. 15
( 17)


;lfk<if> , yfdthyjt, xfcf ldf, dsdtkb<pf> yfhe;e, gjcflbkb<pf> jlyjuj d
rhsnsq uhepjdbr, ghjdtpkb<pf> dctuj pf gjkdthcns yf ghjckfdktyye/ e;fcfvb
They took him away, and I remained in the place alone. A soldier came in, made
me undress, searched me carefully, then left. I waited about two hours, they led
me out, put me in a covered truck, and took me the half verst to the Lubianka
Prison, famous for its horrors.

To know that the activity has ceased without reaching a de¬nitive result im-
plies an external narrative perspective. (This is in contrast to the “progressive”
use of the imperfective, when the contextual occasion is internal to the ac-
tivity in progress.) Accordingly, durative imperfectives can easily be sequenced
in narratives between perfective events. In [147] one phase of the battle lasted
until morning, then another, fateful event occurred. In [148], the delimited in-
terval of waiting is sandwiched between events in a highly sequential narra-
tive. Because the contextual occasion must be closed to be measured, duratives

33 The familiar fact that explicit statements of duration require the verb to be imperfective (except
for pre¬xed quantizing verbs in ghj-) needs to be repeated, for it shows that perfective aspect
in Russian is not merely the end of an interval of activity; a perfective requires that no further
activity be conceivable, from the perspective of the speci¬c history at that contextual occasion.
In fact, in its use of the imperfective for terminated events, Slavic is typologically unusual (Dahl
Mood, tense, and aspect 421

are nearly as sequential in force as perfectives. This is another instance in
which the adage that perfective advances while imperfective retards narrative is
A bare accusative of time normally occurs only with imperfective or anaspec-
tual predicates. A systematic exception is perfective derivatives with the pre¬x
ghj-, which use bare accusatives to measure a closed interval of time:

[149] Ghb,sk jy d vjyfcnshm 5 atdhfkz r dtxthyt. Gfnhbfh[ ghjujcnbk<pf> gznm<acc>
lytq. Djpdhfnbkcz d Vjcrde 11 atdhfkz.
He arrived at the monastery on February 5 at vespers. The patriarch stayed ¬ve
days. He returned to Moscow February 11.
[150] Ghjcgfk<pf> z ldflwfnm ldf xfcf gjlhzl.
I slept twenty-two hours straight.
[151] Ds pyftnt, xnj yfi j,obq lheu <. C. Repby, e rjnjhjuj z ujcnbk<if> ltcznm<acc>
lytq, htprj jnhbwfntkmyj jnyjcbncz r K. Njkcnjve.
As you are aware, our mutual friend B. S. Kuzin, with whom I stayed for ten days,
is very negatively disposed to L. Tolstoy.

These perfective derivatives in ghj- present the interval as closed, without the
lingering possibility that the activity could continue; they normally place the
event in narrative sequence with others. An imperfective would merely assert
the existence of an activity: in [151], ujcnbk ltcznm lytq ˜he was a guest for ten
days™ -- and could have been a guest for longer; jy cgfk ™df xfcf ˜he slept two
hours™ -- he could have slept more.34 Only exceptionally can other perfectives be
combined with an accusative expressing duration, as in:

[152] Jnlj[yed<pf> xfcjr, lheujq, vs dyjdm ldbyekbcm dgthtl, ujybvst
vexbntkmyjq ;f;ljq.
Having rested an hour or so, we again moved forward, driven by torturous thirst.

Except for such occasional deviations and the systematic exception of pre¬xed
perfectives in ghj- and gj-, the ability to occur with an accusative expression of
duration is a test that positively identi¬es imperfectives.

6.5.7 Iterative context: imperfective
Imperfectives can be used to report general states or habits -- situations that
seem true at all times -- and they are used to express an open series of ac-
tions that repeat, when each token of the series by itself might be perfective
if it were expressed as a single event. Iterative contexts can be signaled by a
variety of lexical adverbs (x’cnj ˜often™, bph†lrf ˜only occasionally™) and phrases
(gj ce,,j´nfv ˜on Saturdays™, r’;le/ ytl†k/ ˜each week™). Or, the use of an

34 Shakhmatov (1925) calls this “completion of the duration of the activity.”
422 A Reference Grammar of Russian

imperfective with conjunctions such as rjul’ ˜when™ can impute an iterative
reading to the context.

[153] Gj enhfv r j,ot;bnbzv {ghb[jlbkb<if pst> ∼ ghb[jlzn<if prs> } ;tyobys bp
lthtdtym, jyb {ghbyjcbkb<if pst> ∼ ghbyjczn<if prs> } njgktyjt vjkjrj, z
{gjregfk<if pst> ∼ gjregf/<if prs> } xtndthnbyre rf;lsq ltym yf pfdnhfr.
In the mornings women from the villages {came ∼ come} to the dormitories, they
{carried ∼ carry} warm milk, every day I {bought ∼ buy} a quart for breakfast.

