. 13
( 17)


the question arises as to which noun supplies the gender. It depends in part on
word order. When the subject precedes the verb, as in [326], gender can be taken
from either the ¬rst noun, which is typically the more signi¬cant, or from the
second, which is nearer to the predicate.

[326] Ghjtrnbhjdfybt<\nt sg> b gjlujnjdrf<\fem sg> r cnhjbntkmcnde {pfyzkj<nt> ∼
pfyzkf<fem> } tldf kb yt 15 ktn.
The planning and preparation for construction took up virtually ¬fteen years.
[327] {Pfyzkj<nt> ∼ ?Pfyzkf<fem> } tldf kb yt 15 ktn ghjtrnbhjdfybt<\nt sg> b
gjlujnjdrf<\fem sg> r cnhjbntkmcnde.
Almost ¬fteen years were taken up by the planning and preparation for

When the subject follows ([327]), the gender of the verb is that of the ¬rst con-
junct, which is both more signi¬cant and closer to the verb.
If pronouns of different persons are conjoined, ¬rst person outranks second
(z b ns ctqxfc tltv<1pl> ˜I and you are going now™) and either outranks third
(z b jy ctqxfc tltv<1pl> ˜I and he are just now going™, ns b jy ctqxfc tltnt<2pl>
˜you and he are just now going™).
356 A Reference Grammar of Russian

5.9.5 Agreement with comitative phrases
To talk about two people acting together, Russian can use either of two con-
structions. Two nouns can be conjoined: Jkmuf b Dflbv. Or one entity can be
made more prominent and the other attached to it by means of the comitative
preposition c ˜with™: Jkmuf c Dflbvjv ˜Olga with Vadim™, Atljh Bdfyjdbx c
;tyjq b ldevz vfkmxbrfvb ˜Fedor Ivanovich with his wife and two boys™. When
one of the conjuncts is a pronoun, there are three options: conjunction, jy b
Dkfl ˜he and Vlad™, z b vjz ctcnhf Vfif ˜I and my sister Masha™; a comitative
construction with a singular pronoun, jy c Dkfljv ˜he with Vlad™, z c Vfitq ˜I
with Masha™; or a comitative construction with a plural pronoun, jyb c Dkfljv
˜they, including Vlad™, vs c Vfitq ˜we, including Masha™.
True conjunction emphasizes that the individuals are separate and parallel.
It is very likely to take plural agreement. With pronouns the comitative con-
structions are more usual, and the plural form is preferred. With third-person
pronouns, the plural jyb c ;tyjq was used in 69 percent of tokens; with ¬rst-
person pronouns, though the singular is possible (Nfr b dthyekcz z c ;tyjq ˜and
so I returned with my wife™), the plural form vs c ;tyjq is by far the more
usual (88%).65
When the pronoun is plural, a verb that agrees will obviously be plural: jyb<pl>
c Dkfljv [jlbkb<pl> r ytq exbnmcz fyukbqcrjve zpsre ˜they -- he and Vlad --
used to go to study English with her™, vs c Vfitq [jlbkb<pl> r ytq exbnmcz
fyukbqcrjve zpsre ˜we -- Masha and I -- used to go study English™. But with a
singular pronoun (or noun) in the comitative construction, either singular or
plural agreement in the verb is possible.66 Plural is appropriate: if the individuals
are known; if they act separately but in parallel; and if the new information is
the way in which the activity proceeded:
[328] <hfn c ctcnhjq dct ltkfkb<pl> c eks,rjq.
Brother and sister did everything with a smile.
[329] D tuj rjvyfnt yt ,skb yfcntktys gjks, b jy c ;tyjq ghsufkb<pl> c ,fkrb yf
In his room there were no ¬‚oorboards, and he with his wife hopped from beam to

Singular is appropriate when the participation of the comitative noun is sec-
ondary and incidental relative to the participation of the ¬rst ([330]), and if
attention is focused on the fact that the event took place at all ([331]).
[330] B tq yt yhfdbkcz hfccrfp Ctht;b j njv, rfr jy c Dkfljv [jlbk<sg> d
gcb[bfnhbxtcre/ rkbybre.
She also didn™t like Serezha™s story of how he went with Vlad to the psychiatric

On www.libr.ru <01.XI.02>.
65 66 Urtz 1999.
Predicates and arguments 357

[331] D lheujq rjvyfnt gjctkbkcz<sg> Kerby c ;tyjq b ldevz vfkmxbrfvb.
In another room there settled in Lukin with wife and two boys.

Overall, singular and plural are about equally likely with subject comitative

5.9.6 Agreement with quantifier phrases
When the subject is a quanti¬er phrase, the verb can appear in either the (neuter)
singular or plural. The singular presents the subject as a mass of undifferenti-
ated things, and the fact that a certain quantity exists is more signi¬cant than
the activities of the entities making up the group. Accordingly, singular is ap-
propriate: with inanimate entities that are not known as individuals; with large
or approximate quanti¬ers; with predicates that are existential; and with the
word order in which the subject follows the verb (the word order used to present
the world as a holistic situation). Note the shift in agreement and word order
in [332]:

[332] D gkzcre v dcnegbkj<sg> s vyj;tcndj ;jyukthjd. s Vyj;tcndj ;jyukthjd
rblf/n<pl> ltcnznrb nsczx ifhjd, ktnzob[ r yfv jlby pf lheubv.
A group of jugglers broke into dance. A group of jugglers is tossing tens of
thousands of balls that ¬‚y to us one after another.

Conversely, using the plural reports a property of entities that can be differ-
entiated as distinct individuals. Plural is then favored: by small quanti¬ers; by
individuating predicates -- those that report properties that can be ascribed to
individuals (rather than predicates that report the existence of situations); and
by the word order in which the subject precedes the verb (as in [332]). Plural
is likely to be used if the entities are known already or are identi¬ed in the
subsequent context.
The choice of number is especially sensitive to the semantics of predicates, fol-
lowing the hierarchy of predicates from existential to transitive and predicative.
With paucal numerals (ld’/ld†, nh«, xtnsht), usage is that of Table 5.16.
As in Table 5.16, paucals prefer plural with most predicates. Singular, used
primarily with existential predicates or verbs of position and motion, is reserved
for contexts that do no more than present a scene; thus the singular in Table
5.16(c) presents three small houses on the banks of the Volga as part of a traveler™s
view of a certain town. Plural is used if there is any discussion of the individual
entities in the following context; as, for example, the three reasons in Table
5.16(a) and the three photos in 5.16(c).
Usage with approximate quanti¬ers is illustrated in Table 5.17. Approximate
quanti¬ers use singular with all predicates except transitives and predicatives.
67 Corbett 2000:207 cites 44 percent plural in literature, 50 percent in press.
358 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 5.16 Agreement with paucal numerals

predicate type paucal quanti¬er: examples

(a) existential Yf Cgbhbljyjdrt ,skj<sg> nhb rjvyfns.
˜At Spiridonovka there were three rooms.™
R njve ,skb<pl> nhb ghbxbys. gthdfz <. . .>
˜For that there were three reasons. The ¬rst reason <. . .>™
(b) weak existential Yf cktle/obq ltym zdbkbcm<pl> tot ldt ctvmb.
˜The next day there appeared two more families.™
(c) position/motion Yf ghfdjv ,thtue djkub cnjzkj<sg> ldf-nhb ljvbrf.
˜On the right bank of the Volga there stood two or three little
Yf cntyf[ dbctkb<pl> nhb ajnjuhfabb -- ljxthb Rctybb, csyjdtq
<jhbcf b ?hbz.
˜On the walls hung three photos -- of daughter Kseniia and sons Boris
and Iury.™
(d) reflexive Pf cntyfvb dscjdsdfkbcm<pl> ldt-nhb ukfdrb ,tks[ wthrdtq.
intransitive ˜Beyond the walls there protruded two or three tops of white
(e) intransitive Nhb vjyf[f jnls[f/n<pl> gjl tkm/.
˜Three monks are resting under a ¬r.™
(f) passive participle Nfr ,skb<pl> cjplfys<pl> nhb vt;leyfhjlyst jhufybpfwbb.
˜And so three international organizations were set up.™
(g) transitive Pfyzkb<pl> jxthtlm ldt ntnb, c dble hsyjxyst njhujdrb.
˜Two women, by appearances market women, took places in line.™
(h) predicative Nhb tuj ifathf nj;t ,skb<pl> uhepbys.
˜His three attendants were also Georgians.™

Table 5.18 summarizes the general preferences for paucals and approxi-
mate quanti¬ers. Lower general numerals (gz ˜¬ve™, dj ´ctvm ˜eight™, ldty’lwfnm
˜twenty™, nh«lwfnm ˜thirty™, etc.), not exempli¬ed, are intermediate. Shading
marks the areas of active variation.
Table 5.18 suggests something of the way in which speci¬c quanti¬ers and
predicate semantics interact. In terms of predicates, transitives and predicatives
presume that their subjects are individuated, and are likely to take plural agree-
ment. At the opposite extreme, existentials and weak existentials take singular
agreement. In between, verbs of motion and position and re¬‚exive intransitives
are sensitive to the quanti¬er involved, and they can be quite variable in their
interpretation, ranging from an existential interpretation (d rjvyfnt d uecnjv
lsve cbltkj<sg> ytcrjkmrj xtkjdtr ˜in the room in thick smoke there were
sitting several people™), in which singular is used, to real activities, in which
plural is more appropriate (gjlyzkbcm<pl> yf dnjhjq эnf; ytcrjkmrj xtkjdtr
Predicates and arguments 359

