, however, the first sentence has the verb учить, an imperfective one, while the second sentence has the verb выучить, a perfective one.

Although the sentences have the same translation in English, they sound quite different in Russian.

The first sentence means that I will spend some time learning Russian in the future. Maybe I will learn Russian for a week, maybe for a month, but it doesn’t mean that I will learn Russian completely, nor that I will be able to speak it.

The second sentence, on the other hand, means that I will learn Russian completely and be able to speak it.

Let’s compare two more sentences:

  • Я читал книгу.
  • (I read the book)
  • Я прочитал книгу.
  • (I read the book)

Again, the above sentences have the same translation in English but sound different in Russian.

The first sentence, which uses the imperfective verb читать, means that I spent some time reading the book. Maybe I read it for a couple of hours or maybe for only a few minutes, but it doesn’t mean that I finished reading the book.

The second sentence, however, means that I finished reading the book. I read it until the end.

How to Identify Perfective and Imperfective Verbs

There isn’t one specific rule that will enable you to tell whether a verb is perfective or imperfective.

In fact, some verbs are even irregular and have completely different roots, like the verbs говорить and сказать, which are the imperfective and perfective variants of the verb to say.

There is some good news, though. Some verbs have certain prefixes or endings that can help you guess their aspect.

Let’s take a look at some common prefixes of perfective verbs.

Verbs with the prefix ПО:

  • поговорить (speak)
  • посмотреть (watch, look)
  • помыть (wash)
  • положить (put)
  • подарить (give as a gift)
  • полюбить (love)

Verbs with the prefix С:

  • сделать (do, make)
  • спеть (sing)
  • сломать (break)
  • спрятать (hide)

Verbs with the prefix НА:

  • написать (write)
  • напечатать (print)
  • нарисовать (draw)

Now, let’s take a look at some common endings of imperfective verbs:

Verbs that end in ывать:

  • рассказывать (tell)
  • показывать (show)
  • опаздывать (be late)
  • выбрасывать (throw away)
  • открывать (open)

Verbs that end in ивать:

  • спрашивать (ask)
  • разговаривать (talk)
  • заслуживать (deserve)

Another common pattern can be identified in imperfective verbs that end in АТЬ or ЯТЬ. In their perfective variant, they have the letter И instead of А or Я.

For example:

  • решатьрешить (solve)
  • получатьполучить (receive)
  • повторятьповторить (repeat)
  • объяснятьобъяснить (explain)

50 Most Common Perfective and Imperfective Verbs

Here is a list of the 50 most common imperfective and perfective verbs in Russian.

Note that you can click on all the words to see their meanings, conjugations and extra examples in our dictionary.

To memorize all these new verbs, I recommend that you create a flashcard for each of them, so you can review them later.

And that’s it for this lesson.

Now you know when and how to use imperfective and perfective verbs in Russian and how to tell if the verb is imperfective or perfective by taking a look at its prefix or ending. You also know 50 of the most common imperfective and perfective Russian verbs.