. 14
( 17)


The behavior of tense with adverbial clauses, speci¬cally embedded clauses
introduced by rjul’ ˜when™, is similar. With rjul’, the events of the embedded
clauses as a rule occur in the temporal vicinity of the event of the main clause,
whether it is a perfective ([73]) or an imperfective ([74]):

[73] Z jxtym j,hfljdfkcz, rjulf edbltk<pf pst> cjcys gj cnjhjyfv ljhjub.
I was thrilled when I saw the pines along the side of the road.
[74] Ght;lt, rjulf jyf pf vyjq e[f;bdfkf<if pst> , jyf yjcbkf gkfnmz, gj[j;bt yf
Earlier, when she used to take care of me, she wore dresses like school uniforms.

If the event of the main clause is present, the event of the rjul’ clause will also
be present ([75]); and if the main verb is future, the rjul’ event will be as well

[75] B ntgthm, rjulf z cksie<if prs> gj hflbj эne cthtyfle, nj dctulf
dcgjvbyf/<if prs> Fhntvbz.
And nowadays, when I hear that song on the radio, I always recall Artemy.
[76] Djdf e dtkjcbgtlyjq ltdjxrb b rjluf jy dthytncz<pf prs> , jy ,eltn<fut> jxtym
Vova is visiting the bicycle girl and when he comes back, he™ll be very displeased.

The conjunction gjr’ ˜while, for so long as™ differs from rjul’.8 If the event
of the gjr’ clause is imperfective, it overlaps an imperfective ([77]) or frames a
perfective event ([78]):

[77] Gjrf gjlybvfkbcm<if pst> gj ktcnybwt, lt;ehyst yfc njhjgbkb<if pst> : ¤Crjhtt,
While we were climbing, the dezhurnye were hurrying us along: “Faster, faster!”
[78] Gjrf jltdfkcz<if pst> , d ldthm gjcnexfkb<pf pst> .
While I was getting dressed, they knocked at the door.

But if the verb of the gjr’ clause is negated and perfective, gjr’ sets limits: the
state or activity of the main (imperfective) predicate continued or will continue
only until the perfective event in the subordinate clause with gjr’ occurs. The
whole situation can be grounded in the past ([79]) or the future ([80]):

[79] Gjrf yt cntvytkj<pf pst> , dct k/,jdfkcz<if pst> Jrjq b tt ,thtufvb.
Until it got dark, I admired the Oka and its banks.
[80] <eltv<fut> ifufnm, gjrf yt yfljtcn<pf prs> .
We™ll keep walking until we get tired of it.

In summary, in ¬nite subordinate relative clauses and adverbial clauses, em-
bedded events often occur in the vicinity of the time-world of the main event.
8 The analysis here owes much to Barentsen (1979) (with simpli¬cations).
388 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Grammatical tense in the subordinate clause is determined with respect to the
time of speech.

6.3.3 Tense in argument clauses
The third group of subordinate clauses are those that ful¬ll the functions
of nominal arguments. They can be subjects: {zcyj ∼ vyt rfpfkjcm ∼ vtyz
djpvenbkj (nj) ∼ cnfkj bpdtcnyj} xnj ˜{it is clear ∼ it seemed to me ∼ it up-
set me ∼ it became known} that™. Or they can be objects: {pyf/ ∼ cxbnf/ ∼
ujdjh/ ∼ dth/ ∼ ljkj;bk}, xnj ˜I {know ∼ consider ∼ say ∼ believe ∼ re-
ported} that™. In these instances the main verb reports speech in an extended
sense: speech, thought, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, perceptions, representa-
tions. Clauses of embedded speech (in this generous sense) can be said to have
two layers of speech and speakers: the speech of the primary, or e x t e r n a l ,
speaker, as opposed to the speech of the secondary, or i n t e r n a l , speaker. In
such situations of nested speech, the internal speaker is closer to the event re-
ported; the external speaker has access to that information only by virtue of
being the addressee of the internal speaker. This fact in¬‚uences how tense is
used in such clauses.9
The most general conjunction is xnj ˜that™. With xnj, there are ¬ve possibilities
of tense-aspect forms in the subordinate clause. Assume that the main verb,
which names the act of reporting internal speech, is in the past tense. (a) Then a
P A S T P E R F E C T I V E refers to an event completed earlier than the time of internal
speech ([81] gj[jhjy«k):

[81] Tlbr hfccrfpfk<pf pst> , xnj gj[jhjybk<pf pst> ;tye, b pfgkfrfk.
Edik told that he had buried his wife, and began to cry.

(b) A P A S T I M P E R F E C T I V E refers to a state or activity that occurred prior to the
time of the internal speech (in [82], a prior conversation is discussed on the way

[82] Gj ljhjut jy hfccrfpfk vyt, xnj d rf,bytnt e Cfdbyrjdf htxm ikf<if pst> j
rfrjq-nj nhtnmtq Hjccbb.
On the way he told me that the discussion at Savinkov™s had been about the
so-called Third Russia.

(c) An event expressed as a P E R F E C T I V E P R E S E N T is future relative to the time
of internal speech ([83]), (d) as is a F U T U R E I M P E R F E C T I V E ([84]):

9 The variation has been recognized and documented by Boeck (1957, 1958, source of [94]) and more
recently Barentsen (1996) (especially for clauses with rfr). For other (not identical) views, see Brecht
1975, Comrie 1986[b]. Declerck™s analysis of English tense (1991) can be adapted to Russian.
Mood, tense, and aspect 389

[83] Fcz ,skf edthtyf, xnj vjz vfvf yt cjukfcbncz<pf prs> .
Asia was convinced my mother would not agree.
[84] Njulf z lfkf ct,t ckjdj, xnj ,jkmit cfkatnjr dsibdfnm yt ,ele<fut> .
At that time I promised myself that I would never embroider napkins again.

(e) The ¬fth tense-aspect form is the P R E S E N T - T E N S E I M P E R F E C T I V E , which
refers to an event that holds on the occasion (time and world) of the internal

[85] Dcrjht dct hf,jxbt gjyzkb, xnj hf,jnf/n<if prs> jyb, d ceoyjcnb, ,tcgkfnyj,
njkmrj pf gftr.
Soon all the workers understood that they were working, in fact, for no pay, just
for rations.
[86] Reghby lhtvfk gthtl gecnjq ,enskrjq, f vj;tn ,snm, ghbndjhzkcz, xnj
lhtvktn<if prs> .
Kuprin dozed in front of an empty bottle, or possibly, pretended that he was

In [85], the work includes the time of understanding, and in [86], the dozing
overlaps the secondary speech event (Kuprin™s dissimulation). It might be noted
that, according to the “sequence of tense rule,” the embedded verb in English
would have an additional mark of past tense, re¬‚ecting the fact that the internal
speech is embedded under a past verb.
Indirect questions determine tense relative to the time of the matrix clause in
a similar fashion. In [87] the present-tense question concerns a situation at the
same time as the question was posed. In [88], the questions are localized relative
to the time of imagination.

[87] K/,jdm Vb[fqkjdyf cghjcbkf, rfr tve ;bdtncz<if prs> d Njvcrt.
Liubov Mikhailovna asked how he was getting along in Tomsk.
[88] Yt vjukb ghtlcnfdbnm ct,t -- rjuj jyb edblzn<pf prs> , rfrjq jy cnfk<pf pst> ?
They could not imagine -- who would they see, how had he changed?

The same principle -- tense in the subordinate clause is determined with re-
spect to the time of the internal speech event -- holds when the matrix verb is
a subjunctive or future. In [89], the pin-swallowing is predicted to occur after
the shouting begins, and this projected act is expressed by a perfective present
referring to the future.

[89] Tckb , z dpzkf ,ekfdre d hjn, cj dct[ cnjhjy cnfkb ,s<irr> rhbxfnm, xnj ctqxfc z
ghjukjxe<pf prs> tt b vyt ghbltncz<pf prs> ltkfnm jgthfwb/.
If I should put a pin in my mouth, they would cry out from all sides that I am
just about to swallow it and I™ll have to have an operation.
390 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[90] Rjulf ,kbpytws epyf/n<pf prst> , xnj gjzdbkcz<pf pst> rfrjq-nj <j,br, jyb ,elen
When the twins ¬nd out that some Bobik has appeared, they™ll growl.

In [90], Bobik™s appearance is past tense because it occurs before the future
awareness of it.
Thus, as a rule, clauses conveying speech (intelligence, speech, knowledge,
etc.) -- those introduced by xnj or indirect questions with no conjunction --
determine tense in the embedded clause in relation to the time at which the
internal speech occurs rather than in relation to the here and now of the primary
In addition to xnj, Russian also uses the interrogative rfr ˜how™ as a conjunc-
tion speci¬cally with verbs of perception: yf,k/lfnm, rfr ˜observe how™; dbltnm,
rfr ˜see how™. Verbs of perception are also verbs of speech, in the broad sense:
the external speaker has access to information about the world only through
the observations and perceptions of the internal speaker. But with rfr, unlike
with xnj, the time of the secondary speech is tightly constrained; whatever is
observed must hold at the time of observation. Thus a past perfective event is
encompassed by the interval of observation:

[91] Z dbltkf, rfr jy d rjhbljht eobgyek<pf pst> d jlyj vtcnj ukege/ Rfn/.
I saw how he pinched stupid Katia in a certain place.

The interesting fact is that imperfectives in the subordinate clause introduced
by rfr can be either past or present. The present tense reports an activity that
is viewed from the perspective of the internal speaker (the observer), as it is in
progress; what is of interest is how the activity proceeds, such as how the horse
moved ([92]):

[92] B jyf edbltkf, rfr gj ljhjut jn ktcf ljdjkmyj [jlrj tltn<if prs> kjiflm.
She saw how a horse was going at a good clip on the road out of the forest.

In contrast, the past imperfective with rfr focuses on the fact that the event
occurs at all. It is appropriate if the interval of observation encompasses the
event ([93] -- they kiss for a while but stop) or if the event of observation is
displaced to the distant past ([94]).

[93] Z dbltkf, rfr jyb wtkjdfkbcm<if pst> .
I saw how they kissed.
[94] Jyb pyfkb, xnj gktyysq [jhjij gjybvftn heccrbq zpsr, vyjubt cksifkb,
rfr tuj ljghfibdfk<if pst> rjvfylbh gjkrf.
They knew that the prisoner understood Russian well, many of them had heard
how the regiment commander had interrogated him.
Mood, tense, and aspect 391

With rfr embedded under verbs of observation, the past imperfective is quite
frequent, as much as half of the tokens for some authors.
In fact, the past imperfective can also be used with the conjunction xnj. Al-
though the present tense is usual, a past imperfective is possible if the event is
localized to a speci¬c moment in the past ([95]) or the whole situation lies in
the remote past ([96]):10

[95] Jy gjyzk, xnj d эnjn vjvtyn Gtnhjd yt ckeifk<if pst> tuj.
He understood that at that moment Petrov wasn™t listening to him.
[96] Vjukf kb z pyfnm, xnj rfr hfp d nt lyb ,sk<pst> ghtlfy cele b j;blfk<if pst>
cvthnyjuj ghbujdjhf j,dbytyysq d gjlujnjdrt gjreitybz yf ;bpym Ybrjkfz
ÈÈ by;tyth Pbkm,th,thu, hjlyjq ,hfn vjtq uthjbyb?
Could I possibly have known that exactly in those days an engineer named
Zilberberg (the brother of my heroine) was in the hands of the court and was
awaiting the death sentence in connection with the attempt on the life of
Nicholas II?

