A conversation with a Russian learner about aspects of verbs.

English: Native language in Ukraine. Legend: U...

English: Native language in Ukraine. Legend: Ukrainian language dominates as the native language Russian language dominates as the native language. Bi-lingual, with a slight Ukrainian language lead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the followers of the video content on YouTube, Dennis, wrote asking about the question of aspects. I answered as I could and also as you will see got his permission to share the conversation so that more language learners would be able to take advantage of the topic.

  • Conversation started Thursday

  • 11:18


    Dennis Meurders


    Dear David,

    Thank you so much of the add. I’m honored! 
    I’m a very big fan of your youtube videos concerning the Russian language. I use them in addition of my Russian language course and I ust say that they give me a headstart of the rest. So they really help!
    I was wondering however if you could tell me which video talks about the time aspect ( поличать vs поличить) if you know what I mean with that. We talked about it yesterday in class and most people (including myself) find it very difficult.

    I hope you can help me out with this one.

    Thank you so much in advance!

    Dennis Meurders

  • Thursday
  • David J. James

    There is a bit about that but I can’t remember which one. Basically think about the difference between speak and say. A person can speak for a long time without saying anything. Replace the idea of talking instead of the action in question, and whether speak or say fits the case better will tell you which aspect it is.

    So which of speak and say would be perfective and which imperfective?

  • Friday

  • 10:48


    Dennis Meurders


    Since speaking implies the present and is therefore not finished, I think that ‘speaking’ refers to the imperfective. To say one thing, one must finish the action, so ‘say’ is the perfective?

  • Friday
  • David J. James

    That’s right. And “tell” is even more perfective. However, in English we can be far more subtle as we can say “he was telling me” which implies he didn’t get to the end of it. In Slavonic you would use the other aspectival pair or you might on occasion make an imperfective from a perfective by using the iterative suffix.

  • Today

  • 11:30


    Dennis Meurders


    And now the question remaines: how to apply it in Russian. But that would be a matter of practice… I will ask my wife to help me out here. She’s Belorussian and Russian is her native language. What other advice can you give in order to speed up the learning process? I’m a little bit impatient. The sooner I learn Russian, the better it is for me

  • David J. James

    I advise you to bear it in mind, but not fret over it unduly, as Russian speakers will soon work out that you are making aspectival mistakes (as all foreigners do) and usually they’ll correct the aspect in their minds and not even correct you in speech. When you then write something down, they’ll show you which aspects you got wrong, and you might be surprised at how well they understood with wrong aspects! It’s a bit like how we get used to Russians not saying a or the properly – we fit the right one in mentally as we listen to them.

  • David J. James

    Can I blog this small conversation as many more would benefit from your excellent line of questions?

  • 11:47


    Dennis Meurders


    of course! not a problem at all

  • David J. James

    Many thanks.

  • 11:47


    Dennis Meurders


    if it helps to improve other learners’ their progress, by all means, you should

  • David J. James

    I hope it will. People do tend to have a mental blockage about aspects. A good friend who is English but lives here and learned Polish well is still convinced that there is no such thing as aspect, only verbal tenses. I tried to explain it but he still tries to fit the Slavic system into a tense system in his mind, and yet his Polish is perfectly functional.

  • 11:50


    Dennis Meurders


    That’s funny. When I mentioned it to my wife, initially, she didn’t know what I was talking about. I had to clarify what I meant with examples from my textbook


    btw where can I find you blog?

  • David J. James

    www.huliganov.tv. Please subscribe. I also have a business one – quoracy.com

About David J. James

56 year old UK origin Chartered Accountant and business consultant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written or spoken discussion, plays backgammon and a few other board games. Walks and listens to Audible for hours a day usually, and avoids use of the car. Conservative Christian, married to an angel with advanced Multiple Sclerosis. We have three kids, two of them autistic, and we live in Warsaw, Poland. On the board of the main British-Polish charity Fundacja Sue Ryder in Poland, and involved in the Vocational Autistic School of "Nie Z Tej Bajki" in Warsaw. Member of Gideons International. Serves on two committees of the Chamber of Auditors in Poland, and on several Boards and Supervisory Boards. Has own consultancy called Quoracy.com delivering business governance and audit/valuation solutions as well as mentoring. Author of the GoldList Method for systematic optimal use of the long-term memory in learning.

Posted on 15/12/2012, in Answers to your questions, GoldList Method, Huliganov's Russian Course, Languages and Linguistics, Skype chat snippets, With Another Person and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Lewis Shotton

    Wow ! Wonderful ! I gave found that speaking Russian, at least well enough to convey my own thoughts is not at all as difficult as fluently understanding when native speakers chat with one another. Your kind, thorough, and comprehensive response to my question brings me a little bit closer. Thank you sooo much !!

  2. Lewis Shotton

    Not sure if this is appropriate venue to follow up with another Russian language learning question or not. I’m wondering if you can provide some insight into the meaning of the russian word Же. Seems to me an unnecessary word that russians frequently though into sentences for no apprent reason. Nobody seems to be able to explain the meaning/function of the word to me to me. Ета же я, почему же, что же, все же, ну надо же, etc. etc. Would love it if you could provide some insite . Я был бы благодарин еслиб вы могли бы объяснить значение “же”

    • Zhe (as I will call it for the ease of not changing keyboards every few minutes – with apologies in advance to those who think I am writing “This” in Mandarin Chinese) is a common word in Russian. It is also found in other Slavic languages, but in West Slavonic, Polish and Czech as the major examples, it is the standard word for “that”. It replaces “chto” from Russian, but in Polish a relative clause will still begin with “co” if the meaning is “which”, which is just as well, as otherwise there wouldn’t be a way of distinguishing whether a whole phrase is being referred to in the relative clause or just the last thing that was said.

      In Russian this zhe is therefore used as a particle, and Russian, being a bit more oriental in its substrate influences than its West Slavic neighbours, uses particles quite a bit to show the mood, and to emphasise, and zhe is the main emphatic particle used.

      It is actually very economical. In English we have a lot of ways to emphasise something. For example, after saying something, an English speaker might add “I mean that”. This three word phrase is virtually untranslatable into most foreign languages. When attempting a literal translation the English speaker gets a bemused look from the native speaker importing “well of course you mean it – if you had meant something else I assume you would have said something else”.

      So for example “Right now” or “I mean right now” would be “seychas zhe”. Seychas on its own can mean in a moment. And sometimes that’s a very long moment. The zhe emphasises the literal meaning intended by the speaker. It is also the particle which in words like tozhe and takzhe have become forgotten as the individual word it once was, and we have the expressions from also and too emerging from “this very way” or “that very thing”, where I am using “very” for the emphatic particle, which indeed you can often do when translating it. This very day – segodnya zhe, for instance. Sometimes you need something like “ever” to translate it. “Chto zhe ya budu delat’?” – whatever will I do? “Kakoy zhe russkii ne liubit bystroy yezdy?” What Russian ever didn’t love to ride fast? etc. The terms “ever” or “very” in these sentences aren’t usual, literal applications of these words anyhow and can also caused trouble for foreign learners of English, so it’s not like Russian is alone in offering models of emphasis that people might take time getting used to.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: