Past Tense of Russian verbs

Past Tense

There are only three tenses in the Russian language: present, future and past. And the latter is used more often than others. The past tense allows you to tell about any event or action that happened before the moment of speech. In this article we will introduce you to the rules of its formation and the peculiarities of its use.

General rules for the formation of past tense

Lets begin with something simple: the Russian language only has one past tense form, in comparision to English and, for example, german:

  • Она читала вчера книгу. — She read a book yesterday.
  • Вчера в 5 часов она читала книгу. — She was reading a book at 5 o’clock yesterday.
  • Она только что прочитала книгу. — She has just read a book.
  • Она сказала, что вчера прочитала книгу. — She said that she had read a book yesterday.

The past tense indicates the gender of the subject only in singular. In plural the gender is not mentioned:

  • when the subject is the pronoun я, the verb conjugates according to the subject, that is why мальчик/мужчина will say: я читал; девушка/женщина will say: я читала;
  • when the subject is the pronoun ты, the verb conjugates with the gender of the subject who we refer to: ты написал (adressing to a man), ты написала (adressing to a woman);
  • when the subject is the pronoun мы or вы, the verb stays in plural, even if вы is used as polite adressing.

And finally, the Past Tense in Russian is formed this way: remove the ending of the infinitive and add the Past Tense suffix to the base of the verb. All the infinitive verbs can be divided into 4 categories:

  • ending -тьходить (to go), летать (to fly), уметь (to can);
  • ending -тиидти (to go), нести (to carry);
  • ending -чьмочь (to can), печь (to bake);
  • ending -нутьсохнуть (to dry), мокнуть (to get wet).

Perfective or imperfective form: Past Tense usage peculiarities

How to determine which verb to use for the formation of the past tense?

Imperfect verbs are used in various cases:

  • To describe a repetitive or habitual action.

Раньше я завтракала каждое утро. — I used to have breakfast every morning.

  • To tell about a long-term action in the past or an action that occurred at a particular moment.

Вчера в 6 вечера я пекла пирог. — Yesterday at 6 pm, I was baking a cake.

  • To emphasize whether an action occurred or not, or to describe simple actions in the past without focusing on the result.

Я уже читала эту книгу. — I have already read this book.

В выходные мы ходили в кино, играли в бильярд и ужинали дома. — On weekend, we went to the cinema, played billiards and had dinner at home.

You can also choose to use a perfective verb in various situations:

  • When you talk about a one-time action.

Я купил билет на концерт. — I bought a concert ticket.

  • To name an action in the past with an emphasis on its result or completion, i.e. when it is important not so much the action itself as its result.

Я принес молоко, теперь можно сварить кашу. — I brought milk, now you can cook porridge.

Past Tense

Past Tense for the verbs with the ending -ть

To form a Past Tense for this group of verbs, it is necessary to remove the ending from the infinitive and add:

  • — for masculine in singular;
  • -ла — for feminine in singular;
  • -ло — for the neuter gender in singular;
  • -ли — for the plural with any gender, including polite adressing.





Past Tense


Мечтать (to dream)


Я мечтал

Ты мечтал

Он мечтал



Я мечтала

Ты мечтала

Она мечтала

Neutral gender


Оно мечтало



Они мечтали

Мы мечтали

Вы мечтали


These rules work for both type I and type II conjugations, for perfective and imperfective verbs.

Lets try to put this to work with a couple of examples:

Я учила все правила, но почему-то половину не помню. — I learned all the rules, but for some reason I don’t remember half (infinitive «учить», imperfective, II conjugation).

Я выучила все правила, поэтому хорошо написала контрольную. — I learned all the rules, so I wrote the test well (infinitive«выучить», perfective).

Я писал контрольную весь день. — I’ve been writing a test all day (infinitive «писать», imperfective, I conjugation).

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How is the Past Tense formed with reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs conjugate in the same way as above, except that they still retain reflexive endings:

  • -лся — masculine singular;
  • -лась — feminine singular;
  •  -лось — neuter gender singular;
  •  -лись — plural and polite adressing.

Let’s look at a few examples with the verb «касаться»:

Я касалась этого стола. — I touched this table.

Я касался этой темы. — I touched on this topic.

Мы касались этого окна. — We touched this window.

Special cases of Past Tense formation in the Russian language

A number of verbs in the Russian language, in particular the infinitives with an endings -чь, -нуть and -ти, are exceptions and have their own peculiarities in the formation of the past tense.

Past Tense of verbs ending with -ти 

In the masculine singular, the suffix is most often not added to the verb base. But this is not a mandatory rule, so it’s best to remember how the most common verbs in the Past Tense will change.

In the feminine and neuter gender, as well as in the plural, the same rules apply as indicated above.

Ползти (to crawl)

Мести (to sweep)

Нести (to carry)

Вести (as in to lead by hand)

Плести (to weave)

Идти!!! (to go)


Полз (-)


Нёс (-)

























Another pattern: if the verb ends in -сти, then this part is separated, and the vowel  changes to .

Past Tense for verbs ending with -чь and -нуть

In the singular masculine the ending -л almost never gets added to the verb base. In addition, verbs ending in -чь in the masculine form, the ending -чь is often replaced by  or . If the preceding vowel is soft (я, ё, ю, и, е), choose , in other cases .



Мочь (to can)

Печь (to bake)

Жечь (to burn)

Отвлечь (to distract)

Сохнуть (to dry)

Мокнуть (to get wet)


Мог (-)

Пёк (-)

Жёг (-)

Отвлёк (-)

Сох (-)

Мок (-)























Now you can practice on your own. Take a few Russian verbs and try to put them in the Past Tense. The more you practice, the better the result will be.

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