In [96], the narrator takes two steps into the past: from the present (when she
writes) to her memories of †migr† life in Paris in the twenties, and from there
back further in time to the turbulent life of 1906; the memory is buried deep
in the past.
The past imperfective is usual when the internal speech (observation) repeats

[97] Byjulf pf[jlbk Cfif. Jy c djc[botybtv gjcvfnhbdfk yf Yfnfkre, b Cthtuf
pfvtxfk, xnj jyf ghb эnjv jgecrfkf<if pst> ukfpf.
Sometimes Sasha would drop in. He would look with admiration at Natalka, and
Serega would notice that she would lower her eyes at this.

Iterative contexts presuppose that there is a series of discrete sub-events. Each
sub-event involves a de¬nitive change and, as a single event, would be expressed
as the past perfective (Cthtuf pfvtnbk, rfr jyf jgecnbkf<pf pst> ukfpf ˜Serega
noticed how she lowered her eyes™).11 This past is carried over when the situation
is iterated.
Table 6.1 summarizes the conditions for using the present imperfective as
opposed to past imperfective for events understood to be simultaneous with
past-tense verbs of speech. Generalizing, we can say that the past is possible
(with rfr, likely) when the external speaker presents a past situation as limited
in validity to a time and world that is anterior to -- and more than that, is distinct
from -- the time and world of the external speaker. Using the past imperfective

10 Boeck™s observation (1957, 1958), labeled “synchronization” in Timberlake 1982.
11 Boeck (1957), Timberlake (1982).
392 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 6.1 Tense of imperfectives, simultaneous activity

condition past tense present tense

temporality of embedded temporally restricted (to temporally extended (the
history speci¬c moment; or over quality of a speci¬c activity;
a durative interval) universal truth)
quanti¬cation of iteration of discrete single continuous state or
embedded history sub-events activity
linkage of embedded rfr (restricts activity to xnj, indirect questions (free
history to internal interval of observation) temporal reference)
temporality of internal retrospective, displaced on main narrative line
linkage of internal speech subject clause (more object clause (more subjective)
to primary speech factual)
linkage of internal speech perspectives of two perspectives of two speakers
to primary speech speakers differentiated not differentiated

makes clear the disjunction between speakers, and makes explicit that there is
a complex linkage involving two distinct steps from the time of external speech
event to internal speech event, and from there to the reported history.
By using the present imperfective (the more frequent choice with xnj), the
speaker fails to differentiate the external here and now of speech and the time-
world of the internal event of speech.12 The external speaker may cede the point
of view to the internal speaker, or the points of view of the two speakers, external
and internal, may blend into one.
Table 6.2 gives a summary of some of the possibilities with standardized ex-

6.3.4 Shifts of perspective in tense: historical present
To narrate stories of events that have already occurred, speakers normally use
the past tense. The past tense signals that the contextual occasions around which
the events occurred lie in the past, and it establishes a link from the here and
now of speech to those past contextual occasions. There is an alternative mode
of narration, termed the h i s t o r i c a l p r e s e n t. Once the linkage from the
here and now of speech to the contextual time-world has been established, the
speaker can shift the perspective to the contextual time-world and use that
time as if it were the here and now of speech, and from the perspective of that
time, narrate events using present-tense imperfective verbs.

12 Barentsen (1996:43).
Mood, tense, and aspect 393

Table 6.2 Tense in object argument clauses of speech

pattern example interpretation

pst xnj {pst pf} de¬nitive change prior to
Jy pfvtnbk, xnj jyf jgecnbkf<pf pst>
internal speech
˜He noticed that she lowered her eyes.™
pst xnj {pst if} Jy (byjulf) pfvtxfk, xnj jyf (d эnjn activity (state) not
extending beyond
vjvtyn) jgecrfkf<if pst> ukfpf.
˜He (often) noticed that (at that internal speech
moment) she lowered her eyes.™
pst xnj {prs if} activity (state) extending
Jy pfvtnbk, xnj jyf jgecrftn<if prs>
beyond internal speech
˜He noticed that she was lowering her
pst xnj {prs pf} Jy gjlevfk, xnj jyf cjckfcbncz<pf prs> . de¬nitive change after
˜He thought that she would agree.™ internal speech
pst xnj {fut if} event after internal speech
Jy gjlevfk, xnj ,elen<if fut>
˜He thought they would dance.™
pst rfr {pst pf} de¬nitive change within
Jy pfvtnbk, rfr jyf jgecnbkf<pf pst>
˜He noticed how she lowered her eyes.™
pst rfr {pst if} Jy (xfcnj) pfvtxfk, rfr jyf incomplete (or repeated)
activity within
jgecrfkf<if pst> ukfpf.
˜He (often) observed how she lowered observation
her eyes.™
pst rfr {prs if} incomplete activity
Jy pfvtnbk, rfr jyf jgecrftn<if prs>
extending beyond
˜He noticed how she was lowering her observation

As an example, observe the alternation between past perfectives and present
imperfectives in [98], where the narrator tells of forcing a train to make an
emergency stop.

Jlby hfp z lf;t pfnjhvjpbk<pf pst> tuj e Afylthakbnf// <. . .> Gjnjve xnj vyt
crfpfk ukfdysq rjylernjh xnj jy jcnfyjdbncz / f jy yt jcnfyjdbkcz<pf pst>
bltn<if prs> lfkmit / <. . .> z / nfr crfpfnm / tot . . . vj;yj crfpfnm . . .
cnjzk<if pst> e;t yf gjlyj;rt xnj,s ds[jlbnm / c[dfnbk<pf pst> эnjn njhvjp /
lthyek<pf pst> / b levf/<if prs> xnj yfdthyj jy yt pfnjhvjpbn // <. . .> Jy nfr
pfnjhvjpbk<pf pst> xnj dct gjktntkb<pf pst> c gjkjr / nfv <ju pyftn xnj / ,fuf;
dtcm gjgflfk<if pst> b dct nfrjt // F z c[dfnbk<pf pst> cdjb dtobxrb / db;e<if prs>
recns hzljv / crjhtq d recns // (cvt[) <. . .> Nfv ctk<pf pst> b cb;e<if prs>
394 A Reference Grammar of Russian

levf/<if prs> xnj ,eltn // Ye b djn ghj[jlbn<if prs> gjnjv эnjn j,thrjylernjh b
vt[fybr // vt[fybr heuftncz<if prs> e;fcyj //
Once I actually stopped it at Fander¬‚it // <. . .> Because the head conductor had
told me that he would stop / but he did not stop, keeps going / <. . .> I / so to say
/ well . . . you could say . . . was standing on the footboard in order to get out /
grabbed that brake / jerked / and I™m thinking that it won™t brake // <. . .> It
braked so hard that everything went ¬‚ying from the shelves / and God knows
what / the baggage went falling and everything // And I grabbed my things / I see
some bushes nearby / as quickly as possible into the bushes // (laughter) <. . .> I
sat down there and I™m sitting thinking what™s going to happen // Well then there
goes by that head conductor and the mechanic // the mechanic is cursing
terribly //

Here past-tense verbs, almost all perfective, advance the narrative sequence,
while present imperfective verbs convey the perceptions of an internal ob-
server/speaker. Accordingly, the onset of the historical present is common when
speech or perception is explicitly introduced (ctk b cb;e levf/ in [98]) or when
an observer changes location (in [100]).
Stylistically, the historical present is versatile. Consistent with its name, it is
used in popular writing about history, as in [99], perhaps more freely in Russian
than in English.

[99] D ryz;tybt Fylhtz <jujk/,crjuj (1157--75) fh[bntrnehf gtht;bdftn<if prs>
gthbjl zhrjuj b gkjljndjhyjuj gjl(tvf <. . .> Fylhtq gjhsdftn<if prs> c
Rbtdjv <. . .> b e[jlbn<if prs> yf ctdth <. . .> Fylhtq <jujk/,crbq
dscnegftn<if prs> rfr ytghbvbhbvsq b эythubxysq ,jhtw pf j,(tlbytybt Hecb
gjl cbkmyjq ryz;tcrjq dkfcnm/ <. . .> Tve ghb[jlbncz<if prs> dcnegbnm d
ythfdye/ ,jhm,e b c cfvjq Dbpfynbtq <. . .>
In the reign of Andrei Bogoliubsky (1157--75) architecture experiences a period of
brilliant and fruitful development <. . .> Andrei breaks with Kiev <. . .> and goes
to the North <. . .> Andrei Bogoliubsky acts as an uncompromising and energetic
warrior for the uni¬cation of Rus under ¬rm princely power <. . .> He is forced
to enter into an unequal battle with Byzantium itself <. . .>

At the far end of the stylistic spectrum, the historical present is a mark of
oral storytelling ([98] above). It is then used in ¬ction to imitate the narrative of
the oral raconteur. Example [100] is set up with past events, but then shifts to
the present when the new character appears:

[100] Rjyathtywbz cjcnjzkfcm d Gjkbnt[ybxtcrjv bycnbnent. Z nelf pft[fk<pf pst> ,
gj,tctljdfk<pf pst> . Xthtp gznm vbyen byajhvfwbz ,skf<pst> ujnjdf.
Jnlfk<pf pst> tt d ctrhtnfhbfn. Gjzdkztncz<if prs> htlfrnjh Nehjyjr <. . .> Yf
эnjn hfp djp,e;lty:
Mood, tense, and aspect 395

-- Ds ljgecnbkb uhe,e/ bltjkjubxtcre/ jib,re.
The conference took place in the Polytechnic Institute. I went there, talked a bit.
In ¬ve minutes the notice was ready. I handed it over to the secretariat. The editor
Turonok appears. <. . .> This time agitated.
-- You™ve made a crude ideological mistake.

The historical present has some properties that are different from ordinary
present-tense imperfectives. For example, ghbtp;’nm<if> cannot ordinarily be
used in the present tense to refer to an event of arriving actually in progress,
but it can be used as a historical present:

[101] Rjulf vs ghbtp;ftv<if prs> , jrfpsdftncz, xnj yfc cbkmyj gjnhzckj.
When we get there, it turns out that we have been thoroughly shaken up.

Also, lj
´kuj ˜long time™ presumes that an activity has ceased (in order to ascertain
that its duration was lengthy), yet it combines with the historical present:

[102] Vs jcnfyjdbkbcm yf vhfvjhyjv vjcnbrt. J,kjrjnzcm j ,fk/cnhfle, Njkcnjq
dsxboftn<if prs> k/,bve/ nhe,re, ljkuj rjdshztn<if prs> d ytq.
We stopped on a marble bridge. Leaning on the balustrade, Tolstoy cleans his
favorite pipe, digs in it for a long time.

Thus, the historical present is a shift of perspective, not just a substitution of
verb forms, that narrates as if from the contextual occasion in the past, but at
the same time takes for granted a linkage from the here and now to the past.

6.3.5 Shifts of perspective in tense: resultative
A very speci¬c use of tense is to exhort the addressee to bring about the result
of a past perfect verb: gjrfn’kbcm! ˜let™s roll™; gjik«! ˜let™s be off™.

