Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Imperfective Verbs of Motion

walking man too
Photo by Billy Liar

I want to be frank with you, Russian verbal aspects are very hard to master for non-native speakers. Even students whose Russian is fluent, confuse imperfective and perfective verbs. Normally, Russian grammar books explain the difference between the two aspects as continuous connotation vs completed action. This is a correct, but not a complete explanation.

Let's take a look at the English grammar. English verbs have continuous, indefinite, and perfect groups of tenses, which means that any action could be considered as something actually happening at this very moment, something that happens (normally and regularly) or something that has already happened and we all see the results. The very same range of meanings could be expressed in Russian, but via different means. The Russian perfective aspect is close to the English perfect tenses. Perfective verbs always describe something that has happened. The action has been completed, it has resulted in something. Perfective verbs contain latently or implicitly the idea of a limit — the end or the beginning of the action, its finish or its start.

Example: Она начала есть — She started eating. Начала (started) is perfective here, because the action of “starting” had being completed, there is a limit for this action.

In contrast, Imperfective verbs describe the actions that have no limits. Imperfective verbs describe either the action that is happening or the action that happens regularly. So the Imperfective aspect unites continuous tenses and indefinite tenses, and quite often the same verb could be used for expressing both continuous and regular action. However, sometimes, the Russian language has two different imperfective verbs — one for continuous and another for indefinite. This is true mostly for verbs of motion. For example, there are two verbs идти and ходить, which mean “to go”, but the first is for continuous action and the latter is for indefinite. The difference between ехать and ездить (to go by a vehicle) is the same.

Examples: Я иду на работу (I'm going to my office, I'm on my way to the office). Я хожу на работу каждый день (I go to work every day).
Я еду на автобусе. (I'm riding the bus). Я езжу на автобусе каждый день (I ride the bus every day).

Another difference between the verbs in these pairs is that the first verbs (иду, еду) have the only one direction — they are about moving toward something. But, хожу and eзжу are multi-directional, they mean that you visit some place and then return or go to some other place. If you think about it a bit longer, you'll see that English verbs of motions when put into the present/past continuous tense also describe the action of movement in one direction, otherwise, it would be something other than a continuous tense.

This article was intended as some encouragement for those who are learning Russian. As you may conclude from the post, there are no hard or easy languages. Most languages operate with identical meanings and ideas. It's only the means or methods by which these meanings are expressed that are different.