How To Conjugate Verbs In Russian

You, too, can become a master of Russian verbs. But first, you’ll have to get really clear on the ground rules.
person standing in front of a moving metro in moscow illustrating russian verb conjugation

Congratulations! You’re feeling confident enough with your mastery of the Cyrillic alphabet to tackle the sprawling minefield that is Russian verb conjugation. Maybe you’ve even heard about the perfective and imperfective aspects, and you’re still not feeling phased. In fact, you smell a challenge, and you’re invigorated.

Like most any other language, there are regular and irregular verbs in Russian. Which means the basic rules of thumb will carry you far, but not all the way. While you won’t master all the irregular verbs without some good old rote memorization, learning a few basic rules will put you well on the path to verbal victory.

Below, we’ve put together an introductory guide to Russian verb conjugation that will teach you how to conjugate regular verbs in the present, past and future tenses, how to conjugate a couple common irregular verbs, as well as how to navigate perfective and imperfective aspects. If you’re just beginning your verb journey and need a place to start, we’ve got you covered. Just like we’ve got you covered for all kinds of other basic Russian language resources.

Russian Verb Conjugation 101

Conjugating Regular Verbs In The Present Tense

There are two main groups of regular verbs in Russian: those whose infinitive form ends in -ть and those whose infinitive form ends in -ти. Most verbs take the -ть ending, and some end in -ти.

  • Я хочу читать. — I want to read.
  • работать — to work
  • говорить — to speak
  • курить — to smoke
  • идти — to go
  • нести — to bring

There are also some exceptions that end in -чь, like the verb беречь (“to protect”).

Within the -ть verbs, there are two further distinctions. To conjugate verbs that end in -ять and -ать in the present tense, use the following endings:

гулять — to go for a walk

я гуляю I walk
ты гуляешь you walk
он/она/оно гуляет he/she/it walks
мы гуляем we walk
вы/Вы гуляете you (plural, informal)/you (formal) walk
они гуляют they walk

работать — to work

я работаю I work
ты работаешь you work
он/она/оно работает he/she/it works
мы работаем we work
вы/Вы работаете you (plural)/you (formal) work
они работают they work

To conjugate verbs whose infinitive form ends in -ить and -еть, take the infinitive form without the ending -ить/-eть.

говорить  — to speak

я говорю I speak
ты говоришь you speak
он/она/оно говорит he/she/it speaks
мы говорим we speak
вы/Вы говорите you (plural)/you (formal) speak
они говорят they speak

смотреть — to look/watch

я смотрю I look
ты смотришь you look
он/она/оно смотрит he/she/it looks
мы смотрим we look
вы/Вы смотрите you (plural)/you (formal) look
они смотрят they look

For verbs that end in -ти, we can use идти (“to go on foot”) as an example. Notice that four of the six present tense forms of идти have a ё in the ending instead of the usual е. 

идти — to go on foot

я иду I go
ты идёшь you go
он/она/оно идёт he/she/it goes
мы идём we go
вы/Вы идёте you (plural)/you (formal) go
они идут they go

Conjugating Irregular Verbs In The Present Tense

While this is hardly an exhaustive list of all irregular verbs in Russian, this should be enough to introduce you to a couple of the most common ones.

жить — to live

я живу I live
ты живёшь you live
он/она/оно живёт he/she/it lives
мы живём we live
вы/Вы живёте you (plural)/you (formal) live
они живут they live

ехать — to go by transportation

я еду I go
ты едешь you go
он/она/оно едет he/she/it goes
мы едем we go
вы/Вы едете you (plural)/you (formal) go
они едут they go

есть — to eat

я ем I eat
ты ешь you eat
он/она/оно ест he/she/it eats
мы едим we eat
вы/Вы едите you (plural)/you (formal) eat
они едят they eat

дать — to give

я дам I give
ты дашь you give
он/она/оно даст he/she/it gives
мы дадим we give
вы/Вы дадите you (plural)/you (formal) give
они дадут they give

The Imperfective & Perfective Aspects

Unlike English, most common Russian verbs have two forms. These forms are called aspects. This might seem confusing at first, but if you take away nothing else from this article, remember that the present tense always uses the imperfective aspect.

There’s no reason to be intimidated, though. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

  • читать, прочитать — to read (imperf., perf.)
  • писать, написать — to write (imperf., perf.)
  • отвечать, ответить — to answer (imperf., perf.)
  • делать, сделать — to do (imperf.,  perf.)
  • повторять, повторить — to repeat (imperf., perf.)
  • пить, выпить — to drink (imperf., perf.)