Table 5.17 Agreement with approximate quantifiers

predicate type approximate quanti¬er: examples

(a) existential D <jujhjlbwrt ,skj<sg> ytcrjkmrj dhfxtq.
˜In Bogoroditsk were several doctors.™
(b) weak existential Jlyjdhtvtyyj ghb,skj<sg> ytcrjkmrj эitkjyjd.
˜Simultaneously there arrived several echelons.™
(c) position/motion Nfv cbltkj<sg> vyjuj ;tyoby, ,skb j,dbyztvst d cgtrekzwbb.
˜There many women were sitting, they were accused of speculation.™
Ytcrjkmrj vjkjls[ k/ltq [jlbkb<pl> nelf b c/lf.
˜Several young people walked here and there.™
(d) reflexive intransitive Vyjuj gfhytq djrheu ytt edbdfkjcm<sg> .
˜Many fellows were hanging around her.™
(e) intransitive E ldthb ytcrjkmrj xtkjdtr gjlckeibdfkj<sg> .
˜At the door several people were eavesdropping.™
(f) passive participle Ytcrjkmrj gthtdjlxbrjd ,skj<sg> fhtcnjdfyj<sg> .
˜Several interpreters were arrested.™
(g) transitive Vyjuj heccrb[ k/ltq jcnfdbkb<pl> gjckt ct,z djcgjvbyfybz.
˜Many Russians left memoirs after their death.™
(h) predicative Ytcrjkmrj ctrdjq jcnfkbcm<pl> ;bdsvb cdbltntkzvb ldflwfnjuj
˜Some sequoias have remained living witnesses of the twentieth

˜several people went up to the second story™). Intransitive verbs tend to an ac-
tivity interpretation, but an existential interpretation is also possible for some
predicates (nelf [jlbkj<sg> vyjuj ,f,eirbys[ pyfrjvs[ ˜many of Grandma™s
acquaintances used to go there™).
Each quanti¬er has a characteristic usage. Paucals treat entities as individu-
ated, with plural agreement in the predicate; singular is used regularly only
with existential predicates. Approximate quanti¬ers discourage an individuated
interpretation, and use singular with most predicates except transitives. Large
round numerals (cnj nsczxf) are similar. Other numerals are intermediate. Nu-
´, ´
merals larger than paucals -- from gz through the low decades -- are close to
paucals, but use singular agreement more freely.
Certain speci¬c contexts prefer one or the other interpretation. The modi¬ers
dc† and ¦nb before the quanti¬er presuppose that the members of the group
are known as individuals, and require plural agreement. Constructions with
distributive gj as subject strongly prefer singular, since the quantity is of primary
interest (§4.3.11). Expressions of the passage of time (years, seconds, months) are
viewed as a mass, and use singular agreement.
360 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 5.18 Predicate type and predicate agreement: quantifier subject

low general
paucal numeral (djctvm, approximate
predicate type numeral ldflwfnm, etc.) quanti¬er

sg | — pl
sg ≈ pl sg | ?pl
(a) existential, modal
sg | — pl
±sg | pl sg | ?pl
(b) weak existential
?sg | pl ±sg < pl sg ≥ ±pl
(c) position/motion
— sg | pl ±sg < pl sg ≥ ±pl
(d) reflexive intransitive
— sg | pl — sg | pl sg ≥ ±pl
(e) activity intransitive
— sg | pl — sg | pl sg ≈ pl
(f) passive participle
— sg | pl — sg | pl — sg | pl
(g) transitive
— sg | pl — sg | pl — sg | pl
(h) predicative

5.10 Subordinate clauses and infinitives

5.10.1 Basics
In¬nitives, adverbial participles (lttghbxfcnbz), and adjectival participles are less
articulated than ¬nite predications, in two respects: morphologically, they do not
in¬‚ect for the full range of tense and mood as ¬nite predicates, and syntactically,
they cannot have their own nominative subject in the clause. The implicit subject
is (usually) understood to be the same as some major argument of the main
predicate. Each type of non-¬nite form has a distinct occurrence and function.
Adjectival participles act as adjectives (§4.4.3).

5.10.2 Finite clauses
Finite clauses introduced by conjunctions can be used in a wide range of func-
tions that correspond approximately to arguments, in the extended sense used
here (§5.1). Clauses introduced by rjul’ ˜when™, †ckb ˜if™, gjr’ (yt) ˜until™, d nj
dh†vz ˜(at a time) while™, function as adverbial arguments (on tense: §6.3.2).
Clauses introduced by xnj (or under more specialized circumstances, xnj,s
˜in order to™) report the content of speech and analogous mental operations
of thought, belief, memory. Such clauses can have a role analogous to that of
the subject ([333]) or to that of the object ([334--35]):

[333] Vyt ,skj ljcflyj, xnj vjq ldj/hjlysq ,hfn cj vyjq yt buhftn.
It was annoying to me that my cousin did not play with me.
[334] Dcrjht hf,jxbt gjyzkb, xnj hf,jnf/n jyb, d ceoyjcnb, ,tcgkfnyj.
Soon the workers understood that they were working, in essence, for no pay.
[335] Jy lj,fdbk, xnj ghjnbd yfc tcnm jlby dtcmvf ceotcndtyysq geyrn.
He added that there was one very substantive point against us.
Predicates and arguments 361

And in other instances, the clause has a role analogous to that of an oblique
argument, a relation often marked by a placeholder demonstrative in the main

[336] Vjq ,hfn Dkflbvbh ujhlbkcz (ntv), xnj ,sk gj[j; yf cdjtuj lzl/.
My brother Vladimir was proud of the fact that he was similar to his uncle.
[337] F d xtv ghbpyf/ncz? D njv, xnj [jpzqrf k;tfhntkb b[ эrcgkefnbhjdfkf.
And in what should they confess? In the fact that the manager of the
pseudo-guild had been exploiting them.

The placeholder is more or less frequent depending on the verb: ujhlbkcz ntv,
xnj ˜[he] took pride™ 205/308 xx = 67 percent but elbdbkcz njve, xnj ˜[he] was
surprised™ 157 / 726 xx = 22 percent, cjvytdf/cm d njv, xnj ˜I doubt™ 124 / 1914
xx = 6 percent.68 Modal arguments introduced by prepositions, however, require
the demonstrative: Rehybrjdf gjlftn bcr yf Penthouse pf nj, xnj gjkej,yf;tyyjq
cyzkb yt tt ˜Kurnikova is suing Penthouse for the reason that they photographed
someone else half-naked™.
Finite clauses can be attached to event nouns ([338]):

[338] D ufptnf[ yfxfkb gjzdkznmcz cnfnmb, xnj hsyjr -- эnj vtkrj,eh;efpyfz jnhs;rf.
In the newspapers there began to appear articles [saying] that the free market --
that was a petty bourgeois belch.

In these ¬nite subordinate clauses, the most widely used conjunction is xnj
˜that™ (tense in reported speech: §6.3.3). Among the kinds of “reported speech,”
in the broad sense, are indirect questions, which have the same form as other
questions that are not subordinated.

5.10.3 Adverbial clauses and adverbial participles (lttghbxfcnbz)
Adverbial participles are the predicates of clauses that function as adverbial
arguments.69 They lack an overt subject, but are understood to have an implicit
subject that corresponds to a known entity, almost always the subject of the
main predicate (in [339], v’nm):

[339] F vjz vfnm, e,tlbdibcm<dee> , xnj tt ltnb [jhjij ecnhjtys, cj cgjrjqyjq
leijq dthyekfcm d Vjcrde.
And my mother, having become convinced that her children were well settled,
returned with a calm heart to Moscow.

Site www.libr.ru <10.X.02>.
69 The issues of “control” (matching the implicit subject to an argument of the main clause) and
exceptions to the usual relationship have long been a concern: Babby 1975[c], Babby and Franks
362 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Sentences are sometimes cited in which the implicit subject of the adverbial
participle (indexed “<j>”) corresponds to a signi¬cant argument of the main
predicate other than the subject: the unexpressed (or “º”) dative domain of a
modal ([340]), the domain of an experiential predicate ([341]), the passive agent
([342]), or even direct objects of verbs of emotion ([343]):70

[340] Wtkezcm<j> …<dat> vj;yj ,tcrjytxyj ghbpyfdfnmcz d k/,db ,tp ckjd.
Kissing, it is possible to constantly declare one™s love without words.
[341] Ckeifz<j> эnjn hfccrfp, vyt<j> ,skj cnhfiyj.
Listening to the story, it became terrifying to me.
[342] Hfpdbdfz<j> yfdsrb dj;ltybz, djlbntkzvb<j> ,elen bpexfnmcz vths
While [they are] developing driving techniques, safety measures will be learned by
[343] Djqlz<j> d rjvyfne, Rjk/<j> gjhfpbk ,tpgjhzljr.
On entering the room, the disorder astounded Kolia.

It is dif¬cult to determine the status of such sentences. They are cited by lin-
guists (including Russian speakers) as “grammatical”; sometimes differences in
acceptability are mentioned. (Those in which the argument is the dative domain
of a modal predicate with a dependent in¬nitive, as in [340], are the most accept-
able.) Yet such sentences are infrequent in texts, and many educated speakers
do not consider them standard.
While the adverbial participle itself does not show agreement, a predicative or
appositive in the clause re¬‚ects the gender and number of the implicit subject
(fem sg in [344]):

[344] :tyobys jcdj,jlbkbcm, rf;lfz<fem sg> bp yb[ dthyedibcm
dcnhtdj;tyyfz<fem sg> r cdjtq ctvmt.
The women were freed, each returning agitated to her own family.