6.3.6 Tense in participles
Tense in adjectival participles and adverbial participles (lttghbxfcnbz) is much
less robust than in ¬nite verbs. The distinction is still viable among imperfective
participles. The present tense of imperfective participles presents situations as si-
multaneous with the time of the matrix clause; in [103], for example, ownership
overlaps the act of arrival:

[103] Z erfnbkcz r ;bkboe, jnysyt vyt njkmrj ghbyflkt;fotve<prs pcl> .
I rushed off to the living space, from that point on belonging only to me.

Past-tense imperfective participles are used for events con¬ned to the remote
past ([104--5]):
396 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[104] :bk jy d cnfhbyyjv jcj,yzrt, rjulf-nj ghbyflkt;fditv<pst pcl>
He lived in an old single-family house that had once belonged to
[105] Vfnm gjl,flhbdfkf jnwf, ghj[jlbdituj<pst pcl> eybpbntkmyst
vtlbwbycrbt rjvbccbb.
Mother tried to keep father™s spirits up as he went through
demeaning medical review boards.

Adverbial participles of imperfectives, however, are now only present: l©vfz
˜thinking™, — l©vfd ˜having thought™; g«if ˜writing™, — gbc’d ˜having written™.
Perfective adverbial participles no longer distinguish tense. For most verbs,
the form is built on the past-imperfective stem (ending in a vowel), to which the
formant {-v} is added (pfcn’d ˜having found™, ghßuyed ˜having jumped™); dental-
consonant stems, whose past-in¬nitive stem does not end in a vowel, use present
morphology (ghbytcz ˜having brought™). Perfective adverbial participles refer to
events that are completed in the vicinity of the time of the main event, often
before it ([106]), but occasionally at the same time ([107]):

[106] Jlyf;ls Cjyz, dthyedibcm<pf dee> bp ntfnhf, crfpfkf <. . .>
Once Sonia, on returning from the theater, said <. . .>
[107] Vs, djcgjkmpjdfdibcm<pf dee> ntvyjnjq phbntkmyjuj pfkf, gthtctkb yf lheubt
vtcnf . . .
And we, by using the darkness of the hall, moved to other seats.

In a well-known and ever controversial proposal,13 Roman Jakobson claimed
that adverbial participles distinguished three tense forms in each aspect: the
present, the usual past in {-v}, and a second past in {-vsi}. Examples were for-

mulated and semantic distinctions were assigned to these variants, essentially
as in Table 6.3.
This rich and symmetrical paradigm of possibilities is no longer productive. By
now, the present perfective form dcnh†nz is rare (just 2 tokens on www.lib.ru in
poetry, against 1330 tokens of dnch†nbd),14 as are the past imperfectives dcnhtx’d
(3 tokens against 881 dcnhtx’z) and dcnhtx’dib (no tokens!). There is more justi¬-
cation for a distinction between {-v} and {-vsi} in perfective adverbial participles,

a distinction which Jakobson claimed was current in “the Moscow speech of my
generation.” Although {-vsi} is not frequent (only 6 distinct tokens of dnch†nbdib

against 1330 tokens of dnch†nbd), when it is used, it does suggest causality. In
[108], she came to her understanding as a result of re¬‚ecting:

13 Jakobson 1957[b]/1971[b]:140--41.
<12.XII.01>. More tokens of dcnh†nz turned up on Google, including one from a contemporary

chat room.
Mood, tense, and aspect 397

Table 6.3 Forms of active participles

imperfective perfective

present Dcnhtxfz<if prs dee> lheptq, jy Dcnhtnz<pf prs dee> dfc, z yt gjdthbk
hfljdfkcz. cdjbv ukfpfv.
˜On meeting friends, he was happy.™ ˜On meeting you, I could not believe
my eyes.™
non-sequential non-sequential
(first) past Dcnhtnbd<pf pst1 dee> Gtnhf, jy
Ybrjulf ght;lt yt
dcnhtxfd<if pst1 dee> frnthjd, jy dcrjht cnjkryekcz tot c
ckexfqyj gjpyfrjvbkcz c ytcrjkmrbvb pyfrjvsvb.
˜After meeting Petr, he soon bumped
˜Not having ever met actors before, into some other acquaintances.™
he accidentally became
acquainted with Kachalov.™
accidental, sequential accidental, sequential
(second) Ybrjulf yt dcnhtxfdib<if pst2 dee> Dcnhtnbdib<pf pst2 dee> tuj, jyf
past frnthjd, jy yt pyfk, rfr ujdjhbnm uecnj gjrhfcytkf.
˜On meeting him, she blushed
c ybvb.
˜Never having met actors, he did not deeply.™
know how to talk with him.™
causal, sequential causal, sequential

[108] Byjulf levfkf, xnj эnj jnnjuj, xnj ytn ltntq. Yj, gjlevfdib<pst dee> uke,;t,
gjybvfkf -- ytn.
She used to think sometimes it was because she had no children. But then, once
she had thought about it more deeply, she understood, no.
[109] Gtnz dplj[yek, gjlevfd<pst dee> j crhjvys[ djpvj;yjcnz[ cdjtuj bycnbnenf.
Petia sighed as he thought about the modest resources of his institute.

The overwhelming more frequent form {-v} is neutral ([109]).15

6.3.7 Aspectual-temporal-modal particles
Forms of the verb be have, in the course of history, become lexicalized as particles
with temporal or modal functions. Most notable is ,s, ultimately derived from
a special counterfactual aorist form of be in older Slavic. The particle †cnm,
etymologically the third-singular form of the present tense, is used optionally
in existential (§5.3.6) and copular sentences (§5.2.7).
The neuter singular, past-tense form ,ßkj can be used in combination with
the past tense of a verb to indicate that an action was planned or even begun,
but the event has not been followed to its conclusion, or that the expected
15 Writing to Jakobson in 1933, Trubetzkoy (1975:280) said that there was no difference between lfd
˜having given™ and lfdib.
398 A Reference Grammar of Russian

results have not been achieved. The reversal of fortune is usually stated in the
subsequent clause (often introduced by yj ˜but™).
[110] Jy gjitk ,skj ghjuekznmcz, yj gthtlevfk.
He was going to go out carousing, but changed his mind.
[111] Tkbpfdtnj/ Gtnhjdyj/ ,sk ,skj gjcnhjty yjdsq ldjhtw, yj d 1802 ujle b
эnjn ghtlcnfdkzk cj,jq hfpdfkbys.
Elizaveta Petrovna had tried to construct a new palace, but that one as well just
amounted to ruins in 1802.

<sd’kj, still used as the past tense of the iterative form of be (Wtksq vtczw
lj;lz yt ,sdfkj ˜For a whole month no rain came™), is used as a parenthetical
particle (set off by commas) to establish a recurrent situation in the past. The
main verb is past imperfective or perfective present tense in its exemplary sense
(§6.5.9). An example:
[112] F jyb, ,sdfkj, d hjzkm ljdth[e yfkbdfkb<if pst> rjymzr, gjl;bufkb<if pst> tuj,
,hjcfkb<if pst> d gkfvz cjntyyst ,evf;rb, b ltdeirb ljk;ys ,skb<pst> эnb
,evf;rb ds[dfnsdfnm b ,hfnm ct,t.
And they, it would happen, would pour cognac into a piano, light it, throw into
the ¬‚ame hundred-ruble bills, and girls were supposed to snatch out the bills for

6.4 Aspect and lexicon

6.4.1 Aspect made simple
Aspect, its reputation notwithstanding, is really quite simple.16
All verbs report histories, histories of states of the worlds and changes in
states of the worlds. Aspect is a classi¬cation of verbs based on the kind of
history that a verb reports. These histories tend to polarize into two types. Some,
termed p e r f e c t i v e , report de¬nitive change over three phases of time: a prior
phase in which a state or property does not hold, a phase of change, and a
resulting phase in which the state or property resulting from the change is
projected to continue inde¬nitely. Others, termed i m p e r f e c t i v e , do not report
de¬nitive change, but instead report continuity of states or processes over time.
Verbs of each aspect are used for certain characteristic functions relative to the
contextual time-world.
16 Notable in the rich tradition of Russian aspectology are: Maslov 1948, 1973, 1984[a]; Bondarko
1971 (and others); Forsyth 1970 ([139], from Chekhov; [140], from Tolstoy); Breu 1980; Flier and
Timberlake 1985; Durst-Andersen 1992; Paducheva 1996; and now Zalizniak and Shmelev 2000.
Among general linguistic works, see Comrie 1976[b]; Dowty 1979; Dahl 1985; Binnick 1991. Con-
sistent with this ongoing tradition, the present discussion emphasizes the interaction of lexicon
(predicate histories) and context.
Mood, tense, and aspect 399

Morphologically, aspect is not wholly transparent, for there is no single,
unique morphological expression of perfective or imperfective aspect in verbs
(§§6.4.3--6.4.4). However, there is a limited number of strategies. They differ some-
what, but still have the effect of making verbs unambiguously perfective or
As a rule, verbs come in pairs of perfective and imperfective. That is, for
a given perfective verb, there is a corresponding imperfective with the same
meaning (same except for aspect), and, conversely, for a given imperfective verb,
there is a unique perfective with the same meaning. However, the nature of
pairing depends on the morphological strategy. In recognition of that fact, rela-
tions among aspectual partners or near-partners are written in two forms below.
The relation of pre¬xed perfective and secondary imperfective is written with
the perfective ¬rst, as lj-gbc’nm<pf> /lj-g«csdfnm<if> ˜¬nish writing™. In contrast,
the relation of a simplex imperfective to a pre¬xed perfective (near-) partner
is written with the imperfective ¬rst, for example, kmcn«nm<if> \gjkmcn«nm<pf>
˜¬‚atter™. Similarly, semelfactive perfectives are treated as dependent on the base
simplex, and are written as vf[’nm<if>\vf[y©nm<pf> ˜wave™ (§6.4.5).
Aspect is not only lexical and morphological, it is also contextual. Whether
there is de¬nitive change is evaluated with respect to a c o n t e x t ua l o c c a -
s i o n , a time and world which the speaker deems relevant and worthy of dis-
cussion. In [113], the speaker names the contextual time explicitly.