Iterative situations can be situated in the past or present ([153]) or the future

[154] Vs vtxnfkb, rfr yfxbyfz c dtcys rf;lsq ltym ,eltv<fut> gjkexfnm gj zbxre.
We dreamed how, beginning in spring, each day we would get an egg.

Iteratives -- particularly discrete iteratives, each of whose sub-events is com-
pleted -- are mixed in terms of narrative function. As imperfectives, iteratives
present a scene, a habit. But in a block of iterative imperfectives, each sub-
event can be understood as sequentialized with respect to other sub-events. A
rich example is [155], in which, further, a set of three perfectives (jnrfp’kcz,
gjnh†,jdfk, cn’k) in the middle creates a shift in the habits.

[155] Lt;ehcndj yf ,jkmijq ljhjut ,skj jxtym bynthtcysv pfyznbtv. Vs
hfcgjkfufkbcm<if> yf ghjnz;tybb gjkenjhf rbkjvtnhjd gj dctq ljhjut.
{kjgws vthpkb<if> b gjlghsubdfkb<if> yf cytue, gthtrkbrfkbcm<if> , xnj,s yt
gjnthznm cdzpb lheu c lheujv, b d yfcnegbdib[ cevthrf[ ghjhjxbkb<if>
dthye/ cvthnm djj,hf;tyb/ pfgjplfdituj genybrf. <. . .>
Ghb vyt rjkjybcns ybrjulf yt [ekbufybkb<if> b yt geufkb<if>
gentitcndtyybrjd, yj ,tp vtyz ljgecrfkb<if> ifkjcnb, b Pfljhjd crjhj lf;t
jnrfpfkcz<pf> jn htdjkmdthf b gjnht,jdfk<pf> , xnj,s z ,sdfk yf ljhjut
j,zpfntkmyj. Z cnfk<pf> ds[jlbnm ghb rf;ljq rjvfylbhjdrt jnhzlf, yj
htdjkmdth jnlfdfk<if> dct ;t Pfljhjde, xnj,s yt kbibnm tuj pfcke;tyyjuj
Rjulf gjrfpsdfkcz<if> yfi Vfksi, vs tuj dcnhtxfkb<if> rhbrjv: -- Cnjq!
Herb ddth[!
The watch on the highway was a very interesting occupation. We distributed
ourselves over a kilometer and a half along the road. The lads were cold and they
hopped around in the snow, shouted back and forth, in order not to lose contact,
and in the approaching darkness they foretold certain death to the imagination
of a belated traveler <. . .>
In my presence the colonists never acted up and intimidated the travelers, but
when I wasn™t there they engaged in some shenanigans, and Zadorov soon refused
Mood, tense, and aspect 423

to take the revolver and insisted that I be on the road. I began to go out every
time, but the revolver I still turned over to Zadorov, in order not to deprive him
of the well-deserved pleasure.
When our horse Malysh would appear, we greeted him with a cry:
-- Halt! Hands up!

In Russian, explicitly iterative situations are almost always expressed by the
imperfective. Only rarely can one ¬nd examples of perfectives used in special-
ized contexts, notably in the protasis of past general (iterative) conditionals,
to emphasize that an achieved result is critical to the subsequent (iterative)
When the series is quite ¬nite -- ld’ h’pf ˜two times™, y†crjkmrj h’p ˜several
times™ -- it can be understood as a single event, and the perfective is more usual
than the imperfective:

[156] Jy tt djctvm hfp hfpj,hfk<pf> b cj,hfk<pf> .
He disassembled and reassembled it eight times.

6.5.8 The future context: perfective and imperfective
Both the periphrastic future of imperfectives and the present-tense form of per-
fectives refer to events that lie in the future (are known by divination) from the
here and now of speech. The two aspects retain their usual values. Perfective
present-tense forms report events that are predicted (divined) to be completed
and lead to results ([157]):

[157] -- Ds <ju pyftn xnj yflevfkb! -- djcrkbryekf jyf.
-- Jnghfdbvcz<pf prs> dldjtv gentitcndjdfnm -- xnj nen nfrjuj?
-- Ns pyftim, xtv rjyxbncz<pf prs> dfit gentitcndbt?
-- Xtv rjyxbncz<pf prs> ?! Z yfgbie<pf prs> [elj;tcndtyyst jxthrb, Kzkz
cjxbybn<pf prs> cnb[b.
-- Эnj rjyxbncz<pf prs> ht,tyjxrjv!
-- God only knows what you have thought up! -- she exclaimed.
-- We™ll head off together to travel -- what™s wrong with that?
-- Do you know what your trip will end in?
-- What it will end in?! I™ll write some sketches, Lialia will compose poems.
-- It will end with a baby!

