Russian Verbs: Basic Words and Rules to Know

Russian Verbs

For English speakers, learning Russian can be a bit harder than learning Roman languages like French and Spanish. Apart from the unfamiliar Cyrillic alphabet, another reason is that Russian verbs are slightly different. They not only conjugate like those in German and French, but also have aspects (perfective and imperfective)

But don’t worry, this article will help you guide you through the trickest part of learning Russian verbs and introduce to you 10 commonly used verbs. By the end, I’m sure you’ll be confident in learning Russian verbs or the language in general!

Let’s dive in!

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Overview of Russian Verbs

First, let’s take a quick overview of Russian verbs to help you get a whole picture of what to pay attention to when learning Russian verbs. What are some important rules that you need to follow and what do you need to expect when learning Russian verbs?

Russian verb conjugation

Like many languages, to master Russian verbs, the main thing you need is to memorize verb conjugation.

Basically, conjugation means changing a verb so that it gets the meaning you need to get to the listener or reader. These changes are achieved by adding a special ending or changing the form of the verb. It might be challenging at first, especially when you just started learning the language. Still, it is essential to distinguish between them as that’s how the language works.

For example, 

– Что делаешь? / What are you doing?
– Читаю. / I’m reading.
As you can see, there’s no trace of personal pronouns in the original Russian text, yet the translation is unambiguous. Why?

To give you a brief idea, Russian verbs are conjugated according to the aspects below:

  • Person
  • Gender
  • Mood

 If we dive deeper into the topic, we also find out that Russian verbs are conjugated in other aspects:

  • Past tense
  • Present tense
  • Future tense
  • Perfective aspect
  • Imperfective aspect

Now you may think, how about giving me a verb conjugation chart and letting me remember them now? While there are plenty of materials like this out there, I will not deal with this in-depth in this article.

I think learning Russian verb conjugation is a long-term process that may accompany you even to the intermediate level. Learning 5 words and knowing how to use them is better than learning 10 but don’t know how to use them. Remember that even native speakers may sometimes feel confused and not be able to conjugate the verb correctly, that is why you don’t need to be so upset as soon as you make a mistake or don’t understand which form to choose. So our first tip for learning Russian verbs is:

Tip 1: Learn conjugation gradually as you progress

The biggest challenge here is that there are quite a lot of endings you need to learn, together with various exclusions. So our second tip for learning Russian verbs is:

Tip2: Learn the variations, not just the original form of a verb.

Mastering Russian verbs and choosing the conjugation correctly and with ease is just a matter of practice. This article will help you to start. Just be patient, keep practicing and in a while, you will see the progress.

Perfective and Imperfective

Now we’ve defined what Russian verb conjugation is, to help you understand Russian verbs better, there are 2 other terms you must know: perfective and imperfective.

 Perfective – verbs in perfective aspect show the action is complete or the result of an action. For example, сделать (done), прийти (come), отдать (given).

  Imperfective – verbs in imperfective aspect indicates the process of action or that the action is incomplete. For example, делать (to do), идти (to go), давать (to give).

To give you a better understanding, we can compare these verbs to English infinitives – the form is totally the same – to do, to go, to give.

This is perhaps why you often see Russian verbs in pairs. So our third tip is: to distinguish between Russian verbs of motion, better divide them into pairs: perfective-imperfective. In this way, you will be able to see the difference and use the verb correctly.

Tip3: Learn Russian verbs in pairs

Now let’s see how this works using the 10 most common Russian verbs.

10 Most Commonly Used Russian Verbs

10 common Russian verbs

It becomes easier to see the difference when you see the verbs structured, right? So any time you learn a new verb, try to find a pair. Moreover, in such a way you will be learning two verbs at a time instead of one, sounds great?

If you feel that you can’t distinguish between the two forms of the verbs, then try to choose it according to our explanations above. Does it sound like an infinitive? If yes, then it’s imperfective and the next thing you will have to do is to find a perfective form. This scheme might help you not only in the beginning of your learning process, but at any level at all.

While there is no life hack or magic trick that will make it really easy to be able to master Russian verbs, there are some patterns you can trace. So this leads to our 4th tip:

Tip 4: Find the patterns of regular verbs and pay extra attention to irregular ones 

Additional Tips on Learning Russian verbs

Today we have discussed only one grammar topic related to verbs in Russian. Although there are much more, this was an important step in moving forward in learning the language. Obviously, sometimes it will be hard as many things in this process, but remember not to give up – just practice! Every try gives you growth and you will see it.