And re¬‚exive pronouns within the clause refer to the implicit subject (cdj in ´q
The events of adverbial participles are understood to occur in time-worlds
contiguous with those of the main clause. In [345], the speaker™s return occurs at
the same time as the return, and is caused by the return; in [346], the expectation
is embedded in the same time-world as the approach.

[345] Dthyedibcm c djqys, z ndthlj htibk cnfnm gbcfntktv.
On returning from the war, I ¬rmly decided to become a writer.

70 Itskovich 1974 ([342]), Yokoyama 1980, Rappaport 1980 ([341]), Legendre and Akimova 1994 ([343]),
and Kazenin 2000 cite examples of adverbial participles not anteceded by the subject of a ¬nite
Predicates and arguments 363

[346] Gjl[jlz r djhjnfv, z rf;le/ ctreyle j;blfkf jrhbrf: ¤cnjq!≥
As I approached the gate, every second I expected to hear the shout: “stop!”

5.10.4 The free infinitive construction (without overt modal)
In general, in¬nitives lack overt subjects but are interpreted as having an implicit
subject. In¬nitive clauses are generally attached to main predicates (though not
always), and the subject of an in¬nitive can often be identi¬ed with a major ar-
gument of the main predicate. In¬nitives present events with a modal coloring,
as possible or desired or imposed.
An exception to the rule that in¬nitives are attached to matrix predicates is
the dative-with-infinitive construction, or, since there is no main ¬nite predi-
cate, the free infinitive.71 This construction is responsible for some of the most
famous apodictic pronouncements of older Russian:

[347] F Bujhtdf [hf,hfuj gk(re yt rh˜cbnb<inf> .
Igor™s brave regiment is not to be resurrected.
[348] <. . .> ldf e,j Hbvf gfljif, f nhtnbb cnjbn, f xtndthnjve<dat> yt ,snb<inf>
<. . .> and two Romes have fallen, while the third still stands, and a fourth is not
to be.

The construction, as a syntactic idiom, has a strong modal sense. Among other
values, it can predict an inevitable result or, when negated, the impossibility of
an event (as above). The dative is the goal of the modality and, implicitly, the
subject of the in¬nitive (in [348], it is incumbent on the fourth Rome never to
exist). The in¬nitive itself is not dependent on any overt matrix predicate -- the
construction as a whole has modal value. Indeed, it is not clear how to reconcile
this construction with contemporary models of syntax that derive constructions
by composition of elements.
The construction illustrated above still occurs in the modern language; the
modern Russian translations of [347] and [348] use the free in¬nitive construc-
tion, and other examples are found in modern Russian:

[349] Ujhtnm vyt, Nfyz, d uttyyt juytyyjq.
It is for me, Tanya, to burn in the ¬re of Gehenna.
[350] D j,otv, yt vyt nen celbnm.
But in general, it™s not for me to judge in these matters.

But this construction is used less pervasively than in earlier times; constructions
such as [349--50] have an epic ring to them. The free in¬nitive is still used freely
in decrees:

71 See now Fortuin 2000 for a comprehensive treatment of the construction.
364 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[351] E;t yf cktle/obq ltym dsitk yjdsq pfrjy: j,dbyztvs[ d nthhjhbpvt
celbnm ,scnhj, cktlcndbt pfrfyxbdfnm pf ltcznm lytq.
On the following day there appeared a new law: those accused of terrorism were
to be judged quickly, the process to be ¬nished within ten days.
[352] Jlyf uhfacrfz kj;rf lj cb[ gjh e vtyz [hfybncz. Tckb dpznm tt d hjn,
xedcndetncz ghjnbdysq drec vtlb.
I still have one of those aristocratic spoons. If one were to put it into one™s mouth,
one senses the unpleasant taste of copper.
[353] Lf b ult dpznm vfnthbfks b ltymub?
And where can one get the materials and the money?

The construction is stylistically neutral and extremely frequent in conditions and
questions ([352--53]). A search for the phrase Rfr gjgfcnm ˜How can one reach™
produced an impressive 19,400 hits on the web (<10.X.02>).

5.10.5 The free infinitive construction (with negative existential pronouns)
As a specialized development, in¬nitives can be used with interrogative-
inde¬nite pronouns to establish the existence of a possible entity that would
¬t in the event ([354]):72

[354] Pfobofnm ,skj jn xtuj.
There was indeed something from which to defend them.
[355] E; tve-nj ,skj j xtv pflevfnmcz.
Now he really had what [something] to think about.

The lack of possible existence of an entity is expressed using a special series of
negated inde¬nite-interrogative pronouns of the type y†ult ˜(there is) nowhere™,
y† c rtv ˜(there is) no one with whom™, etc.

[356] Ntgthm d wthrdb (,skj) cke;bnm ytrjve.
Now to hold services there is (was) no one.

Only the pronoun carries negation. The in¬nitive and be (when it is used) are
not negated.
As in other instances of the free in¬nitive, the implicit subject of the in¬ni-
tive is often universal in reference and omitted ([354]), but can in principle be
expressed as a dative ([355], [356]). As in other instances of the free construction,
the time reference is likely to be universal and present, but other tenses can be
formed by using the appropriate past or future form of be. The present tense
of the positive construction with inde¬nite-interrogative pronoun uses †cnm, but
the negative existential construction has no trace of be.

72 Mr’zek 1971, Garde 1976, Rappaport 1983, Babby 2000.
Predicates and arguments 365

± 
,skj 
[357]  
Dfv tcnm xnj nthznm.
,eltn 
 
± 
was 
 
For you there is what [something] to lose.

will be

± 
,skj 
[358]  
Vyt ghjcnj ytult --- ndjhbnm.
,eltn 
 
± 
was 
 
There simply is no place for me to work creatively.
will be 
 

5.10.6 The dative-with-infinitive construction (overt modal)
From the historical source of the free dative-with-in¬nitive construction with no
overt matrix predicate has developed the use of the in¬nitive with certain non-
verbal predicates: y’lj ˜necessary™, vj
´;yj ˜possible™, djpvj´;yj ˜possible™, ytkmpz
˜impermissible, impossible™. As in the free in¬nitive construction, the implicit
subject can be expressed in the dative, by virtue of being the goal of modality
of the main predicate.

[359] Tve yflj gjlrjhvbnmcz.
He needs to build himself up a bit.

If no dative argument is overt, the modality is understood to apply to any or all
people; in [360] anyone could write such a story:

[360] Yf эnjn c/;tn vj;yj ,skj ,s yfgbcfnm gjnhzcf/obq hfccrfp.
On that theme it would be possible to write a stunning story.

The in¬nitive is tightly bound with these non-verbal predicates; thus negation
of the main predicate (ytkmpz ˜not permissible, impossible™) used to elicit the
genitive in a transitive in¬nitive, though that usage has now faded except with
emphatic negative pronouns:

[361] Yfv ytkmpz ,skj ljdthznm ybrfrb[ j,otcndtyys[ hf,jn<gen> .
It was not possible to entrust any social projects to us.

This construction can be formed with the neuter singular predicative (short)
form of a variety of adjectives that comment on the modality of the event in
a weaker form, by evaluating its desirability for someone ([jhjij ˜it™s good for
one to™) or its dif¬culty (nhelyj ˜it™s dif¬cult for one to™), and so on. A variation
366 A Reference Grammar of Russian

on this construction is used with a set of “occasional” verbs, that is, with verbs
that talk about the occurrence or success of an event against the expectation
that the event might not occur: el’cnmcz ˜succeed in™, gjdtpn« ˜be fortunate to™,
ghbqn«cm ˜have occasion to™.
With y’lj ˜necessary™ and ytkmpz ˜not permissible™, the attached clause can
be ¬nite (subjunctive with xnj,s) if what must be is a whole event not under
the control of the argument in the main clause:

[362] Ytkmpz, xnj,s jyb cnfyjdbkbcm ;thndfvb.
It is impermissible that they should become victims.
[363] J,zpfntkmyj yflj, xnj,s vepsrf ,skf.
It™s absolutely necessary that there should be music.

´;yj ˜possible™ prefers in¬nitives.

5.10.7 Infinitives with modal hosts (nominative subject)
The most versatile modal in Russian is the verb (c)vj ´xm ˜may, might, can™.
Russian uses an old adjective lj
´k;ty ˜obligated™ (ljk;y’, ljk;yj ljk;ys) with
´, ´
an in¬nitive to express obligation. These modals differ from the impersonal
modals exactly by making the responsibility personal, whereas the impersonal
modals present obligation as universal, even if in a particular case it is directed
to the dative domain (§6.2.8).

5.10.8 Infinitives with hosts of intentional modality (nominative subject)
A variety of verbs talk about an individual who tries to create a state of the
world that does not exist. The host verbs characterize various attitudes with
respect to changing the world: volition ([jn†nm ˜want™, hti«nm ˜decide to™), at-
tempt (cnfh’nmcz ˜try™, gsn’nmcz ˜make an attempt™, cnhtv«nmcz ˜strive™), success
(gjcxfcnk«dbnmcz ˜have the good fortune™, e[bnh«nmcz ˜to be clever enough™), or
habit (k/,«nm ˜love™, ghtlgjxbn’nm ˜prefer™).