[113] D rjywt b/kz yjxm/ z dsitk<pf> bp gjtplf yf Rjdhjdcrjv djrpfkt.
Ljyjcbkbcm<if> pderb jnlfktyyjq fhnbkkthbqcrjq rfyjyfls, ujhbpjyn
jcdtofkcz<if> dcgsirfvb dscnhtkjd.
One night at the end of June I got out of the train at the Kovrovsky Station. There
carried sounds of distant artillery ¬re, the horizon was lit up by the ¬‚ares of

In [113], the process of exiting from the train is bounded, de¬nitive, in the sense
that no further exiting, in this context, is expected. This de¬nitive change is
expressed by the perfective verb dßitk. More generally, aspect in Slavic hangs
on the notion of a limit in context. To use a perfective, there must be change
that approaches and reaches a limit. The limit is such that, once it is reached
at the contextual occasion, no further change is projected afterwards; only a
static continuation of the state is projected.17 Thus a verb that is perfective,
when it is used in context, reports a de¬nitive change with respect to some

17 Maslov emphasizes the importance of the “internal” or “intrinsic” limit (1948, 1973, 1984[b]).
Dowty 1979 makes explicit the idea that aspect involves projecting the future from the contextual
occasion -- by anticipation, Augustine would say.
400 A Reference Grammar of Russian

delimited contextual occasion. A verb that is imperfective reports continuity and
absence of de¬nitive change over an occasion or occasions. In [113], the sounds
and ¬‚ashes are perceived (ljyjc«kbcm, jcdto’kcz) at the contextual occasion, the
point at which the narrator exits the train. They were perceptible before and will
continue to be so afterwards. It is the extension of these perceptions beyond the
contextual occasion that justi¬es using the imperfective in [113]. Example [113]
illustrates one way in which a state or activity can fail to be a de¬nitive change
over a delimited occasion. There are other ways, and they result in somewhat
different senses of imperfective verbs, such as the iterative or durative senses
(§§6.5.4--6.5.8, 6.5.10).
The contextual side of aspect -- its interaction with times and worlds -- shades
into the way in which aspect helps shape discourse and text. We might operate
with a tripartite classi¬cation of discourse structures.18 N a r r a t i v e presumes
a dynamic whereby events follow each other in sequence. Each event starts from
the prior situation and proceeds to a new result, which in turn becomes the start-
ing point for the next subsequent event. Narrative, then, involves both temporal
succession and modal causality. Narrative is ordinarily expressed by past-tense
perfective verbs, unless the perspective is shifted (as in the “historical” use of
the present tense). Language is used not only to narrate but also to talk about
states of the world that overlap and coexist in time and circumstance. In this
mode of language, d e s c r i p t i o n , the focus is on the complexity of the world,
on the coexistence of states, rather than (as in narrative) on the replacement of
one state of the world by another. Description is by nature non-changing (hence
characteristically imperfective) and coincident in time (hence present tense, or
the equivalent of a present displaced to the past or future realm), and realis.
And third, speakers use language not only to talk about what was or what is.
Language is also used to understand what might be, to compare the reality of the
here and now of speech with possibilities: with what alternative states of reality
might be imagined instead of the current one, and with possible changes in the
future. The third mode is prolepsis, anticipation, divination -- in the broadest
terms, m o da l i t y . This mode allows both aspects (though prefers perfective); it
is future or irrealis modality.
These discourse or even cognitive categories are highly idealized. These three
modes are not strictly temporal nor aspectual nor modal, but all three at once.
The relation between these three modes of discourse and the category of aspect
(and also tense and mood) is indirect. They are not expressed unambiguously
by a single aspect or tense in a one-to-one fashion. There can be complex vec-
tors; a present state can be attached to an event in the past, for example. In

18 Expanding from the bipartite division of Benveniste 1959, Weinrich 1964.
Mood, tense, and aspect 401

the discussion below, these modes are used as the fabric for the discussion of
properties of aspect in context.

6.4.2 Tests for aspect membership
The most rigid distributional test for aspect is the interaction with tense. Only
imperfectives form a periphrastic combination with the forms ,©le, ,©ltim, etc.:
yt ,©le<fut> yfhei’nm<if> ˜I will not disturb™. This combination is used to report
incomplete events in the future. Thus imperfective verbs form three tenses: past,
present, and future. In contrast, perfective verbs have only two tenses, the past
and the (morphological) present. They do not combine with ,©le, ,©ltim, etc:
— yt ,©le
<fut> yfhei«nm<pf> . Moreover, the present-tense forms of perfective verbs
do not refer to events that occur at the here and now of speech, but to events
that are anticipated, as viewed from the here and now, to occur in the future.
This test of three as opposed to two tenses is the most rigid and de¬nitional
test for aspect. There are in addition other tests and distributional properties
of the two aspects, of greater or lesser rigidity and applicability. Only imperfec-
tives occur as in¬nitival complements of p h a s a l verbs yfx’nm/yfxby’nm ˜begin™,
ghjljk;’nm ˜continue™, rj ´yxbnm/rjyx’nm ˜¬nish™. Imperfectives are more usual
as ¬nal complements of verbs of motion (Pfxtv ns gjitk yfdtofnm<if inf>
tuj? ˜Why did you go visit him?™), though perfectives do occur (Yfenhj gjitk
yfdtcnbnm<pf inf> tot jlyjuj cnfhjuj pyfrjvjuj ˜In the morning I went to visit
yet another old acquaintance™). Only perfectives occur freely as the complement
of the perfective el’cnmcz/elfd’nmcz ˜manage to, to be successful at™ (§6.5.10, with
rare exceptions). As a rule (though with certain exceptions), only imperfectives
can occur with an accusative specifying the duration of an interval over which
an activity occurs (§6.5.6). As a rule, only perfectives occur with the temporal ad-
verb pf, since it implies a history in which an event occurs successfully within
an interval of time, often against expectations: pf jlyb cenrb bp,e ckj;bkb<pf>
˜they put together a hut within a day™. (Imperfectives are possible with pf under
speci¬c conditions.) Thus these tests, above all the test of the periphrastic future,
lead to an unambiguous and almost exhaustive partition of verbs into the two

6.4.3 Aspect and morphology: the core strategy
There is no single morphological unit that marks perfective or imperfective
aspect. In this sense, the category of aspect is more a lexical classi¬cation than
an in¬‚ectional category. But the number of morphological strategies is quite
restricted, and they yield a common result: a sharp division of lexical items into
perfective and imperfective.
402 A Reference Grammar of Russian

The core pattern -- the pattern which de¬nes the Russian system, and which
has been for a long time the most productive -- is tripartite.19 Many verbs in
Russian do not have a pre¬x. Such s i m p l e x e s report continuous situations.
These situations may be entirely static and unchanging: uhecn«nm ˜be sad™, d«ltnm
˜see™. Or they may involve some degree of gradual change and responsibility:
cbl†nm ˜sit™, hf,j ´nfnm ˜work™, vjn’nm ˜wind™, kmcn«nm ˜¬‚atter™, rhen«nm ˜wind™.
Simplex verbs as a rule are imperfective.
Simplex verbs combine with one or more pre¬xes. Examples of pre¬xes and
their most regular senses are given in Table 6.4.20 Pre¬xes impose a limit on the
¬‚ow of states or activities in one of two ways. Many pre¬xes have two senses,
qualitative and quantitative (or quantizing).
Q ua l i t a t i v e senses of pre¬xes present an activity as a series of continuous
changes leading towards a limit. After the limit is reached, no more of the
change can be contemplated (in context). Thus jn-rhen«nm ˜remove by twisting™
de¬nes a boundary, and indicates that some mobile entity is forced to move
further away from the boundary:

[114] Z jnrhenbk<pf> gj ldf ,jknf cktdf b cghfdf.
I unscrewed two bolts each on the left and right sides.

The activity of twisting is gradual and continuous, but when the de¬nitive limit
of removal by twisting has been reached, that activity no longer continues. The
change typically affects an entity named as an argument of the predicate, the
aspectual argument: the object of a transitive (the bolts in [114]) or the subject
of an intransitive (Ghb ecnfyjdrt vf[jdbrf ye;yj cj,k/cnb vjvtyn pfnz;rb
,jknjd, lf,s jy yt jnrhenbkcz ˜During the installation of the ¬‚y-wheel, it is
necessary to monitor the torque of the bolts so that it will not come unscrewed™).
Because the change proceeds continuously to a goal, or telos, pre¬xal derivatives
of this type are commonly termed t e l i c .
Leading up to the ¬nal limit are gradual phases of change. The ¬nal change
does not occur in one fell swoop; there are multiple phases before the ¬nal limit
is reached. For this reason, these pre¬xed perfectives with qualitative meaning
allow s e c o n da r y imperfectives to be formed through the addition of a deriva-
tional suf¬x (secondary, as opposed to the primary, or simplex, imperfectives).
Thus corresponding to the perfective jn-rhen«nm<pf> , there is a secondary im-
perfective jn-rh©xbdfnm<if> . These secondary imperfectives maintain the idea of
potential limit, or telos -- jn-rh©xbdfnm invokes a limit of removal -- but in context
undermine or contradict the idea of reaching the limit in one or another respect:

19 Kartsevskii 1927. In a similar vein, see Brecht 1984.
20 On the semantics of pre¬xes, see Boguslawski 1963, Flier 1975, 1985, Gallant 1979, Janda 1986,
and detailed studies in Krongauz and Paillard 1997.
Table 6.4 Qualitative and quantizing prefixal derivatives

qualitative quantizing

yf- ac c u m u l a t i o n onto a surface ac c u m u l a t i o n of quantity, substantial relative to implicit
yf-rhen«nm/yf-rh©xbdfnm ˜twist onto™ yf-l†kfnm/yf-l†ksdfnm ˜make large quantity of™
d- i ng r e s s into the interior of a space
d-rhen«nm/d-rh©xbdfnm ˜insert by twisting™; d-gbn’nm/d-g«nsdfnm
˜absorb nourishment™; d-njgn’nm/d-n’gnsdfnm ˜stomp into™
ghb- a r r i va l at spatial limit
ghb-rhen«nm/ghb-rh©xbdfnm ˜tie up to™; ghb-qn«/ghb-[jl«nm ˜arrive™
lj- a p p roac h to spatial limit a p p roac h to limit of possible activity [with -cz]
lj-crfr’nm/lj-cr’rbdfnm ˜hop up to™ lj-buh’nmcz/lj-«uhsdfnmcz ˜play to extreme consequences™
c- d e s c e n t in space; c o n j u nc t i o n (= rapprochement) in space r e t u r n to non-existence
c-k†pnm/c-ktp’nm ˜climb down™; c-rhen«nm/c-rh©xbdfnm ˜twist c-[jl«nm/--- ˜make round trip™
hfp- d i s p e r s a l in space d i s p e r s a l in degree of activity [with cz]
hfc-cntuy©nm/hfc-cn=ubdfnm ˜unfasten™; hfc-rhen«nm/hfc-rh©xbdfnm hfc-ghjcn«nmcz/--- ˜take leave, extensively, in all manners and
˜wrap around; set spinning™ degrees™
bp- e x t r ac t i o n from space e x t r ac t i o n from existence of activity
bp-dk†xm/bp-dktr’nm ˜extract™ bp-v©xbnm/--- ˜thoroughly torment™; bp-yjc«nm/bp-y’ibdfnm ˜wear
out™; bc-rjkj ´nm/bc-r’ksdfnm ˜prick thoroughly, in many
jn- d e t ac h m e n t from spatial limit d e t ac h m e n t from existence of activity
jn-dzp’nm/jn-dz ´psdfnm ˜untie™; jn-rhen«nm/jn-rh©xbdfnm jn-rjhv«nm/jn-r’hvkbdfnm ˜feed thoroughly™;
˜remove by twisting™; jnj-ck’nm/jn-csk’nm ˜send off™; jn-cbl†nm/jn-c«;bdfnm ˜¬nish sitting™; jn-cnhfl’nm/--- ˜¬nish
jn-ghz´yenm/jn-ghz ´lsdfnm ˜yank away™ suffering™; jn-lsi’nmcz/--- ˜¬nish breathing™
Table 6.4 (cont.)

