Perfective and imperfective Russian verbs

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Today we will analyze one of the most difficult topics in the Russian language — the aspects (types) of the verb. In Russian there are only three verb tenses: present, past and future. The perfective and imperfective types allow a greater diversity when designating actions.

What is the aspect (type) of the verb in Russian

In English, to indicate that an action has been completed we use the Perfect group of tenses.

Compare: Every day I read a book. / Каждый день я читаю книгу. — Today, I’ve read the book. / Сегодня я прочитал книгу.

In Russian there is no such group of verbs, so in order to show the duration, the completeness and other nuances of the action we use different aspects of the verb.

Я пою песни в душе по утрам.— I sing songs in the shower in the morning.

Я только что спел новую песню на прослушивании, и буду выступать на концерте. — I have just sung a new song at an audition, and I’ll be performing at the concert.

In the first sentence, an imperfective verb is used: the speaker emphasizes the process of action. In the second sentence we can see a verb in the perfective form, which shows the result.

To make your job easier, you could learn Russian verbs in pairs: their perfective and imperfective form. And the easiest way to understand what aspect of the verb you see is to ask a question. If the question is «что делать?» — the it’s an imperfective verb, if it’s «что сделать?» — then it’s the perfective aspect.

  • делать — сделать / to do;
  • говорить — сказать / to say;
  • брать — взять / to take;
  • помогать — помочь / to help;
  • смотреть — посмотреть / to see;
  • читать — прочитать / to read;
  • учить — выучить / to learn;
  • платить — заплатить / to pay;
  • ходить — сходить / to go;
  • идти — прийти / to go — to come;
  • давать — дать / to give;
  • думать — подумать / to think;
  • помнить — запомнить / to remember.


Note that often perfective verbs are formed from imperfective verbs using a prefix.

Я плачу за квартиру каждый первый понедельник месяца (платить, imperfective form). — I pay my rent every first Monday of the month.

Я уже заплатил за квартиру в этом месяце (заплатить, perfective form). — I have already paid this month’s rent.

.They can also be distinguished by suffixes: рассказывал (imperf.) — рассказал (perf.). Or they may be different words altogether: искать (imperf.) — найти (perf.).

In addition, one imperfective verb may have more than one perfective pairs: писать (imperf.) — списать, написать, записать (perf.), думать (imperf.) — подумать, задумать (perf.).

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When imperfective and perfective verbs are used

The main difference in the use of verbs of different types: the imperfective form indicates the duration of the action, its process, and the perfective form indicates the completion of the process, its result. Although there are several nuances.

Usually, the choice between a particular aspect of a verb is made based on one of the following 4 criteria.

  • The action is in process (imperfective) or is it completed (perfective)?

Я целый месяц готовилась к сложному экзамену (несов., это длилось целый месяц). — I spent a whole month preparing for a difficult exam. (imperf., the action lasted a whole month).

Я наконец-то подготовилась к сложному экзамену (сов., ура, это свершилось). — I finally prepared for a difficult exam (perf., Great! The action is completed).

  • Is it a repeated action (imperfective) or was it a one-time action (perfective)?

Я до прошлого лета бегал каждое утро (несов., постоянное действие). — I was running every morning until last summer (imperf., a constant activity).

Вчера утром я впервые не побежал (сов., однократное действие). — Yesterday morning was the first time I didn’t run (perf., one-time action).

  • Are we mentioning the action for the first time (imperfective) or did we discuss it previously (perfective)?

– Ты уже смотрел «Анчартед»? (несов., обсуждение первый раз). — Have you seen Uncharted already? (imperf., we are mentioning it for the first time)

– Еще нет, но собираюсь. — Not yet, but I’m going to.

– Хорошо, поделись потом впечатлениями. — Good, share your impressions later.

Спустя некоторое время / In a little while:

Ну что, ты посмотрел «Анчартед»? (сов., уже говорили об этом фильме). Как тебе? — So, have you seen Uncharted? (perf., we discussed it before). What did you think of it?

  • Are the actions occuring at the same time (imperfective) or do they happen one after the other (perfective)?

Я люблю есть и читать одновременно (несов., одновременные действия). — I like to eat and read at the same time (imperf., simultaneous actions).

Он приготовил ужин, написал письмо, составил план на завтра и лег спать (сов., действия совершаются последовательно). — He made dinner, wrote a letter, made a plan for tomorrow, and went to bed (perf., the actions are performed sequentially).

Perfective and imperfective verbs with different tenses

In the past tense both verb forms follow the same rule. They end with -л/-ла/-ло/-ли:

  • я прыгал — я выпрыгнул;
  • она хотела — она захотела;
  • оно падало — оно упало;
  • они мяли — они помяли.


In these pairs the first verb is imperfective, and the second one is perfective.

In the present tense, only imperfective verbs can be used, because we use the present tense to say what we are doing right now (a process), or what we do regularly (a repetitive action).

Мария звонит мне каждый вечер, чтобы рассказать о своих делах. — Mary calls me every night to tell me about her affairs.

In the future tense, both imperfect and perfect verbs are used. But the formation of the future tense itself occurs in different ways. The future tense of perfective verbs is formed with the help of personal endings (the same as those of imperfective verbs in the present tense):

  • готовит (present tense imperf. form from the verb готовить, to cook) — приготовит (future tense, perf. form from the verb приготовить, to finish cooking); 
  • показывают (present tense imperf. form from the verb показывать, to show) — покажут (future tense, perf. form from the verb показать, to show);
  • изменяю (наст. время, несов. вид от глагола изменять) — изменю (future tense, perf. form from the verb изменить, to change).


To form the future tense from imperfective verbs, it is necessary to use the construction «быть + infinitive of the verb in its imperf. form». In this case , only the verb «быть» receives personal endings:

  • буду готовить;
  • будет показывать;
  • будем изменять.

Он приготовит завтра вкусный ужин (сов. вид). — He’s going to make a delicious dinner tomorrow (perf. form).

Я буду готовить завтра весь день (несов. вид). — I will cook all day tomorrow (imperf. form).


Let’s summarize. The main thing to remember and understand: imperfective verbs denote the process, perfective verbs denote the result. Perfective verbs have no present tense.

If you still have any questions, and you would like to dive deeper into the Russian language, you can join our school of Russian language “Leader”

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