[364] Z htibk cltkfnm ghtccrjyathtywb/.
I decided to hold a press conference.

The individual who formulates the desire is the individual who will accomplish
the event.
The in¬nitive is moderately cohesive with the main predicate. Negating the
main verb once used to evoke the genitive in the object of the in¬nitive, but no
longer. As a rule, intending or attempting to create a world is a perfective event
([364], cl†kfnm<pf> ). Habits, however, are imperfective (§6.5.9).
If the individual responsible for creating the new world is not the same as the
individual who wills the creation, the conjunction xnj,s is used.
Predicates and arguments 367

[365] Hjlbntkb yt [jntkb, xnj,s jy etp;fk.
His parents did not want that he should leave.
Russian has no construction similar to the English “raising” construction: corre-
sponding to His parents did not want him to leave, there is no — Hjlbntkb yt [jntkb
tuj et[fnm.

5.10.9 Infinitives with aspectual hosts (nominative subject)
In¬nitives are used with a small set of predicates that describe transitions in
the status of an activity -- beginnings (yfx’nm/yfxby’nm ˜begin™, cn’nm/cnfyjd«nmcz
˜get involved in™), continuations (ghjljk;«nm/ghjljk;’nm ˜continue™), endings
´yxbnm/rjyx’nm ˜end™, gthtcn’nm/gthtcnfd’nm ˜stop™). The in¬nitives are always
imperfective. Historically, the future imperfective with ,©le, etc., is of the same
An unusual construction that may be related is the use of an imperfective
in¬nitive with a nominative subject but without any overt host predicate. The
construction is used in stylized imitations of folk style, such as the doggerel
about the bee in [366]:
[366] <sk yf gfctrt e ltlf, Once at grandpa™s beehive
I saw an evildoer
Nfv edbltk z pkjdhtle
Z ,t;fnm -- jyf pf vyjq I take to running -- she, after me
Calling her friends to come
B gjlheu pjdtn c cj,jq

The construction suggests an action closely related to other narrative events that
is attempted but incomplete (as is the escape in [366]). Because the in¬nitive
is imperfective, it is likely that the construction developed historically from an
aspectual construction by eliding the host predicate (whether cn’nm, ,©le, lfd’q,
or another host can no longer be determined), but by now it is a distinct, albeit
stylistically and pragmatically quite idiosyncratic, construction.

5.10.10 Infinitives with hosts of imposed modality (accusative or dative object)
Another construction involving in¬nitives is that in which the subject of the
host predicate transfers modality (obligation, possibility) to another individual,
who is put under the obligation, or given the opportunity, to carry out the event.
There are two types. The event can be imposed on or permitted of an individ-
ual expressed as the dative: l’nm/lfd’nm ˜give, let™, ghbrfp’nm/ghbr’psdfnm ˜give
an order™, dtk†nm ˜order™, gjpdj
´kbnm/gjpdjkz ˜allow™, ghtlkj;«nm/ghtlkfu’nm
± 
ghbrfpfkb 
[367]  
Vyt<dat> lfkb dstp;fnm dj Dkflbvbh d ne ;t yjxm.
 
368 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 5.19 Types of infinitive constructions

impersonal transferred
model personal volitive modality transferred
yflj ˜be modal modality
[jntnm ghbrfpfnm
necessary™ vjxm ˜be able™ ˜want™ ˜order™ gjghjcbnm ˜ask™
implicit subject dat domain nom subject nom subject dat goal acc object
of in¬nitive [goal]
= argument
of main
modality necessity obligation/ subject subject imposes subject imposes
directed to possibility as intends to obligation obligation
goal function of create world (possibility) of (possibility) of
subject creating creating
world world
cohesion of close close intermediate loose loose
with main
¬nite variants (xnj,s) --- xnj,s xnj,s xnj,s

± 
 
They let me to leave that very night for Vladimir.
 
 

Or the individual can be affected by the imposition of obligation (possibility, in-
vitation), and the argument is expressed in the accusative: pfcn’dbnm/pfcnfdkz ´nm
˜force, make™, (gj)ghjc«nm ˜ask™, e,tl«nm/e,t;l’nm ˜persuade™, gj,el«nm/gj,e;l’nm
˜incite™, ghbukfc«nm/ghbukfi’nm ˜invite™.
± 
ghjcbkf 
[368]  
Jyf pfcnfdkzkf vtyz<acc> lj,snm ryb;re crfpjr.
 
 
± 
asked 
 
She tried to force me to get a book of tales.
 
 

In such constructions, the in¬nitive is loosely attached to the main predicate.
Since there are in effect two subjects, re¬‚exives can in principle refer either to
the implicit subject of the in¬nitive (in reference, the same as the dative goal
or the accusative object) or to the matrix subject (§4.7.9). The imposed event is
likely to be viewed as a potentially complete event, not merely an activity, and
Predicates and arguments 369

the perfective is usual in the in¬nitive. Negating the main verb will not evoke
the genitive in the object of the in¬nitive.
Many verbs that describe acts of speech can be used to impose an order on
someone else, by using the conjunction xnj,s ([369]):

[369] Enhjv vfnm crfpfkf tve, xnj,s jy e[jlbk.
In the morning mother told him that he must leave.
[370] Vfnm ecgtkf itgyenm ntnt Cfit, xnj,s jntw yb d rjtv ckexft yt itk.
Mother had time to whisper to Aunt Sasha, that under no circumstances should father

5.10.11 Final constructions
In¬nitives are used in final constructions, to name the intended result of an
activity. Final in¬nitives are normally preceded by xnj,s or the more explicit
lkz njuj xnj,s.

[371] Vjkxb, xnj,s lhe;,e yt gjnthznm.
Be quiet, so as not to ruin our friendship.

In ¬nal constructions, there is normally an agentive subject in the main pred-
icate that wills and controls the eventual, ¬nal, result. Final constructions can
have xnj,s and a ¬nite predicate, if the implicit subject of the ¬nal predicate
is not the agent of the main predicate:

[372] Ldjt hfytys[ gjghjcbkb, xnj,s b[ rjqrb gjljldbyekb gj,kb;t r jryfv.
Two of the wounded asked that their cots be moved up closer to the windows.

While in¬nitives can be used in English as relative clauses, as in a difficult role to
perform, they cannot in Russian: — nhelyfz hjkm bcgjkybnm [as if: ˜a dif¬cult role
to ful¬ll™]. In¬nitives can, however, be attached to modal nouns: djpvj ´;yjcnm
˜possibility™ (djpvj;yjcnm hfcrjkjnm ghfdjckfdbt ˜the possibility of splitting
Orthodoxy™), ytj,[jl«vjcnm ˜necessity™ (ytj,[jlbvjcnm xthnbnm rfhns ˜the ne-
cessity of drawing maps™).

5.10.12 Summary of infinitive constructions
In¬nitive constructions attached to main predicates are summarized in Table
The constructions here are arranged in order of increasing autonomy of the
in¬nitive clause. The in¬nitive is tightly bound to “impersonal” modal predi-
cates (y’lj, etc.). The modality of the main predicate applies to the whole event
370 A Reference Grammar of Russian

named by the in¬nitive, and is directed to a dative goal, who is then the im-
plicit subject of the in¬nitive. At the opposite extreme, the subject of the main
predicate transfers control to another individual (expressed as dative goal of
the transfer or the accusative site of transfer) who is the implicit subject of
the in¬nitive. Intermediate are constructions in which the subject of the main
predicate controls the development of the event named by the in¬nitive.
Mood, tense, and aspect

6.1 States and change, times, alternatives
All predicates report histories -- narratives, scenes, hopes, orders -- as do the
predicates in [1], which relate the narrative of a journey of the Aksakov family:
[1] D cthtlbyt pbvs 1799 ujlf ghbt[fkb<pf> vs d ue,thycrbq ujhjl Rfpfym. Vyt
,skj<if> djctvm ktn. Vjhjps cnjzkb<if> nhtcrexbt.
In the middle of winter in 1799 we arrived in the regional capital of Kazan. I was
eight. There was crisp frost.

The stories or scenes are elaborated around some time and world (set of cir-
cumstances) that the speaker deems immediately relevant to the ongoing dia-
logue or narrative; it might be termed the c o n t e x t ua l t i m e - wo r l d or the
c o n t e x t ua l o c c a s i o n .1 The contextual time-world can be localized in rela-
tion to the here-and-now of speech, and that is what the category of tense does.
Thus in [1], the adverb phrase establishes a contextual occasion in the winter of
1799, which is prior to the time of speech (writing), and the verbs are all past
The states reported by predicates can be static, as are the speaker™s age and
the weather in [1], or the states can change, as does the location of the Aksakov
family in [1]. The concern with change and possible change around the contex-
tual time is aspect. As is well known, verbs in Russian can be classi¬ed into
two moieties, perfective and imperfective, that differ by the kind of history they
report (§6.4).
Predicates provide information not just about states of the actual world. They
also invite comparison to alternatives, to what might have been or what might
come to pass. In [2], the narrator, a young boy, describes more about the journey
of [1]:

1 In the spirit of Reichenbach 1947 (“reference time”), Smith 1983, 1991 (“viewpoint”), Declerck 1991
(“orientation time”), Klein 1992, 1995, Paducheva 1996 (“time of report”). On limitations of the
approach of Reichenbach, see Comrie 1981, Timberlake 1985[a].