qualitative quantizing

dß- e g r e s s from interior of space e g r e s s from existence
dß-rhenbnm/ds-rh©xbdfnm ˜wring out™; dß-csgfnm/ds-csg’nm dß-gfxrfnm/--- ˜thoroughly soil™; dß-cgfnmcz/--- ˜sleep one™s ¬ll™
˜sprinkle out™; dß-uhspnm/ds-uhsp’nm ˜separate out by biting™;
dß-ujhjlbnm/ds-ujh’;bdfnm ˜fence off (thereby separating)™;
dß-vfpfnm/ds-v’psdfnm ˜smear thoroughly™
e- t r a n s c e n d e nc e of spatial threshold, from one domain into t r a n s c e n d e nc e of the threshold of existence
e-n†xm/e-ntr’nm ˜¬‚ow, run away™; e-crjkmpy©nm/e-crjkmp’nm ˜slide e-d«ltnm/--- ˜catch sight of ™; e-c†cnmcz/e-c’;bdfnmcz ˜sit for a
away™; e-gkßnm/e-gksd’nm ˜swim away™; e-gecn«nm/e-gecr’nm ˜let good spell™
slip away™; e-cj ´[yenm/e-cs[’nm ˜dry out and diminish™
gj- a t t e n ua t i o n over points in space a t t e n ua t i o n of quantity or duration of activity
gj-k«nm/gj-kbd’nm ˜begin to pour™ gj-kmcn«nm/--- ˜¬‚atter somewhat™; gj-uhecn«nm/--- ˜be sad for a
while™; gj-kt;’nm/--- ˜lie for a bit™
j(,)- c i rc u m v e n t i o n around a circular space c i rc u m v e n t i o n of affect, along all parameters
j-rhen«nm/j-rh©xbdfnm ˜twist around™; j,j-kmcn«nm/j,j-kmo’nm j,-ktn’nm/j,-k=nsdfnm ˜¬‚y exhaustively™
˜¬‚atter, deceive, seduce™; j,-kbp’nm/j,-k«psdfnm ˜lick around
one™s lips™; j-;bd«nm/j-;bdkz ˜bring to life™
gtht- t r a n s g r e s s i o n through space or occasions (= repetition) t r a n s g r e s s i o n of normative quantity
gtht-rhen«nm/gtht-rh©xbdfnm ˜rewind™; ght-kmcn«nm/ght-kmo’nm gtht-[jhjy«nm/--- ˜bury in large numbers™
˜bring around through ¬‚attery™; gtht-xbn’nm/gtht-x«nsdfnm
ghj- s u f f u s i o n through space s u f f u s i o n of possible degree of activity
ghj-rhen«nm/ghj-rh©xbdfnm ˜twist, wind through™; ghj-cg’nm/--- ˜sleep through time interval™; ghj-cr’rfnm/--- (cnj
ghj-cvjnh†nm/ghj-cv’nhbdfnm ˜look through™; vbkm) ˜cover by jumping
ghj-d†nhbnm/ghj-d†nhbdfnm ˜thoroughly air out™ (a hundred miles™)
pf d e f l e c t i o n from inertial path d e f l e c t i o n from inertial state of non-existence
pf-rhen«nm/pf-rh©xbdfnm ˜twist around™; pf-qn«/pf-[jl«nm ˜drop in™; (= i nc e p t i o n )
pf-ukzy©nm/pf-ukz ´lsdfnm ˜have a quick look at on the sly™; pf-kmcn«nm/--- ˜initiate ¬‚attery™; pf-reh«nm/pf-r©hbdfnm ˜begin to
pf-d«nm/pf-dbd’nm ˜wind around™ smoke™; pf-rke,«nmcz/--- ˜begin to gust in clumps™;
pf-,hßpufnm/pf-,hßpubdfnm ˜cover by splashing stuff ™
gjl- s u b v e n t i o n under surface
gjlj-qn«/gjl-[jl«nm ˜come up on™; gjl-cneg«nm/gjl-cneg’nm ˜step
up to™
yfl- s u p e r v e n t i o n over a surface
yfl-h†pfnm/yfl-htp’nm ˜cut on surface™
dp- s u p e r v e n t i o n along a vertical dimension
dp-ktn†nm/dp-ktn’nm ˜ascend™
406 A Reference Grammar of Russian

for example, the activity is repeated, even though on each occasion it may reach
the limit (yf rf;ljq jcnfyjdrt jy ,hjcfk d rfcce vjytnrb b jnrhexbdfk<if> ct,t
,bktn ˜at each stop he put money in the box and twisted himself off a ticket™);
the activity with a potential limit is caught in progress (ujcnb vjkxfkb, htrnjh
Rfqpth cnfhfntkmyj jnrhexbdfk<if> geujdbwe e cvjrbyuf ˜the guests were silent,
Rector Kaiser was assiduously twisting off the button on his jacket™); the import
is the existence of an activity or attempted activity (Cthutq jnrhexbdfk<if> ,jkn
b gjntk ˜Sergei was trying to unscrew the bolt and was sweating™); or some de-
tails of the activity as it progresses are reported (jy yt gjvybn, ult jy ghj,re
jnrhexbdfk<if> ˜he doesn™t remember where he twisted the stopper out™). These
pre¬xed perfectives that have a sense of continuous activity readily form sec-
ondary imperfectives, and the morphologically derived secondary imperfectives
are particularly close in meaning to the corresponding perfectives. Together,
qualitative perfectives and their secondary imperfectives are true aspectual pairs.
Other senses of pre¬xes place limits on the very nature of the activity; they
treat the activity in discrete quanta. Such pre¬xed perfectives could be termed
quantifying or even q ua n t i z i ng , since they deal with discrete quanta of
activity.21 The activity either exists or not, or exists over a certain quantity
of time, or leads to a certain measurable, quantitative result. For example, pf-
uhecn«nm ˜begin to be sad™ talks about the inception of a state, where incep-
tion is quantitative, in the sense that the activity goes from none to some; gj-
uhecn«nm ˜be sad a bit™ attenuates the duration of the state to a limited period;
yf-ck©ifnmcz (dczrb[ yt,skbw j yfc TOLKIENbcnf[) ˜listen to a suf¬cient quantity
(of all kinds of nonsense about us Tolkien fans)™ means that a large quantity of
nonsense has been heard. Quantizing perfectives have an all-or-nothing quality
to them. The quantum result is achieved only over a whole interval of time. For
this reason, such perfectives form secondary imperfectives reluctantly. There are
no regular secondary imperfectives associated with pf-uhecn«nm, gj-uhecn«nm, or
yf-ck©ifnmcz. When quantizing perfectives do form secondary imperfectives, the
imperfective is often used only in a speci¬c sense, the iterative sense of achiev-
ing the quantitative result over multiple separate occasions: yf-rh©xbdfnm<if> is
a possible imperfective, but only in the sense of repeated instances of preparing
in quantity.
While pre¬xed perfectives and their corresponding secondary imperfectives
form canonical aspect pairs, the status of simplex verbs is less transparent. Be-
cause (as a rule) simplex verbs simply name a state or activity, they have no
intrinsic boundaries, and (as a rule) are imperfective. If a context demands a

21 Isaˇenko 1975 calls the distinction modi¬cational vs. quantitative. E. Adger Williams (p.c.) sug-
gested the term “quantizing” -- operating with discrete quanta rather than scalar properties.
Mood, tense, and aspect 407

perfective corresponding to a simplex imperfective naming a state or activity,
a perfective formed with a quantizing pre¬x can often be used. For instance,
gj-kmcn«nm is listed as the perfective corresponding to simplex kmcn«nm. But the
relationship between simplexes and quantizing perfectives is not as clear-cut as
the relationship of perfective and secondary imperfective. Quantizing pre¬xes
impose an additional -- quantizing -- meaning, and the particular pre¬xed deriva-
tive used is not always unique. Thus pf-rhen«nm ˜begin to twirl™ and c-rhen«nm ˜roll™
both are listed as perfectives for the simplex rhen«nm. These pre¬xed derivatives
add some meaning to the imperfective; for example, pf-rhen«nm introduces the
idea of inception of the activity. In fact, both pf-rhen«nm and c-rhen«nm also have
secondary imperfective derivatives, pf-rh©xbdfnm and c-rh©xbdfnm. Additionally,
the semelfactive rh©nyenm ˜twirl once™ is also listed as a perfective to rhen«nm.
Thus the relationship between simplex imperfectives and perfectives is more
complex than simple pairing: more than one perfective can be related to a given
simplex, and the perfectives used for this purpose have an additional quantizing
component of meaning.
In summary: Simplex imperfective verbs are pre¬xed and yield perfectives.
Many of those perfectives -- those that report a continuous process leading to
a limit -- can be suf¬xed and yield closely related secondary imperfectives that
form unambiguous aspectual pairs. Pre¬xed verbs that discuss discrete quanta
of the activity are less amenable to forming secondary imperfectives. Because
simplexes ordinarily are imperfective, one or another of the pre¬xed perfectives
will serve as the perfective counterpart to the simplex imperfective.

6.4.4 Aspect and morphology: other strategies and groups

Semelfactive suffixation: With simplex verbs that report a cyclical or intrin-
sically repetitive process, adding the suf¬x {-nu-} (in more explicit terms,
{-nu-}<pst, inf> ∼ {{-n-}<1sg,3pl> ∼ {-n˛ -}<2sg . . . 2pl> }) gives a perfective verb re-
porting a single occasion of the cyclical activity: rhbx’nm<if> \rh«ryenm<pf> ˜cry™;
vf[’nm<if>\v’[yenm<pf> ˜wave™, ukjn’nm<if> \ukjny©nm<pf> ˜swallow™.

Bi-aspectual, anaspectual verbs: A small number of verbs are said to be b i -
a s p e c t ua l . This group includes: life-cycle verbs ;ty«nmcz ˜marry™, rhtcn«nm(cz)
˜baptize™, hjl«nm ˜give birth to™; verbs of communication dtk†nm ˜order™, j,to’nm
˜promise™; verbs of affect h’ybnm ˜wound™, rfpy«nm ˜punish™. For these verbs, one
and the same form can be used in contexts where imperfectives are used and
in other contexts where perfectives are used. For example, ;ty«nmcz ˜marry™ can
make periphrastic futures and be used in iterative contexts, as is characteristic
of imperfectives ([115]).
408 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[115] Ujvjctrcefkbcns cj dctuj vbhf ,elen ;tybnmcz<if fut> d Ghfut.
Homosexuals from the whole world will get married in Prague.