As you can see, the perfective aspect is derived from the imperfective, and you’ve already become somewhat familiar with verbs in their imperfective forms above. Often, there is either an extra prefix or something changes at the end of the word. 

The imperfective aspect is used for actions that haven’t yet finished. The imperfective aspect also expresses that an action is still ongoing. Actions that repeat are also considered unfinished, and so use the imperfective form. Words denoting time like “now,” “this month,” “always,” etc., are indications that the imperfective aspect should be used. In addition, the imperfective aspect is used for general expressions that aren’t connected to a specific time.

Я всё ещё читаю этот роман. — I’m still reading this novel.
Сейчас я читаю. — I’m reading now.
Я смотрю телевизор каждый день. — I watch TV every day.
Я люблю готовить. — I love to cook.

The perfective aspect expresses one-time completed actions that lead to a result. An action can only be completed in the future or the past. Verbs in the perfective aspect don’t always have a direct equivalent in English. Sometimes you have to add a word like “finish” or “completely” to clearly express the idea of the perfective aspect.

Я прочитаю твоё письмо завтра. — I will read your letter tomorrow.
Я уже прочитала твоё письмо. — I’ve already read your letter.
Ты уже выпил чай? — Did you already finish drinking your tea?

Additionally, verbs in the imperfect aspect can be used in three tenses: past, present and future.

пить — to drink

я пил I drank (masc.) 
я пью I drink 
я буду пить I will drink

The perfective aspect focuses on results and can’t express a duration. As the present is something that is currently ongoing, the perfective aspect doesn’t exist in the present tense. Verbs in the perfective aspect only have two tenses: past and future.

выпить — to finish drinking 

я выпил I finished drinking (masc.) 
я выпью I will finish drinking

To Be, Or Not To Be: Conjugating The Verb быть

The verb быть (“to be”) is a bit of a case study all on its own. First of all, unlike in English, there are no present tense forms of the verb быть. It’s just left out completely.

Я Аня. — I (am) Ana.
Она Таня. — She (is) Tanya.
Кто ты? — Who (are) you?
Мы дома. — We’re at home.
Я в библиотеке. — I’m in the library.

Unlike in the present tense, in the past tense, you do have to use быть.

Сегодня я в Москве. — Today I (am) in Moscow.
Вчера он был в Москве. — Yesterday he was in Moscow.

This is true with all Russian verbs in the past tense, but быть is conjugated according to whether the subject is masculine, feminine or neuter. So there are three singular past tense forms of быть:

  • был — Past tense form for all singular masculine subjects
  • была — Past tense form for all singular feminine subjects
  • было — Past tense neuter singular form

All past tense forms in the plural are derived from the masculine form by adding the ending -и. For the plural form, the gender of the subject is unimportant. The form были is always used.

был + и = были — Past tense form for the plural

Like the past tense, the conjugated forms of the verb быть are always used when expressing the future tense of “to be” in Russian.

Я буду дома. — I will be home.

я буду I will
ты будешь you will
он/она/оно будет he/she/it will
мы будем we will
вы/Вы будете you (plural)/you (formal) will
они будут they will

More On The Past Tense

The past tense forms of жить follow the same pattern as быть. The infinitive ending -ть is removed and the singular endings – л, -ла or -ло are added, depending on the grammatical gender of the subject.

Я жил в Москве. — I (masc.) lived in Moscow.
Я жила в Москве. — I (fem.) lived in Moscow.

As you might expect, the neuter form оно жило is rarely used.

The plural form ends in -ли. In this case, the grammatical gender of the subject does not matter.

Мы жили в России. — We lived in Russia.

Generally speaking, in the case of most common Russian verbs, you form the past tense by changing –ть into –л:

говорить (to speak) – говорил (spoke)

You will then use the following endings to match the gender of the subject, even if you’re referring to yourself:

  • говорил — past tense masculine singular
  • говорила — past tense feminine singular
  • говорило — past tense neuter singular
  • говорили — past tense plural

More On The Future Tense

Russian verbs in the future tense come in two forms: simple and compound. The simple form uses the verb in the perfective aspect, and the compound form uses the verb быть (“to be”) + and the infinitive form of the verb in the imperfective aspect. 

Luckily, you already know how to conjugate быть in the future tense! And the simple form more or less requires the same endings you’re already familiar with in the present tense — you’re just using the verb in the perfective form.

делать/сделать — to do, make (imperfective/perfective)

я сделаю I will do
ты сделаешь you will do
он/она/оно сделает he/she/it will do
мы сделаем we will do
вы сделаете you (plural) will do
они сделают they will do
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