372 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[2] Ghbrhsnsq<psv> cdth[ jltzkf kbcmbv cfkjgjv, z cjuhtkcz<pf> , ecyek<pf> b
ghjcyekcz<pf> yf lheujq ltym pljhjdsv.
Covered by a fox coat over the quilt, I warmed up, fell asleep and awoke the next
day healthy.

The mother of the narrator feared that her boy might fall ill as a result of
the chill he experienced during the journey. Here in [2] the narrator describes
how he awoke in a state of health, a fortunate result that runs counter to the
future that his mother anticipated. Therein is the real information value. The
information is not only the state that is asserted to hold, but the evaluation of
that state against alternatives that had been anticipated. Broadly, modality is
any concern with alternatives that are mediated by an authority.
Predicates, then, report histories, which can be static or changing around
a contextual occasion (aspect) relative to expectations (modality); the history
and the contextual occasion are positioned with respect to the time of speech
The discussion below is oriented around the categories of tense, aspect, and
mood that are explicitly expressed by means of morphology, but at the same
time, it is to be understood that they ¬t into larger, and interconnected, notions
of aspectuality, temporality, and modality.

6.2 Mood

6.2.1 Modality in general
Modality, in general, is a consideration of alternatives, as viewed by some au-
thority or speaker. Alternative realities are legion. There are various reasons for
considering alternatives in addition to the world we take to be real.
(a) M O D A L I T Y O F E P I S T E M O L O G Y : Although the speaker seems to be the ulti-
mate authority for knowledge, the speaker in a sense is the addressee of external
stimuli, memory, other speakers. The speaker is not always an omnipotent au-
thority, and may indicate some uncertainty or attenuation of knowledge about
the world. Included under modality of epistemology are verbs of seeming, ap-
pearance, and the phenomenon of reported speech.
(b) M O D A L I T Y O F R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y : As speakers we believe that the world
is not just the way it is accidentally, spontaneously, but that the world is
the way it is because of some responsible authority. Authority can be layered.
For example, in using an imperative, there are two layers: the speaker acts as
authority to decide how the world should be, and then cajoles or implores the
addressee to become an authority and change the world from its current state. In
deontic modality (etymologically, the modality of “binding”), expressed by modal
Mood, tense, and aspect 373

predicates such as y’lj ˜necessary™, ghbqn«cm ˜have occasion to™, k©xit ˜better™,
´k;ty (ljk;y’, etc.) ˜is obligated™, there are likewise two layers. The person to
whom the obligation is directed is ˜bound™ to take responsibility for the world.
And that responsibility derives from a higher authority, a generalized code of
possibility and obligation.
(c) SI T U A T I O N A L M O D A L I T Y : When speakers and addressees are not acting
as authorities, one is left with modality in which one situation of the world
interacts with another: one situation is consistent with another (despite expec-
tations), or causes another, or excludes another. All narrative is about one event
making another possible; argumentation involves demonstrating how one fact
makes another fact necessary. Situational modality is often implicit; it becomes
explicit in conditional structures.
These are the general types of modality. Morphologically, Russian can be said
to distinguish three moods: realis mood (past and present and future tenses),
imperative, and an all-purpose irrealis (subjunctive) modality. The in¬nitive,
although it is non-¬nite, could also be considered a mood. Irrealis mood is
expressed not by in¬‚ectional morphology, but by means of the particle ,s. This
particle most often follows immediately after the verb, and a ¬nite verb must
be in the past tense:

[3] <elm Ctht;f ;bd, jy cjxbybk<pst> ,s j yfitv c,jhbot cvtiyjq hfccrfp.
Were Serezha still alive, he would write a droll story about our gathering.

Put after the verb, ,s focuses on the alternative states of the world, on what
might happen. But the particle need not occur directly after or attached to the
verb; it can be used with a conjunction or an argument (both in [4]):

[4] Tckb ,s z ,sk<pst> <kjrjv, z ,s cjxbybk<pst> ghj ytt ¤Ytpyfrjvre≥
If I were Blok, I would write “The Stranger” about her.

When ,s is put after an argument, the alternative realities that are entertained
depend on properties of that argument; thus [4] hangs on the identity of the
Although ,s requires the past tense when it is used with a ¬nite verb, it
does not require the past tense when it is used to attenuate the force of modal-
ity, in the free in¬nitive construction (Vyt ,s bpdbybnmcz ˜perhaps I should
apologize™) and with non-verbal predicates (k©xit ,s ˜would be better™, y’lj ,s
˜would be necessary™, vj ´;yj ,s ˜perhaps™ -- j,j dctv эnjv vj;yj ,s yfgbcfnm
yjdtkke ˜about that one might write a whole novella™). The particle has long been
used together with the conjunction xnj ˜that™, resulting in a univerbated irrealis
conjunction xnj,s. Xnj,s occurs either with ¬nite verbs, which must appear
in the past tense, or with in¬nitives.
374 A Reference Grammar of Russian

6.2.2 Mands and the imperative
By using an imperative, the speaker acts as an authority and requests the ad-
dressee to become an authority and take responsibility for making the future
world match the speaker™s wishes.
Perfectives predominate in positive imperatives, since in using imperatives the
speaker as a rule asks for a de¬nitive change of the world:

[5] Djpmvbnt<pf imv> hjvfy Pjkz ¤Xhtdj Gfhb;f≥ b gjxbnfqnt<pf imv> .
Take Zola™s novel Ventre de Paris and read it.
[6] Pfqlbnt<pf imv> xthtp nhb lyz!
Come back in three days!
[7] Jq, ,evf;rb, lf jyb ghbujlbnmcz vjuen, ns b[ pfceym<pf imv> d rjhj,jxre.
Oh, the papers -- they might come in handy, stick them in this box.

Also by general rule, negative imperatives are normally imperfective:

[8] Yj tckb vjtuj ve;f b vjtuj csyf jnghfdzn lfktrj, yfv yt yf xnj ,eltn ;bnm,
vs nf,frthre ghjlflbv. Yt ,thbnt<if imv> tt, gj;fkeqcnf.
But if my husband and son are sent off, we won™t have anything to live on, and
we™ll sell the snuff-box. Don™t take it, please.
[9] Yt cnfdmnt<if imv> gecne/ ,enskre yf cnjk!
Don™t put an empty bottle on the table!

While this is the usual distribution of aspect in the imperative, the oppo-
site, chiasmic, combinations occur. A negated perfective imperative indicates a
warning against an event the speaker considers imminent: unless alternative
strategies are adopted, the speaker expects the undesirable positive result to

[10] -- E dfc tcnm gbcnjktn? Yt dplevfqnt<pf imv> pfcnhtkbnmcz!
-- So you have a pistol? Don™t even think of shooting yourself!
[11] Ghjdj;fz vtyz, Dkflbvbh crfpfk:
-- Cvjnhb yt jchfvbcm<pf imv> , yf,thbcm<pf imv> yf[fkmcndf, d ckexft xtuj dhb, f
vtyz yt gjldtlb<pf imv> .
As he accompanied me, Vladimir said:
-- Watch you don™t do something shameful, act with impudence, if there™s a
problem, lie, and don™t give me away.

Imperfectives can be used as positive imperatives to express the usual senses
of the imperfective, for example, a generalized action (dh« in [11]) or habit ([12]):
[12] Gj enhfv jnrhsdfq<if imv> jryj.
Please open the window in the morning.

2 Kuˇera 1985.
Mood, tense, and aspect 375

Imperfective imperatives can also be used in certain pragmatic situations in
which the speaker has in mind a single occasion, not a generalized activity.3 The
speaker can use an imperfective imperative to issue an invitation:

[13] Pf[jlbnt<if imv> , hfpltdfqntcm<if imv> !
Come on in, take off your things.

Or to grant permission, when the addressee hesitates;

[14] -- Vj;yj z ghble? -- Perhaps I might come over?
-- Ghb[jlb<if imv> . -- [Indeed, do] come.

Or to insist on an activity, when the addressee hesitates and there is a clear and
present danger that the activity might not be performed:

[15] <thbnt<if imv> , yt cjvytdfqntcm<if imv> !
Go ahead and take some, don™t hesitate!
[16] They are moving away. Maybe
B: Jyb ;t etp;f/n. Vj;tn, jyb vfibye
they™ll sell their car?
No doubt they™ll try to sell it.
Y: Yfdthyjt, jyb tt ,elen ghjlfdfnm.
Natasha, sell it to me.
B: Yfnfif, ghjlfdfqnt<if imv> tt vyt.
[17] Ceg ujnjd. Cybvfq<if imv> !
The soup is ready. Remove it.

These contexts are alike in that, in all, the speaker anticipates that a certain
activity is already established as a possibility, but is nevertheless not a certainty.
What is at issue for the speaker is ¬rst and foremost whether the activity will
occur at all, as opposed to not occurring. The imperfective is motivated by the
focus on the binary question of the existence of the activity rather than on
change and result.
Imperatives, self-evidently, are oriented to the addressee, and so are implicitly
second person. Something like ¬rst-person imperatives can be formed by using
the present form with a hortative intonation; the af¬x -nt makes an inclusive
plural ([18]):

[18] -- Bltvnt<1pl+2pl prs> c yfvb d rbyj, ujdjhzn, jxtym bynthtcysq abkmv.
-- Come with us to the movies, they say, there™s an interesting ¬lm.