But the same verb can also be used as perfective, to refer to a single completed
event in the past or the future: Gtnz ;tybkcz<pf> dxthf ˜Petia got married yes-
terday™, Gtnz ;tybncz<pf> xthtp nhb vtczwf ˜Petia will marry in three months™.
Though the term “bi-aspectual” is widely used, it might make more sense to
think of these verbs as a n a s p e c t ua l -- that is, these are verbs that do not
have a clear alignment in the aspect system. Rather than belonging to both as-
pects, they have no aspect, and accordingly can, to some extent or another, be
used in contexts in which one would otherwise expect either perfective or im-
perfective. (A class of anaspectual verbs could include ,ßnm ˜be™, which is hard
to classify as one or the other aspect.) Consistent with this, individual verbs
are losing their dualistic behavior, and over time come to behave more as one
aspect or the other.22 Hjl«nm(cz) ˜give birth to (be born)™ is now usually used
as a perfective, opposed to a regularly used imperfective hj;l’nm(cz), but its
older anaspectual quality is revealed in gnomic present-tense statements (ptvkz
[jhjij hjlbn<if prs> ˜the land is fecund™). H’ybnm ˜wound™ avoids being used as
a past-tense iterative. J,to’nm ˜promise™ is more often imperfective than per-
fective; for the perfective sense, the unambiguous perfective gjj,to’nm is now
usual. :ty«nmcz, as a perfective, has been superseded by gj;ty«nmcz, at least
with plural subjects.
An occasional verb seems to have made the transition from imperfective to
perfective on the basis of being used frequently in contexts that normally call for
perfectives. The verb ,t;’nm, in the particular sense of ˜¬‚ee from con¬nement
or danger™, is used in narrative contexts that look perfective; ltd’nm(cz) ˜place,
put™ is similar.

Old aspect pairs: Another old, residual layer is the set of verbs that differ
in aspect and differ only in the classi¬catory suf¬x: hti«nm/hti’nm ˜decide™,
cn’nm/cnfyjd«nmcz ˜become™, dcn’nm/dcnfd’nm ˜stand up™, e,tl«nm/e,t;l’nm ˜con-
vince, persuade™.

Borrowings: Foreign borrowings go through a life cycle of development towards
pairing. In the ¬rst phase the verb is anaspectual. Then it can be pre¬xed, and
one of the pre¬xed derivatives will serve as the perfective partner; pre¬xes com-
monly used in this function are j-, pf-, yf-, c-. The pre¬xed verb is an unam-
biguous perfective, which pushes the simplex towards imperfectivity. Examples:
vjltk«hjdfnm<if> ˜model™, cvjltk«hjdfnm<pf> ; htuek«hjdfnm<if> ˜regulate™, {jn,
22 See Zalizniak and Shmelev 2000:71--76, who document that some collocations used in the nine-
teenth century are no longer usual.
Mood, tense, and aspect 409

pf, e, gjl}-htuek«hjdfnm<if> ; kfr«hjdfnm<if> ˜lacquer™, {pf, yf, gjl, gtht, gj}-
kfr«hjdfnm. Sometimes a pre¬xed verb of this type can serve as the basis of
an imperfective derived by suf¬xation: gkfy«hjdfnm ˜plan™, gthtgkfy«hjdfnm<pf>
˜re-plan™, gthtgkfybhj´dsdfnm<if> ˜re-plan™. This recapitulates the core, tripartite
system of Russian.
There is an alternative path of development, infrequent and now out-
moded. The unpre¬xed borrowing jhufybpjd’nm ˜organize™ was suf¬xed, giv-
ing jhufybpjdj ´dsdfnm. Jhufybpjd’nm is used in the present tense to report
ongoing or generic activities. The two forms are differentiated in the past,
when jhufybpjd’nm reports a single, completed event, and jhufybpfdj ´dsdfnm
is used as an imperfective for repeated actions. In the in¬nitive jhufybpjd’nm
has perfective force. This limited pattern is attested for jhufybpjd’nm and
´dsdfnm ˜arrest™.

Prefixed imperfectives: There is an exception to the rule that pre¬xes necessar-
ily make perfective verbs, and that is the possibility of using the imperfectivizing
suf¬x {{-iva-} ∼ {-iva(j)-}} while adding certain pre¬xes to make unpaired im-
perfective verbs: gjcd†xbdfnm ˜shine off and on™ (cdtn«nm ˜shine™), gjlg’[bdfnm
˜smell a bit™ (g’[yenm ˜emit a smell™), yfpd’ybdfnm ˜keep on ringing™ (pdjy«nm
˜ring™), ghbi=gnsdfnm ˜whisper while engaged in another activity™ (itgn’nm

6.4.5 Aspect pairs
In the Russian aspect tradition, much emphasis has been placed on whether
verbs are paired for aspect -- whether for a given verb, there is one and only one
corresponding verb of the opposite aspect that has the same meaning except for
the difference in aspect.
An imperfective verb counts as the partner of a perfective if it is used to
replace a perfective verb in contexts in which the event is iterated ([116] to [117])
or to transpose past narrative into the historical present ([118] to [119]):23

[116] Jy djitk<pf pst> d ljv, gjlyzkcz<pf pst> gj ktcnybwt, jnrhsk<pf pst> ldthm,
gjcnfdbk<pf pst> xtvjlfy, pf;tu<pf pst> cdtn, ctk<pf pst> d rhtckj b pfrehbk<pf pst>
He went in the house, climbed the stairs, opened the door, put down the suitcase,
turned on the light, sat down in the chair, and lit a cigar.
[117] Jy d[jlbk<if pst> d ljv, gjlybvfkcz<if pst> gj ktcnybwt, jnrhsdfk<if pst> ldthm,
cnfdbk<if pst> xtvjlfy, pf;bufk<if pst> cdtn, cflbkcz<if pst> d rhtckj b
pfrehbdfk<if pst> cbufhe.

23 Zalizniak and Shmelev 2000:47--52 ([116], [118]).
410 A Reference Grammar of Russian

He would come into the house, climb the stairs, open the door, put down the
suitcase, turn on the light, sit down in the chair, and light a cigar.
[118] Jy dsitk<pf pst> dj ldjh, gjqvfk<pf pst> ,f,jxre b ghbytc<pf pst> tt ljvjq.
He went out to the yard, caught a butter¬‚y and brought it home.
[119] Jy ds[jlbn<if prs> dj ldjh, kjdbn<if prs> ,f,jxre b ghbyjcbn<if prs> tt ljvjq.
He goes out to the yard, catches a butter¬‚y and brings it home.

A perfective verb counts as the partner of an imperfective if it is used to convert
a description of overlapping scenes into narrative sequence ([120] to [121]):

[120] Gj;bkjq rbnftw jukzlsdfk<if pst> gecnsyysq ujhbpjyn, vjkxfk<if pst> b
levfk<if pst> j xtv-nj cdjtv.
The old Chinese man surveyed the empty horizon, kept silent and was engrossed
in his own thoughts.
[121] Gj;bkjq rbnftw jukzltk<pf pst> gecnsyysq ujhbpjyn, gjvjkxfk<pf pst> b
yfrjytw ghbyzk<pf pst> htitybt.
The old Chinese man surveyed the empty horizon, was silent for a while and
eventually made a decision.

Pre¬xed perfectives and their secondary imperfectives, such as
ljgbc’nm/ljg«csdfnm ˜¬nish writing™, jukzl†nm/jukz ´lsdfnmcz ˜look around™,
jnrhßnmcz/jnrhsd’nmcz ˜open™, yfrfp’nm/yfr’psdfnm ˜punish™, satisfy these
criteria for pairedness. In this way, many verbs of Russian can be viewed as
members of aspectual pairs.
Simplex verbs, which by nature are quite broad in their meaning, participate
in aspectual relations that are somewhat different. As noted, simplex verbs are
typically imperfective, and they can be associated with more than one pre¬xed
perfective derivative. In many instances, there is one pre¬xed perfective deriva-
tive that can be used as the closest thing to a perfective partner that simplex
verbs have. In some instances, the pre¬x seems to have lost its meaning (gbc’nm
˜write™, yf-gbc’nm; n’znm ˜melt™, hfc-n’znm; ndjh«nm ˜make, create™, cj-ndjh«nm) but
more commonly the pre¬xed derivative still has a trace of its own meaning. Thus
pre¬xed derivatives in pf- maintain the sense of inception (ndthl†nm ˜gradually
become hard™, pf-ndthl†nm ˜harden™); derivatives in gj- maintain the sense of small
or unexpected change (gj-qn« ˜set off in new direction™; gj-,jz ´nmcz ˜experience a
reaction of fear™; gj-cjk«nm ˜add some salt™). The pre¬x gj- is quite productive, and
it is moving in the direction of becoming an all-purpose perfectivizing pre¬x. It
sometimes happens that more than one pre¬xed form can be used, especially
in borrowings; for example, Ozhegov lists as perfectives of htuek«hjdfnm deriva-
tives in e-, jn-, pf-. Perhaps more to the point is that simplex imperfectives have
wide ranges of senses and uses, wider than the pre¬xed derivations that might
be considered to be their partners, whereas with pre¬xed perfectives and their
Mood, tense, and aspect 411

secondary imperfectives, the meaning of the second imperfective is dependent
on the meaning of the pre¬xed perfective. In these respects, the relationship
between simplexes and verbs impressed into service as perfective partners is
less close and less determined than the relationship between pre¬xed perfective
verbs and their corresponding secondary imperfectives. In short, secondary im-
perfectives are based on their pre¬xed perfectives, while simplexes provide the
basis for their near-partners, formed with quantizing pre¬xes or {-nu-}.24

6.4.6 Intrinsic lexical aspect
It is common in studies of English and Western European languages to invoke
a classi¬cation of lexical items according to their intrinsic semantics, or l e x i -
c a l a s p e c t , often the four-part classi¬cation proposed by Z. Vendler (1957).25
One can adapt Vendler™s system to Russian, but the insights are modest. Simplex
verbs, as a rule, express states (d«ltnm ˜see™, ckßifnm ˜hear™, uhecn«nm ˜be sad™) or
processes/activities (rhen«nm ˜twist, twirl™, l†kfnm ˜do™), but Russian is not as con-
cerned with this distinction as English, which forms the progressive from stative
predicates less freely than from activities. Pre¬xed perfectives, as noted above,
are likely to express activities that progress to a cumulative result: in Vendler™s
terms, these are accomplishments, or in Maslov™s terms, predicates with a telos,
or “intrinsic limit.” In Russian, such “accomplishments” are likely to allow the
formation of secondary imperfectives, which are then telic activities: they have
something of accomplishments but they are activities. The Russian analog to
Vendler™s fourth class, achievements, includes changes of state -- verbs re¬‚ect-
ing changes from one polarity of a state to another (ed«ltnm ˜see, catch sight
of™, eckßifnm ˜hear [suddenly, as opposed to not hearing]™).26 Such verbs do not
form secondary imperfectives. Together with them might be grouped the vari-
ous kinds of quanti¬cation (quantizing) discussed in connection with pre¬xes:
of duration (ghjcg’nm ˜sleep through™), of distance (yf†plbnm ˜travel through™),
of result (yfcjk«nm juehwj ˜pickle [many] cucumbers™), of inception (pf[jl«nm
˜begin to walk™). Quantizing verbs allow derived imperfectives freely only in an
iterative sense.
There are, then, something like analogs to Vendler™s four classes of predicates,
but a Vendlerian classi¬cation does not do justice to the most characteristic

24 In the vocabulary of structuralism (though this is not the view of, for example, Roman Jakob-
son), simplex imperfectives are “unmarked” with respect to the perfectives with which they are
associated, but secondary imperfectives are “marked” with respect to the pre¬xed perfectives.
25 On the relationship of lexicon and aspect, see Maslov 1948, Forsyth 1970, Brecht 1984, Lehmann
1988, Paducheva 1996. On limitations of the approach of Vendler 1957, see Timberlake 1985[b].
26 Lubensky 1985 notes that, unlike most perfectives, these verbs do not readily allow a resultative
or perfect reading: -- Ds dbltkb эnjn abkmv? ˜Have you seen that ¬lm?™ will not be answered with
— -- Lf, z lfdyj edbltk.
412 A Reference Grammar of Russian

feature of Russian aspect: secondary imperfectives that presume a limit (like
Vendler™s accomplishments) but insist on the failure to reach a limit (like
Vendler™s activities).
In connection with lexical aspect, it is useful to mention a specialized group
of verbs whose imperfective reports a process, but the process is an attempt.
Such conative verbs form the classic phrase: z tuj e,t;lfk<if> , e,t;lfk<if> ,
b yfrjytw e,tlbk<pf> ˜I tried to convince him, tried to convince, and ¬nally
convinced him™.