Apart from the 4 tips we’ve mentioned in the previous part of this article, there are many more that can help you better master Russian verbs and learn Russian. First, bear in mind these habits you need to follow to succeed in learning Russian:

  • Practice
  • Consistency
  • Reading and listening
  • Using in real life
  • Communication
  • Revision

What tips will help you to memorize the verbs easier?

  1. Practice! Even 10 minutes a day will make a difference rather than making long pauses in your education.

The important thing you need to remember is that constant learning and revision are more useful than just taking a lesson or two a week. Until you fill your brain with Russian, it will not work properly and as quickly as you want it to happen.

If you need a little help, LingoDeer is a perfect tool that uses short lessons to help you learn Russian with 15 minutes a day.

  1. Write down the verbs you learn. Don’t take too much a day – 3 to 5 will be enough.

Many learners think that it will make huge progress to learn by heart dozens of words or write down a bunch of information. But it’s a wrong belief. Your brain is not wired to remember too many words at a time, so just 5 will be enough to be able to remember them constantly and use them in everyday conversations.

  1. Divide your words into two columns – visualizing what you learn will make it easier. When you learn the forms of one verb, you actually learn several words at once.

Many people underestimate this approach, but actually, this is a great one. Especially visuals (people who are able to remember the information better if they physically see it) will appreciate it. Help your brain and visualize what you are learning – it will capture the images and set them thoroughly in your head.

If you are the type of a person, who has their own methods of recognizing and memorizing the information better – e. g. formulas, pictures, or maybe there is your own way – just use it! One day you will eventually start finding plenty of words in your head!  

  1. Use them. As soon as you write and learn the verb, try to use it in a sentence, for example, or find it in the text. It will run the processes in your brain to help it “absorb” the information.  

Without practice, unfortunately, the information is unlikely to settle in your head. It’ll just vanish as soon as you finish the lesson. Nobody wants to waste their time or be disappointed with no result later, so beware. It may be tough in the beginning, but after a while, you will feel such a relief when seeing how easily you can operate the language even if making mistakes. Without practice, though, everything you’ve learned will just be covered with dust somewhere deep in your brain.

Just follow these tips, practice, and don’t give up. Remember – when you feel something difficult, it means you are making progress. Doesn’t it sound great?

Wish to learn more Russian words but don’t know where to start? Let me help!

I’m LingoDeer. I’m here to make your Russian learning journey smart and fun!

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Curt Ford
Curt Ford
5 months ago

Verbs are often one of the main challenges of Russian, so thanks for this introduction!

I was surprised by a few things in the list of 10 common verbs. I have normally presented садиться/сесть as an imperfective/perfective pair meaning ‘to sit down,’ and сидеть/посидеть as a pair meaning ‘to sit’ (be in a seated position). Similarly, the perfective partner of давать is дать (both translated as ‘give). Adding the prefix от- gives the pair отдавать/отдать, ‘to give away.’

Verbs of motion are also a tricky topic, perhaps beyond the scope of this introduction, since there are two types of imperfectives – for example, ходить (go in more than one direction) and идти (go in one general direction). Adding a prefix that shows direction (like при- ‘arrival’) to these gives an imperfective/perfective pair like приходить/прийти, ‘to arrive.’ Adding the non-directional по- to идти gives пойти, ‘to set off someplace.’

So many nuances in this subtle and expressive language!

3 months ago
Reply to  Curt Ford

Hi Curt,

Thank you for the comment! You’re absolutely right about the “one of the main challenges” thing; Russian verbs certainly aren’t something an inexperienced learner can grasp from the get-go. It’s one of the reasons why we decided to omit some things and simplify others. For instance, it’s very easy to understand why сесть and сидеть are perfective and imperfective respectively, since the very meaning of the verbs aids comprehension, but with сесть and садиться it’s an entirely different matter: both of them mean roughly the same thing and differ mainly in compatibility with different sentence structures, which can seem intimidating to an absolute beginner. Our overview was meant to give people a peek into the intricacies of Russian grammar, but we do hope to delve deeper in the future 😉