Other constructions similar to imperatives can be formed by combining certain
frozen imperative forms with verbs (often present-tense perfective) in any person.

3 Paducheva 1996 ([12], [13], [14], [15], [17]) ¬rst distinguishes three parameters: initial phase, immedi-
acy, and contextual dependence, and then lists speci¬c pragmatic situations. The general condition
is insistence on the existence of the activity in the face of uncertainty (Timberlake 1998).
376 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Lfd’q(nt) ˜give, let™ ([19]) or, less usually, l’q(nt) ([20]) assume the addressee is
the authority:

[19] Lfdfqnt ds,thtv<1pl pf prs> yjdsq ghbynth lkz dfituj jabcf.
Let™s select a new printer for your of¬ce.
[20] Lfqnt z gjghj,e/<1sg pf prs> .
Let me have a go at it.

With g©cnm ˜let™, the proposed event depends on the situation rather than on
the addressee:

[21] Djn gjqle ctqxfc d vbkbwb/ pfzdk/! Gecnm ghbtlen<3pl pf prs> lf
pf,then<3pl pf prs> .
I™ll just go right now to inform the police. Let them come and take them off.
[22] D gjldfkt jyb rfrjq-nj vfufpby [jnzn jnrhsnm. Vfkj kb xtv jyb nfv
pfybvf/ncz. Dtxthjv ghbtle ljvjq, gjpdjy/ d vbkbwb/. Gecrfq
ghbtlen<pf prs> , ghjdthzn<pf prs> .
In the basement they want to open a store. There™s hardly anything there™re not
into. This evening I™ll go home, call the police. Let them come, check it out.

With gecr’q, less frequent by a ratio of at least ¬ve to one, the expectation is
more tentative.

6.2.3 Conditional constructions
In their most explicit form, conditionals in Russian have a condition (protasis)
introduced by a conjunction such as †ckb ˜if™ (or rjul’ ˜when™) and a consequence
(apodosis); the apodosis can be marked with the particle(s) (f) nj ˜or else, and
then™.4 To be a conditional, a situation needs some degree of uncertainty about
whether the condition and then also the consequence will be ful¬lled. Four
cardinal types of less-than-certain situations can be distinguished.

Epistemological conditions: The condition can be considered less than certain
if the speaker™s knowledge about an event is uncertain. Epistemological con-
ditionals state that in the speaker™s opinion, knowledge, or worldview, if the
protasis is true, the truth of apodosis follows. The relation is not causality in
the usual sense, whereby one state of the world is responsible for the existence
of another state of the world; the sequence is in the speaker™s epistemology.
Tense, aspect, and mood are open.

4 On conditionals in Russian, see Kubík 1967 ([33]), Ueda 1998, and now Hacking 1998. A relevant
general study is Dancygier 1998.
Mood, tense, and aspect 377

[23] Tckb hfymit ghtj,kflfkj<if pst> cjxedcndbt, nj ntgthm e ytrjnjhs[
djpybrkj<pf pst> xedcndj, rjnjhjt vfhrcbcns yfpsdf/n ¤rkfccjdjq ytyfdbcnm/≥.
If earlier a feeling of sympathy predominated, then now some have begun to
experience the feeling that Marxists call “class hatred.”

General (iterative) conditions: In repeating situations, some uncertainty of the
protasis comes from the fact that the condition is not in force at every moment,
but arises from time to time. In such general or iterative conditions in Russian,
the verbs of both clauses are almost always imperfective. General conditions
hold across time, and are naturally expressed in the present tense and realis
mood ([24]), though they can be moved into the past ([25]) or the future or to
counterfactual worlds. The conjunction is often rjul’ ˜when™ ([25]) rather than
the quintessential conditional conjunction †ckb ˜if™.

[24] Tckb rnj-kb,j bp exbntktq pf,jktdfk<if pst> , jyf tuj pfvtyzkf<if pst> .
If anyone of the teachers fell ill, she replaced him.
[25] Rjulf vs ,thtv<if prs> bpdjpxbrf, jy vtyz gjlcf;bdftn<if prs> , rfr ,elnj ,s z
,skf ubvyfpbcnrjq gznjuj rkfccf.
When we take a carriage, he seats me as if I were a gymnasium student of the
¬fth form.

Occasionally iterative conditionals can have a perfective protasis (instead of im-
perfective), emphasizing that the hypothesized condition is a result of an unpre-
dictable event:

[26] F e; tckb rfrjq udjplm gjuyekcz<pf pst> , nfr yt dsrblsdfnm<if inf> tuj, f
ytghtvtyyj dsghzvkznm<if inf> .
And if some nail has managed to get bent, do not throw it out, rather, straighten
it out.

Hypothetical: The speaker may invite the addressee to consider a world the
speaker knows is not real. In such counterfactual conditions, both clauses use
the particle ,s and, accordingly, the past tense of a ¬nite verb:

[27] Tckb ,s jyb dcnhtnbkbcm<pf pst> ktn gznm yfpfl, nj dct ,s e;t lfdyj
rjyxbkjcm<pf pst> .
If they had met ¬ve years ago, then everything would have ended long ago.

Hypothetical situations often lie in the past ([27]), but they can hold in the
present ([28]):

[28] Pfvtxe kbim, xnj {ectqy, yfdthyjt, j,bltkcz<pf> ,s, tckb ,s tuj yfpdfkb<pf>
I would only say that Hussein would most probably be offended if he were to be
called an altruist.
378 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Potential: Some conditions are uncertain in that they deal with potential states --
states that are not actual at this moment but which might still come to pass.
Potential conditions, which often lie in the future, are expressed by present-tense
perfective forms or the imperfective futures.

[29] E vtyz ;fh, jy ghjqltn<pf prs> , tckb z yfqle<pf prs> ,fyre c dfhtymtv. Yj tt
cghznfkb, nfr rfr Djdf b z dct ,thtv ,tp cghjcf.
I have a fever, it will pass, if I can just ¬nd the jar with the jam. But they™ve
hidden it, because Vova and I keep taking from it without asking.
[30] Tckb ;ehyfkbcns yt lflen<pf prs> cdjtuj cjukfcbz, ghjcnj dsht;tn<pf prs> b[
cnfnmb b ,eltn<if fut> yfrktbdfnm ,tp ujyjhfhf.
If the journalists won™t give their permission, he™ll simply cut the articles out and
put them up without paying for them.
[31] Tckb z yt dsexe<pf prs> dct[ ukfd, jn gthdjq lj gjcktlytq, vyt ,eltn<if fut>
If I do not learn all of the chapters, from the ¬rst to the last, it™ll be bad for me.

The cardinal patterns discussed are summarized in [32].

[32] type prototypical tense-aspect and mood

epistemological any; realis
past ∼ present imperfective; realis
hypothetical past perfective; irrealis
present-tense perfective ∼ imperfective
future; realis

If the condition is hypothetical, then the irrealis mood with ,s is used. If iter-
ative, then imperfective is used.
In the usual case, the protasis and apodosis represent the same degree of re-
ality -- both are potential or hypothetical -- and are expressed with the same or
comparable tense and mood. (The imperfective future and perfective present are
comparable in both referring to events in the future.) In iterative conditionals,
aspect also matches in the two clauses. Mismatches in mood (or “hybrid” con-
ditionals) require special semantic conditions. The least unusual hybrid is that
in which the protasis is in the irrealis mood and the apodosis in the indicative;
this condition is possible if ,s is understood as concessive and the apodosis
reports a negative result (˜no matter what, there will be no result™):

[33] Tckb ,s<irr> z, yfghbvth, gjghj,jdfk hfpdjlbnm jdjob bkb tot xnj-yb,elm
gjktpyjt, -- ybxtuj yt dsqltn<pf prs> .
Even if, for example, I were to try to grow vegetables or do something else
productive, -- still, nothing will come of it.
Mood, tense, and aspect 379

Conditionals can also use imperatives in the protasis, and not only with second

[34] Gj;tkfq<pf imv> jy, jyb ,s d Vjcrde gthtt[fkb<pf> .
If he had just wished it, they could move to Moscow.
[35] :bdb<if imv> vs c Dfvb d fyukjcfrcjycrb[ cnhfyf[, ajyjkjubxtcrjt jgbcfybt
vbhf ,skj ,s e;t ujnjdj.
Let us live in Anglo-Saxon countries, the phonological description of the world
would already be done.

The imperative as protasis has been idiomatized: ,©lm tuj dj ˜if he could have
´ ´kz
his way™. The apodosis can also be imperative:

[36] Ghfdbntkmcndj bplfkj cnhj;fqibq pfrjy: jgjplfk<pf pst> yf hf,jne ,jktt xtv
yf ldflwfnm vbyen -- rfnbcm<if imv> rj dctv xthnzv.
The government issued an extremely strict law: if you™re late to work by more
than twenty minutes, go to the devil.

The protasis may be a free in¬nitive not governed by any overt modal predi-

[37] Tckb dpznm<inf> tt d hjn, xedcndetncz<if imv> ghjnbdysq drec vtlb.
If you put the spoon in your mouth, you get the unpleasant taste of copper.

The protasis may be a negated nominal:

[38] Tckb ,s yt htdjk/wbz, ,eleobq ,hfr vt;le ldevz pyfnytqibvb hjlfvb
cxbnfkcz ,s bcrk/xbntkmyj elfxysv.
If it were not for the revolution, this future marriage between two very eminent
clans would have been thought to be extraordinarily successful.