6.4.7 Verbs of motion
A set of approximately a dozen verbs that describe physical motion in space have
unusual properties with respect to aspect. Notably, these “verbs of motion” have
two simplex imperfectives.27 One set, i n d e t e r m i n a t e simplex verbs such as
[jl«nm ˜walk™, ,†ufnm ˜run™, are used to express: motion that is not directed to
a single goal ([122]); a roundtrip on a single occasion ([123]); or the essentialist
idea of a certain type of activity ([124]):

[122] Z ifufk gj Vjcrdt, tplbk<if id> pfqwtv d nhfvdfz[, b dct ,tphtpekmnfnyj.
I stepped throughout Moscow, took rides on trams without paying, all to no avail.
[123] Tot d yfxfkt ktnf d Vjcrde tplbkf<if id> vjz ctcnhf Cjyz b, dthyedibcm,
hfccrfpfkf vyt j, эnjq ltdjxrt.
At the beginning of the summer my sister Sonia went to Moscow and, once she
returned, told me about this girl.
[124] Эnj Fkbyf. Tq djctvm vtczwtd. Jyf e;t [jlbn<if id> .
This is Alina. She™s eight months old. She™s already walking.

The other set of simplex verbs, for example, bln« ˜walk™, ,t;’nm ˜run™, are
determinate. They express motion that has a single direction towards a goal
on a single occasion. Determinate verbs are used in the progressive ([125]) or
durative sense ([126]:

[125] Gjvybncz, t[fkb<if dt> vs jlyf;ls ,jkmijq rjvgfybtq d Vjcrde.
I remember how once we were going in a large group to Moscow.
[126] Ljkuj ;t ds t[fkb<if dt> !
You sure traveled a long time.

When motion is iterated, both types of verbs occur. Indeterminate verbs are
used when the multiple acts are viewed as a habit, even if the acts have a goal

27 Isaˇenko 1975:419--42.
Mood, tense, and aspect 413

[127] Rf;le/ ce,,jne vs ,jkmijq rjvgfybtq gjcnjzyyj [jlbkb<if id> d ntfnh,
cnjkm ;t ,jkmijq rjvgfybtq tplbkb<if id> gj djcrhtctymzv r Jcjhubysv,
rfnfkbcm<if id> nfv yf ks;f[.
Every Saturday a large group of us would go to the theater, in just such a group
would go on Sundays to the Osorgins, and ski there.
[128] Jyf jrjyxbkf irjke, gjcnegbkf r yfv hf,jnfnm, hfp d ldt ytltkb tplbkf<if id>
gj ds[jlysv ljvjq.
She ¬nished school, came to work with us, once every two weeks on her days off
would go home.

Determinate verbs are used when the individual sub-events attract attention,
for example, if each token of motion is sequenced with respect to other events

[129] Tckb ,skj ;fhrj, jy itk<if dt> yf htre, hfpltdfkcz<if> , ,hjcfkcz<if> d djle,
ljgksdfk<if> lj ghjnbdjgjkj;yjuj ,thtuf b j,hfnyj.
If it was hot, he would go to the river, get undressed, throw himself into the
water, and swim to the opposite bank and back.

Verbs of motion have interesting properties when they are pre¬xed. To make
qualitative perfectives, the pre¬x is added to the determinate. The stem for
the corresponding secondary imperfective is selected or formed in one of four
ways. In s t r a t e g y 1, the imperfective is formed by pre¬xing the indeterminate
stem directly (6 roots, e.g. pfqn«<pf> /pf[jl«nm<if> ˜drop in, deviate from inertial
path towards a new destination™, likewise ktn†nm<dt> ∼ ktn’nm<id> , ytcn«<dt>
∼ yjc«nm<id> , dtcn«<dt> ∼ djl«nm<id> , dtpn«<dt> ∼ djp«nm<id> , uy’nm<dt> ∼
ujyz <id> ). In s t r a t e g y 2, the secondary imperfective uses the indetermi-
nate stem, but is suf¬xed with the classi¬catory suf¬x {CVC-’- : CVC-’j-|e|}
(3 roots, e.g., gtht,t;’nm<pf> /gtht,tu’nm<if> ˜run across™, gj ´kpfnm, †plbnm, the
last-mentioned with a new consonant grade Cj , as in dßt[fnm<pf> /dstp;’nm
˜ride out™). Under s t r a t e g y 3, the imperfective is made from the determi-
nate stem by adding the same classi¬catory suf¬x {CVC-’- : CVC-’j-|e|} (3 roots,
e.g., ck†pnm<pf> /cktp’nm<if> ˜climb down™, also gkßnm<dt> ∼ gk’dfnm<id>
-gksd’nm<if> ; ,htcn«<dt> (,htl©) ∼ ,hjl«nm<id> , -,htl’nm<if> ). S t r a t e g y 4 con-
sists of adding the productive suf¬x {-iva- : -ivaj-} to the indeterminate
stem (2 roots, e.g., dnfo«nm<pf> /dn’crbdfnm<if> , also rfn«nm<dt> ∼ rfn’nm<id> ,
-r’nsdfnm<if> , and also from others in the colloquial register: gthtk=nsdfnm<if> ,
gjlg’kpsdfnm<if> ).
Quantizing pre¬xes are applied directly to the indeterminate simplex:
gj[jl«nm ˜walk a bit™, pf,†ufnm ˜start running™, j,(†plbnm ˜encompass all destina-
tions in traveling™, hfc[jl«nmcz ˜become engaged in extensive walking™, dßtplbnm
˜train by riding™, jngk’dfnm ˜¬nish one™s sailing days™, ghj†plbnm ˜spend a whole
414 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 6.5 Verbs of motion

qualitative imperfective quantizing
gloss determinate indeterminate perfective (strategy) perfective

˜walk™ pf[jl«nm (1)
bln« [jl«nm pfqn« pf[jl«nm
˜ride™ gthttp;’nm (2)
†[fnm †plbnm gtht†[fnm j,(†plbnm
˜run™ lj,tu’nm (2)
,t;’nm ,†ufnm lj,t;’nm yf,†ufnmcz
˜¬‚y™ dktn’nm (1)
ktn†nm ktn’nm dktn†nm pfktn’nm
˜swim™ egksd’nm (3)
gkßnm gk’dfnm egkßnm yfgk’dfnm
˜crawl™ yfgjkp’nm (2)
gjkpn« gj´kpfnm yfgjkpn« pfgj´kpfnm
˜carry™ dsyjc«nm (1)
ytcn« yjc«nm dßytcnb gthtyjc«nm
˜lead™ jndjl«nm (1)
dtcn« djl«nm jndtcn« gjdjl«nm
˜convey™ ghbdjp«nm (1)
dtpn« djp«nm ghbdtpn« gjdjp«nm
˜drive™ gjlujyz (1)
uy’nm ujyz´nm gjljuy’nm ´nm gthtujyz ´nm
˜drag™ dn’crbdfnm (4)
nfo«nm nfcr’nm dnfo«nm yfnfcr’nm
˜climb™ cktp’nm (3)
k†pnm k’pbnm ck†pnm ghjk’pbnm
˜wander™ lj,htl’nm (3)
,htcn« ,hjl«nm lj,htcn« gj,hjl«nm
˜roll™ dcr’nsdfnm (4)
rfn«nm rfn’nm dcrfn«nm j,rfn’nm

interval of time driving™, cktn’nm ˜¬‚y there and back™, yf†plbnm ˜cover great dis-
tance driving™, bp(†plbnm ˜exhaustively travel™. There is a potential for ambiguity.
For some verbs, the quantizing perfective (for example, pf[jl«nm<pf> ˜begin to
walk™) is the same as the imperfective derived by strategy 1 (pf[jl«nm<if> , im-
perfective of pfqn«<pf> ˜drop by, deviate from path™). The motivation for using
the indeterminate in this way is presumably that it expresses the sense of the
essential activity, the activity in and of itself (§6.5.4); it is that sense which is
Table 6.5 lists verbs of motion with some representative derivatives. Intran-
sitives are listed above transitives, with the more marginal members at the
The usage of aspect of prefixed verbs of motion is generally similar to other
aspectual pairs. The perfective reports a single event, the imperfective is used,
for example, for events in progress (Rjulf vs njkmrj gjl[jlbkb<if> r эnjve
cfvjve lhtdytve yf ctdtht ujhjle, yfc gjhfpbkj rjkbxtcndj [hfvjd ˜As we
were just approaching this most ancient northern city, we were astounded
by the number of churches™) or iterated events (Ythtlrj ghb[jlbk<if> ljrnjh
Ybrjkmcrbq ˜Not rarely, Dr. Nikolsky came™). Noteworthy is the fact that the
perfective is used only when the aspectual argument (subject of intransitives,
object of transitives) is still at the destination at the time when the next event
Mood, tense, and aspect 415

[130] Z pfitk<pf> d ,b,kbjntre b dpzk<pf> rybue Cntqy,trf ¤Uhjplmz uytdf≥.
I stopped by at the library and got Steinbeck™s book, The Grapes of Wrath.

The imperfective is used when the mobile entity is no longer at the destination;
in [131], the narrative immediately reports on Tolstoy™s activities after he has
returned from his trip:

[131] R ytve d <jujhjlbwr hfpujdfhbdfnm j dtht ghbtp;fk<if> Ktd Njkcnjq b
dgjcktlcndbb jgbcfk bvtybt, rfr bvtybt Dhjycrb[.
To him in Bogoroditsk Lev Tolstoy once came to talk about faith and subsequently
described the estate as the estate of the Vronskys.