The syntax of this phrase is a puzzle: it seems to be a negative existential, yet
the argument is nominative, not genitive.
Conditionals can be defective, with only one clause explicitly stated. A protasis
used without an apodosis leaves the consequence to the imagination:

[39] Djn tckb , rnj-yb,elm ghbytc kbvjyyjt vjhj;tyjt, cnfrfyxbr pf
nhb rjgtqrb, yf,bnsq lbdysv vjhj;tysv . . .
And think what if somebody were to bring lemon ice cream, a three-kopeck
container ¬lled with amazing ice cream . . .

The protasis can be stated in compressed form (d nfrj ck©xft ˜in that case™ =
˜if the condition just under discussion is ful¬lled™) or derived from the context
380 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[40] {jhjij, xnj <jhz yt dblbn эnb[ rybu. Jy ,s ghtpbhfk vtyz pf jncencndbt
It™s a good thing Boria doesn™t see these books. [If he were to see them] He would
despise me for an absence of interests.
[41] Ntgthm ntv rybufv wtys ,s yt ,skj.
Now such books would be priceless [if they could be found].

There is also a sense in which the use of ,s in a single clause could be under-
stood as inviting a conditional interpretation (§6.2.7).

6.2.4 Dependent irrealis mood: possibility, volitive, optative
Clauses with the conjunction xnj,s are used as complements of various predi-
cates describing necessity ([42]) or the speaker™s will ([43]) or wishes ([44]). These
matrix predicates can take in¬nitives when the subject of the imposed event
matches the argument of the main clause on whom the obligation is imposed.
Xnj,s is used when the subject of the embedded clause is not the same as the
matrix argument.

[42] J,zpfntkmyj yflj, xnj,s vepsrf ,skf b xnj,s gtkb.
It™s absolutely necessary that there be music and singing.
[43] Hjlbntkb yt [jntkb, xnj,s jy etp;fk.
Our parents didn™t want that he should leave.
[44] Dkflbvbh [kjgjnfk, xnj,s tve ;ehyfks pfrfpsdfkb.
Vladimir tried to arrange that they should order journals for him.

The irrealis mood is justi¬ed in that the situation is not actual; rather, it is
deemed necessary or desirable by some authority.

6.2.5 Dependent irrealis mood: epistemology
Certain matrix predicates comment on the nature of the information reported by
an embedded predicate: some indicate how certain the information is (rfp’nmcz
˜seem™, bpd†cnyj ˜known™, cjdthi†yyj ytd†hyj ˜completely untrue™) or how strong
the speaker™s commitment to the information is (cjvytd’nmcz ˜doubt™, yt d†hbncz
˜it™s hard to believe™, py’nm ˜know™, cxbn’nm ˜think, consider™) or what the speaker™s
attitude to the information is (h’ljdfnmcz ˜be pleased™, ,jz ´nmcz ˜be afraid™,
djc[bn«nmcz ˜become ecstatic™). Other predicates indicate that the information
derives from the speaker™s observation (d«ltnm ˜see™, ckßifnm ˜hear™, yf,k/l’nm
˜observe™). Information can be passed on by the primary (external) speaker from
a secondary (internal) speaker. In all these instances, the internal history of the
embedded clause is epistemologically less than completely certain.
In such clauses Russian generally uses the conjunction xnj with the indicative
mood, but xnj,s can be used if the matrix clause is laden with negation (ytkmpz
Mood, tense, and aspect 381

crfpfnm, xnj,s ˜it would impossible to say that™) or dread (,jznmcz, xnj,s yt ˜be
afraid, lest™):

[45] Yf Ctyyjq gkjoflb z xnj-nj yt gjvy/, xnj,s ghjlfdfkjcm ctyj.
On Haymarket Square, I somehow don™t recall that any hay got sold.
[46] Dshfcnfkf jyf ytkmpz crfpfnm xnj,s rhfcfdbwtq.
She grew up to be what you couldn™t call a beauty.
[47] Ybrjulf yt gjdth/, xnj,s Rfnz ,skf cnerfxrjq!
I will never believe that Katia could have been an informer!
[48] Z dctulf ,jzkcz, xnj,s vfnm ult-yb,elm b rjve-yb,elm yt gj;fkjdfkfcm yf
I was always afraid lest mother complain about me somewhere and to someone.

When xnj,s is used, it indicates the primary speaker™s profound doubt or fear
about the embedded history. Xnj is a more universal and neutral way of formu-
lating the information.

6.2.6 Dependent irrealis mood: reference
A relative clause turns a predication into a property of an argument. That prop-
erty can be descriptive of an entity whose identity is already established or it can
be de¬nitional of an entity not yet established in the discourse as a known in-
dividual. In a de¬nitional relative clause, the particle ,s signals that the entity
is quite hypothetical:

[49] Ctqxfc e;t ybrjuj yt jcnfkjcm, rnj pyfk ,s nfr ,kbprj Ktjyblf <jhbcjdbxf d
gjdctlytdyjq ;bpyb, rfr ljdtkjcm vyt.
Now there is no one left who might have known Leonid Borisovich as intimately
in his daily life, as I had the chance to.

6.2.7 Independent irrealis moods
The particle ,s can be used in independent clauses, in two ways.5
First, ,s can be used in independent clauses in combination with predicates
that are already modal -- predicates that comment on possibility, ability, neces-
sity, desirability, epistemology.

[50] Z [jntkf ,s<irr> pfnryenm eib, yj yt htif/cm.
I wanted to stuff my ears, but I can™t make up my mind.

The particle has the effect of softening the modality. Usually the situation is
counterfactual: in [50], the girl does not actually dare to stuff her ears.

5 See Garde 1963, which deals exhaustively with all uses of ,s ([51], [52]).
382 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Second, the irrealis mood can be used without any overt support from the con-
text: in [51], to express a suggestion; in [52], to express a deliberation, a wish.

[51] Ds ,s jnlj[yekb, ntnz Hfz.
You ought to rest a bit, Aunt Raia.
[52] Xtcnyjt ckjdj, z, yt pflevsdfzcm, e,bkf ,s эnjuj nbgf.
Honest to God, I™d kill that guy without giving it a second thought.

This independent usage seems restricted and infrequent in the twentieth cen-
The independent irrealis mood expressing a wish has become idiomatized
with phrases such as nj
´kmrj ,s ˜if only™ or k«im ,s ˜if only™:

[53] Jy yfxbyftn ltrkfvbhjdfnm jxtym lkbyyst cnb[b, b exbntkm ujnjd gjcnfdbnm
tve k/,e/ jnvtnre, kbim ,s jy pfvjkxfk.
He starts declaiming very long poems, and the teacher is ready to give him any
grade, if only he™ll shut up.

6.2.8 Syntax and semantics of modal predicates
The syntax and semantics of the small set of predicates that have modal content
deserve further study, but their core properties can be outlined as follows.
There is a basic syntactic difference splitting these predicates, and that syn-
tactic difference is correlated with a semantic difference. Y’lj ˜be necessary™,
ytkmpz ˜be impossible, inappropriate™, and vj ´;yj ˜possible™ are all impersonal.
The modality they report is a fact about the world in general, and the modality
would have force for anyone who happened to be in the situation. The force
of this general modality may be directed to a speci¬c individual in context,
expressed in the dative as a domain (a goal) for the force of the obligation.

[54] Z c,bkcz c ljhjub. Yfxfkj ntvytnm. Nz;tksq h/rpfr jnnzubdfk gktxb. F blnb
yflj ,skj j,zpfntkmyj. B ghjlerns ghbytcnb, b zdbnmcz djdhtvz.
I lost my way. It began to get dark. The heavy backpack tugged on my shoulders.
And yet it was absolutely necessary to go. To bring the goods, to appear on time.

In [54], the obligation is a general rule, though it applies to a speci¬c individual:
to achieve a certain goal (delivering the goods), anyone would have to act in a
certain way.
´;yj, which also has impersonal syntax, is concerned with the conditions
under which something is possible. The possibility is universal -- it could apply
to anyone:

[55] Yf ujhe vj;yj dcrfhf,rfnmcz gtirjv, yj vj;yj t[fnm b yf nhfvdft.
It is possible to scramble up on foot, but it is also possible to go on the tram.
Mood, tense, and aspect 383

[56] Jcdjtybt ;fyhf vj;yj yfqnb tot d ¤Ckflrjq ;bpyb≥.
It™s possible to see the mastery of the genre already in La dolce vita.

´;yj ˜possible™ is concerned with whether the possibility exists at all ([57]).

[57] B[ jcdjtybt djpvj;yj njkmrj ghb dscjrjghjatccbjyfkmyjv gjl[jlt.
Mastery of them is possible [at all] only with a thoroughly professional approach.

In contrast to these impersonal predicates, lj ´k;ty and vj are personal:
they usually have a subject in the nominative case. They report an obligation
´k;ty) or possibility (vj ´xm), which is presented not as a universal obligation
or possibility, but as a function of the individual who is the subject. In [58],

[58] Tckb vtyz dspjden, z ljk;ty ytvtlktyyj djpdhfofnmcz d Vjcrde.
If they call me, I have to return to Moscow immediately.

the obligation is not a general law, but a speci¬c constraint that binds the
speaker. Lj ´k;ty is an individuated obligation that arises from speci¬c circum-
stances; it is negotiated, discussed, adjusted to a given individual. Lj´k;ty is
also used for predictions:

[59] Gfhj[jl ljk;ty ghbqnb xthtp ldf xfcf.
The steamship was due to arrive two hours later.