The use of the imperfective here is similar to the use of the imperfective for
reversed results: z jnrhsdfk<if> jryj ˜I did open the window [though it is now

6.5 Aspect and context

6.5.1 Preliminaries
As noted (§6.4.1), aspect is ¬rst of all a division of the lexicon into two groups,
but beyond that, it is a series of expectations about the relationship between
these lexical groups and context. Each aspect is used in characteristic contexts.
Some contexts allow both aspects, some are inclined to require one or the other

6.5.2 Past ˜˜aoristic” narrative: perfective
In narrative in the past tense, events often follow each other in sequence.28
Typically, at any point in the narrative, a preceding perfective event will have
left us with a resulting state and expectations about what might happen in the
future, relative to that time. In the narrative of [132], the act of hiding opens
up two possible futures, in one of which mother and child remain hidden; in
another, they might not, with all the unpleasant consequences that implies:

[132] Hfccrfpsdf/n, jlyf rfpfxrf dj dhtvz hfpuhjvf cghznfkfcm<pf> c ht,tyrjv d
legkj cnjktnytuj lthtdf. Cjklfn ifhbk<if> insrjv d legkt, bphtitnbk<pf>
tuj, hfybk<pf> ht,tyrf. Yj rfpfxjyjr yt pfgkfrfk<pf> , b nfr jyb cgfckbcm<pf> .
They tell how a Cossack woman during an uprising hid with her child in the
hollow in a hundred-year-old tree. A soldier poked with his bayonet around the
hollow, stuck it full of holes, injured the child. But the little Cossack lad did not
cry out, and so they were saved.
28 The fact that bounded aspects (aorist, perfective) are used for advancing sequential narrative has
been known at least since Goodwin 1880/1965. For observations on speci¬cally Slavic material,
see Maslov 1984[a], 1984[b], Paducheva 1996.
416 A Reference Grammar of Russian

After this initial event, other events follow. The thorough poking of the tree
by the soldier follows from the previous hiding (the soldier must have been
suspicious), and this act generates again the expectation that they might be
discovered. This expectation is frustrated with the ¬nal negated perfective: the
child failed to begin to cry when one might have expected it. This naive oral
text illustrates how, in narrative, each event responds to prior possibilities and
in turn generates new expectations (new future divinations).
It is a commonplace to observe that narrative is carried out by using perfective
verbs, while, in contrast, description and commentary are expressed by imper-
fective verbs. It is common to see diagrams in which perfective events are located
in sequence along one axis of a diagram, one after the other, and imperfectives
are positioned on the other axis, simultaneous with other events. Indeed, in
the brief narrative of [132], most of the verbs are perfective (cghz ´nfkfcm ˜hid™,
pfgk’rfk ˜began to cry™, cgfck«cm ˜be saved™). But one, i’hbk ˜fumbled around™,
is a simplex imperfective, and h’ybk ˜injured™ is anaspectual, and they are put
in sequence with other events. True, i’hbnm by itself does not state a de¬ni-
tive change, but names a kind of activity: there existed, for an indeterminate
interval of time, an activity that can be identi¬ed by the name of poking. This
imperfective requires some other verb to give us a new result, here bphtitn«nm.
Evidently, imperfectives can be located in the temporal sequence of events, but
they still do not implement the cycle of result and divination that is character-
istic of narrative. Perfective verbs create narrative not only by putting events in
temporal sequence, but also by leading to new results and new expectations. Nar-
rative, then, has a rich cycle: there are inherited expectations; the current event
that responds to these prior expectations, yielding a new result and new expec-
tations. This cycle is sharper with perfectives, but imperfectives can participate
to some extent.
In context, perfectives often (perhaps almost always) have certain overtones:
action viewed as whole, singularity of action, and result.

6.5.3 Retrospective (˜˜perfect”) contexts: perfective and imperfective
While it may be usual for a narrative in the past tense to keep progressing in a
series of perfective events, each following immediately after the other, it is nev-
ertheless possible to look retrospectively back from the contextual occasion to
some further time in the past. Such retrospective contexts in English would use
the pluperfect or perfect. In Russian, events viewed retrospectively are expressed
simply in the past.

[133] Jyf b hfymit cj,bhfkfcm<if> dthyenmcz d <jujhjlbwr, gjcvjnhtnm, rfr vs
Mood, tense, and aspect 417

She even earlier had been planning to return to Bogoroditsk, to see how we were
getting along.
[134] C Cthuttv Bcnjvbysv z tot hfymit gjlhe;bkcz<pf> .
With Sergei Istomin I had become friends even earlier.

There is no direct correlation between retrospection and aspect, though per-
fectives occur more often in this function, because they lead to a result that can
be discussed ([134]), but imperfectives can be used as well ([133]). Also, perfec-
tives are often used to summarize the cumulative results of a series of events; a
summary perfective is then not in sequence with other events.

[135] Bnfr, vs cjdthibkb<pf> rhfnrbq эrcrehc d bcnjhb/ dpktnjd b gfltybq yfituj
Thus we have completed a brief excursus into the history of achievements and
failures of our hero.

6.5.4 The essentialist context: imperfective
An imperfective history is one in which there is continuity over phases. There
are many ways in which an imperfective history can express continuity and lack
Often, without much context, the imperfective establishes the existence of an
activity of a certain type, in opposition to the possible absence of activity or to
the existence of other types of activity. This sense is analogous to essentialist
reference of arguments, and could be termed the e x i s t e n t i a l or e s s e n t i a l

[136] Xthtp lthtdy/ ghj[jlbn<if> ijcct.
A highway ran through the village.
[137] Ujhtk<if> vfufpby rfr hfp gjl yfitq rdfhnbhjq.
The store right below our apartment was on ¬re.

To illustrate: what we can say about the village is that it is crossed by a highway
([136]); what we can say by way of explanation of the midnight disturbance is
that there was a ¬re burning ([137]). In both instances, all that is relevant is
that the world at this time includes states or activities of a certain type. The
imperfective, then, can have the function of establishing the existence of a state
or activity of a certain type.
The imperfective is appropriate, further, in contexts whose import revolves
around the polarity of the event -- whether it exists at all -- even when a single
event is under discussion. More speci¬cally, the imperfective can be used to
question whether an event exists:
418 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[138] Gfgf e;t dcnfdfk<if> ?
Has Papa already gotten up?

An imperfective can be used to insist emphatically that an activity has occurred,
even if the consequences are uncertain:

[139] D эnjv ujle z e;t ,hfk<if> hfp jngecr.
I have already taken a leave this year.
[140] -- Yflj ,skj pfzdbnm<pf> njulf ;t, -- crfpfk jy.
-- Z pfzdkzk<if> .
-- You should have made a statement at the time, -- he said.
-- I did make a statement.

As in [140], the essentialist imperfective can be understood to include those
instances described as “reversal of result” or the like. Some activity takes place
that one might expect to lead to a certain result. Using a perfective would
imply that the result has been achieved and the resulting state has continued.
If the state is reversed or canceled, the imperfective can be used to indicate
that some of a certain kind of activity has occurred, though it has not led to
the expected permanent result. Pre¬xed verbs of motion show this behavior, as
does jnrhßnm/jnrhsd’nm ˜open™: jy jnrhsdfk<if pst> jryj ˜he opened the window™
can be used when the window is no longer open. As in [140], this sense of the
imperfective often re¬‚ects an attempt (c o n a t i o n ).
The imperfective can also be used when a past event is negated, though the
perfective is also an option. The difference revolves around the way in which
the speaker conceptualizes the possible occasions for an event. In narrative, the
perfective indicates that the possible time when the event might have occurred
(even though it did not) is bounded and placed in sequence ([141]), while an
imperfective leaves the door open to further change ([142]):29

[141] Ytelfxf yt jcnfyjdbkf<pf> vj/ vfnm. Tq gjcjdtnjdfkb<pf> jhufybpjdfnm fhntkm.
Vfnm yfgbcfkf<pf> gbcmvj [jhjitq yfitq pyfrjvjq, Fyyt Dfcbkmtdyt
<b,brjdjq. B ltkj gjikj<pf> .
This failure did not stop mother. They advised her to organize an atelier. She
wrote to our friend, Anna Vasilevna Bibikova. And things took off.
[142] Xfcjdjq yt jcnfyfdkbdfkcz<if> . Lj ytuj jcnfdfkjcm<if> ltcznm vtnhjd. Djctvm.
The sentry did not stop. There remained only ten meters. Then eight. Five.

In dialogue (speci¬cally, in a negative response to a question with a perfec-
tive verb), the perfective is used if both interlocutors agree that the event was

29 Merrill 1985, with references [(142)].
Mood, tense, and aspect 419

expected to have occurred on some delimited occasion ([143]):30

[143] -- Ds dpzkb<if> rk/xb?
-- Ytn, yt dpzk<pf> .
-- Did you take the keys?
-- No, I didn™t [though I acknowledge that I could have].

The imperfective would be possible (-- Ytn, yt ,hfk<if> ) in order to deny the
implicit obligation or to suggest that the matter is still open.
By an extension of the concern with existence and polarity, an imperfective is
appropriate when descriptive aspects of a situation are reported or questioned.

[144] Evbhfk<if> <jhbc Ktjybljdbx d cjpyfybb.
Boris Leonidovich was conscious as he died.
[145] Rnj gbcfk<if> ¤Djqye b vbh≥?
Who wrote War and Peace?

Here the existence and the nature of the event are taken for granted, and the
attention falls on particulars, on attendant circumstances rather than on the
¬nal result.
Thus the imperfective can be used with little context to assert the existence
of an activity, to comment on its polarity, or to provide descriptive detail about
the ¬‚ow of an activity. A perfective verb used in similar contexts would insist
on change and result.

6.5.5 Progressive context: imperfective
Events can occur in sequence, or they can overlap on the same contextual
occasion.31 An event that overlaps others is typically expressed by the imper-

[146] Z e;t dcnfdfk<if> c rhtckf, rfr pfpdjybk<pf> ntktajy.
I was already getting up from the chair, when the phone rang.

In [146], an imperfective (dcnfd’k) is used to report an activity that is not de¬ni-
tively ended because it is in progress around the contextual occasion.
The Russian imperfective used in this sense is analogous to the compound pro-
gressive tense-aspect of English. As is well known, almost all instances of English
progressives will be translated into Russian as imperfective.32 The converse does
not hold: not every instance of a Russian imperfective will be translated into

30 Chaput 1985, 1990.
31 See the contrastive studies of Akimova 1984 and Kozintseva 1985.
32 As an exceptional instance, Kozintseva 1985:68 cites Those three -- those three were coming in!, which is
translated as the perfective in Nt nhjt -- nt nhjt nj;t djikb d rjylbnthcre/. The original context
is quite speci¬c -- it is interior monologue predicting an imminent result.
420 A Reference Grammar of Russian

an English imperfective. Iteratives (§6.5.7) and duratives (§6.5.6) are the obvi-
ous cases. In addition, essential (descriptive or existential) imperfectives do not
translate to progressives in English (§6.5.4: [132], [144]). The English progressive
is narrower in its range than the Russian imperfective.

6.5.6 Durative context: imperfective
If an activity is expressed by the imperfective in a past-tense narrative, it cannot
reach its completion (otherwise it would be perfective); the imperfective estab-
lishes the existence of some activity with the implicature that the result was not
reached and would not be reached in the immediate vicinity of the contextual
occasion.33 This implicature can be made explicit by adding to the sentence an
accusative speci¬cation of the duration of the activity: the activity went on for
this period of time, but then ceased, without reaching its conclusion.

[147] Gjckt ub,tkb Gkjnybrjdf ujhcnrf ,jqwjd lj enhf jn,bdfkf<if> yfnbcr
ubnkthjdwtd. D gjcktlytq herjgfiyjq c[dfnrt dct jyb gjub,kb<pf> .
After Plotnikov died a handful of soldiers repelled the pressure of the Hitlerites
until morning. In the ¬nal hand-to-hand combat they all perished.
[148] Tuj edtkb<pf> , z jcnfkcz<pf> d njq rfvjhrt jlby, ghbitk<pf> djtyysq,
pfcnfdbk<pf> vtyz hfpltnmcz, nofntkmyj j,scrfk<pf> , gjnjv eitk<pf> . Z


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