Vj is a possibility that arises for a given individual because of the properties
of that individual, under speci¬c circumstances: in [60], if the speaker takes a
certain route, then some unpleasantness might arise:

[60] <kb;t dctuj ,skj blnb gj Djhjyt;crjq, yj nfv z vju dcnhtnbnm pyfrjvs[,
vfkmxbirb vjukb vtyz pfcvtznm.
It was closer to go by way of Voronezh Road, but that way I might meet
acquaintances, and the boys might make fun of me.

Vj ˜can, may™, the only true verb among these modal predicates, has a per-
fective partner cvj ˜come to be able, permitted™, which reports the inception
of possibility over a restricted occasion. Thus lj ´k;ty and vj ´xm, which are per-
sonal rather than impersonal in their syntax, treat modality as a function of
the individual rather than as a general rule.
The interaction of negation and modality is elusive in any language. Under
negation, yt y’lj ˜not necessary™ states absence of necessity of an activity, or even
more, that the event should not occur in the present or should not have occurred
in the past ([61]). Ytkmpz categorically prohibits an event that was anticipated to
be possible ([62]):
384 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[61] Yt yflj ,skj tq etp;fnm pf uhfybwe.
She shouldn™t have left the country.
[62] Jlby bp yb[ crfpfk, xnj lfkmit vyt t[fnm ytkmpz, z pfvthpye.
One of them said that I could not travel further; I™d freeze.
[63] Yf nhfvdft yfv ,skj ytdjpvj;yj t[fnm.
On the tram it was impossible for us to go.

´;yj serves as the negation for both djpvj
´;yj and vj
´;yj ([63]).

6.3 Tense

6.3.1 Predicates and times, in general
Predicate histories are ultimately anchored in the here and now of speech. Every
predicate history has to be accessible to the addressee. As Augustine informed
us, “there are three times, the present of things past, the present of things
present, and the present of things future.”6 That is to say, Augustine believed
that discussing the world in time presupposes an operation to get from the here
and now of speech to the “present” we want to discuss. To do so, the speaker
constructs a path (a vector, a linkage) from the speech moment to a contextual
time-world, which can be in the present (accessible by intuition and observation)
or the past (accessible by memory, says Augustine) or the future (accessible by
Tense is the grammatical device for constructing a path from the present of
the speech moment to the contextual occasions over which the histories take

[64] Gbie<if prs> nt,t d vfktymrjq rjvyfnt c yfuke[j pfrhsnsvb cnfdyzvb.
Ujhbn<if prs> rfvby b cdbcnzn<if prs> gjtplf. Xfcf xtnsht yfpfl vs ghbt[fkb<pst>
yfrjytw d Ym/rfcnk, gj ljhjut yf,hfkbcm<pst> cnhf[e, nfr rfr ytvws yfc
hfpscrbdfkb<pst> yj rfgbnfy bpvtybk<pst> rehc. Pfdnhf d 4 ,eltv<fut> d
Kjyljyt b pfdnhf ;t yfxyencz<pf prs> ,fyrtns b jcvjnhs, f xthtp ytltk/
gjtltv<pf prs> yf ahjyn. Yfv j,tof/n<if prs> gjrfpfnm ytvwtd ifuf[ d 50-nb.
Pfntv gjdtpen<pf prs> jcvfnhbdfnm akjn. Ym/rfcnk ghjbpdtk yf vtyz jxtym
cbkmyjt dgtxfnktybt, -- эnj ujhjl dthatq, rjhf,ktq b rfvtyyjuj eukz.
I™m writing you in a small room with shutters closed up tight. A ¬replace is
burning and trains whistle. Just four hours ago we ¬nally arrived in Newcastle, on
the journey we had a scare, because the Germans were searching for us, but the
captain changed course. Tomorrow at four we™ll be in London and tomorrow the

6 Augustine 1960:XI.20.
7 On Russian tense, see in general Bondarko 1971, additionally Comrie 1985. Gvozdanovi´ 1994 is a
crisp presentation of the relationship between tense and aspect in Russian.
Mood, tense, and aspect 385

banquets and inspections begin, and then a week later we head for the front.
They are promising to show us Germans at ¬fty paces. Then they™ll take us to
inspect the Navy. Newcastle made a great impression on me -- this is a city of
shipyards, ships, and coal.

When the speaker uses the present tense (here, gbi© ˜I write™, ujh«n ˜burns™,
cdbcnz ˜whistle™, j,to’/n ˜they promise™), the speaker remains in the same
world as the present of the moment of the speech. Past-tense forms of the verb
construct a path to a contextual occasion in the past. In [64], there is more
than one layer of past: the recent arrival (ghb†[fkb), from which the speaker
leads the addressee to an earlier time during the prior journey (y’c hfpßcrbdfkb;
bpvty«k); in context, the task of constructing linkages can be complex, recursive,
even though there is only one morphological form of the verb expressing past
tense. To guide the addressee to a world lying in the future from the present of
speech, the speaker uses either the periphrastic future, if the verb is imperfective
or anaspectual (in [64], ,©ltv d Kj ´yljyt) or the present-tense perfective form
(yfxy©ncz, gj†ltv).
The general picture for Russian is that there are three types of contextual
occasions, as has long been assumed: past, present, future. By and large, these
are signaled by the morphology of tense in straightforward ways, as in [64]. As
far as the grammatical forms are concerned, the only complication is that per-
fective verbs have forms analogous to present-tense forms among imperfectives,
but these forms are used for events that will be completed in the future. In-
teresting complications arise when the path from the speech moment to the
history becomes more complex in one way or another. One complication is the
use of tense in embedded (syntactically subordinate) clauses. The other is the
historical present, the use of the present in narrating an event understood to
have occurred in the past.

6.3.2 Tense in finite adjectival and adverbial clauses
Finite verbs in subordinate clauses introduced by conjunctions are marked with
tense, as be¬ts ¬nite verbs. Four types of clauses can be distinguished: adjecti-
val, or relative, clauses (usually formed with rjnj´hsq ˜which™); adverbial clauses
(introduced by rjul’ ˜when™, r’r ˜as™, †ckb ˜if™); argument clauses that express
information -- speech or thought or belief or perception or regrets or hopes;
and argument clauses that express modality. The last type uses the conjunction
xnj,s ˜in order that™, and takes the past tense automatically (§6.2.4).
Adjectival and adverbial ¬nite clauses treat tense in a similar fashion. Tense
in such clauses is determined in relation to the here and now of speech rather
than the time of the main clause. Consider a relative clause attached to a main
386 A Reference Grammar of Russian

clause whose verb is a perfective past. A perfective event in the relative clause
that occurs about the same time as the main event is expressed as past, because
it is past relative to the time of speech:

[65] Z ckexfqyj gjlckeifk jlby hfpujdjh, rjnjhsq vtyz pfbynthtcjdfk<pf pst>
I accidentally overheard a conversation that interested me tremendously.

If need be, adverbs can be added to localize a perfective event in relation to the
main clause, as earlier ([66]) or later ([67]):

[66] Jlyf;ls zdbkcz r yfv d felbnjhb/ jlby frnbdbcn, e rjnjhjuj ytlfdyj dsikf
njytymrfz gjdtcneirf ¤<tkst djkrb≥.
Once a certain activist came to talk to us in the auditorium, who not long ago
had had a thin tale called “White Wolves” come out.
[67] Nfv, d Djkjult, z yfgbcfk gthdst cnhjas cnb[jndjhtybz, rjnjhjt ljgbcfk e;t
There, in Vologda, I wrote the ¬rst lines of a poem that I would ¬nish only later.

If the embedded verb is imperfective past (e.g., buh’k), it can have any temporal
relation to the main predicate: prior ([68]), simultaneous ([69]), or subsequent
([70]), but will be expressed as past, if the event is past relative to the here and
now of speech.

[68] Z dcnhtnbkf e Dfkb fhnbcnf, rjnjhsq rjulf-nj buhfk<if pst> Xfwrjuj.
At Valia™s I met an actor who had once played Chatsky.
[69] Z dcnhtnbkf e Dfkb fhnbcnf, rjnjhsq buhfk<if pst> Xfwrjuj d vtcnyjv ntfnht.
At Valia™s I met an actor who played Chatsky in the local theater.
[70] Jy yf;bk ,jktpym, rjnjhjq cnhflfk<if pst> dc/ gjcktle/oe/ ;bpym.
He acquired a disease, from which he suffered all the rest of his life.

If the situation mentioned in the relative clause is simultaneous with the here
and now of speech, the present tense is used ([71]). If the situation is future, it
is expressed by the imperfective future tense ([72]) or the morphological present
of perfectives.

[71] Tuj ,kb;fqibv yfxfkmybrjv ,sk by;tyth Rfvpjkrby, j rjnjhjv vjq jntw
egjvbyftn<if prs> d cdjb[ djcgjvbyfybz[.
His immediate supervisor was an engineer named Kamzolkin, whom my father
mentions in his memoirs.
[72] Jy cnfk lbhtrnjhjv dyjdm cjplfdftvjq abhvs, rjnjhfz d Rfhtkbb ,eltn<fut>
dshf,fnsdfnm uhfybnysq rfvtym.
He became the director of a newly formed company that will extract granite in
Mood, tense, and aspect 387


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