Imperfective futures refer to events that are not anticipated to be de¬nitively
completed. They may refer to projected habits ([158]) or iterative (or extended)
activities ([159]):

35 Bondarko 1971.
424 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[158] Z e;t j, эnjv gbcfk b ,ele<fut> gbcfnm<if> .
I have already written about that, and I will write again.
[159] Vs yfxfkb hfphf,fnsdfnm vfhihen. Lj Yb;ytuj Yjdujhjlf gjtpljv. Z nfv
gj,sdfk ldf ujlf njve yfpfl, ,ele<fut> tq gjrfpsdfnm<if>
ljcnjghbvtxfntkmyjcnb, gjnjv gj ;tktpyjq ljhjut jnghfdbvcz<pf prs> d vfksq
ujhjljr Ctvtyjd.
We started to plan our trip. By train to Nizhnyi Novgorod. I had been there two
years ago, I would show her the sights, then by train we™ll make for the town of

An imperfective future can project the existence of an activity or attempted ac-
tivity ([160--61]); the fact of existence is more important than the possible com-
pletion or results.

[160] Yt ,ele<fut> gthtcrfpsdfnm<if> dct nhtdjkytybz.
I will not [engage in an attempt to] recount all the troubles.
[161] Jy gthtukzyekcz c lheubv xtrbcnjv b j,(zdbk yfv, xnj jyb ,elen<fut>
ghjbpdjlbnm<if> j,scr.
He exchanged glances with another Chekist and informed us that they would
undertake a search.
[162] D ntjhbb ghtlgjkfufkjcm, xnj dct tuj bpj,htntybz ghjbpdtlen<pf prs>
gjlkbyye/ htdjk/wb/ d vtkbjhfwbb.
In theory, his inventions would bring about a true revolution in land reclamation.

A perfective, in contrast, predicts a future completed event and result ([162]).
In sum, in the future temporal plane, perfective and imperfective maintain
their values: a perfective history is one that is anticipated to come to fruition,
an imperfective history is one that will be incomplete, because it reports a habit
or the existence of an (attempted) activity.

6.5.9 Exemplary potential context: perfective
While the morphological present-tense forms of perfective verbs are used most
naturally to report events that are predicted to occur and be completed on
some future occasion, the perfective present is used for another important func-
tion. The perfective can present a single, potential occasion as exemplary of an
open-ended series of possible occasions.36 An exemplary use of the exemplary
perfective can be found in Turgenev™s A Hunter™s Sketches. The device ¬ts perfectly
the descent of the bemused urbane -- but admiring -- observer into the world of
provincial life: Lfqnt vyt here, k/,tpysq xbnfntkm, b gjtltvnt dvtcnt cj vyjq
˜Give me your hand, dear reader, and come travel together with me™. Turgenev™s
narrator describes his heroine Tatiana Borisovna in these terms:
36 See in general Panzer 1963, Rathmayr 1976.
Mood, tense, and aspect 425

[163] Crjkmrj k/ltq gjdthbkb tq cdjb ljvfiybt, pfleitdyst nfqys, gkfrfkb e
ytq yf herf[! <sdfkj, czltn<pf prs> jyf ghjnbd ujcnz, j,jghtncz<pf prs> nb[jymrj
yf kjrjnm b c nfrbv exfcnbtv cvjnhbn<if prs> tve d ukfpf, nfr lhe;tk/,yj
eks,ftncz<if prs> , xnj ujcn/ ytdjkmyj d ujkjde ghbltn<pf prs> vsckm: ¤Rfrfz ;t
ns ckfdyfz ;tyobyf, Nfnmzyf <jhbcjdyf! Lfq-rf z nt,t hfccrf;e, xnj e vtyz yf
How many people have imparted their domestic, innermost secrets, have cried in
her arms. It would happen, she™ll sit opposite a guest, she™ll lean quietly on her
elbow and with such sympathy looks him in the eyes, she smiles in such a friendly
fashion, that the guest will inadvertently have the thought, “What a wonderful
woman you are, Tatiana Borisovna! Maybe I™ll just tell you what™s in my heart.”

The exemplary use of the present-tense perfective presumes a background of
possible repeated occasions, here signaled overtly by the verbal particle ,sd’kj
˜used to happen™. Once the background of repeated occasions is established,
present-tense perfectives (cz
´ltn ˜will sit™, j,jgh=ncz ˜will lean™, ghbl=n ˜will come™)
present a recurring situation not as a regular habit, but as potential: given the
right conditions, a certain sequence of events may arise. (Imperfectives used in
the midst of an exemplary context, such as cvj ´nhbn ˜looks™, eks,’tncz ˜looks™,
report open-ended processes concurrent with one of the potential occasions.)
The exemplary perfective becomes for Turgenev the perfect metaphor for the
occasional and unanticipated against the backdrop of a landscape of tedium. In
the twentieth century, the device receded, and it is now thought quaint.
Some other uses of perfectives also seem motivated by the function of selecting
a single occasion as exemplary of a larger set. Past perfectives can be used with
exemplary force in de¬nitional relative clauses of the type n†, rnj . . . In [164],
the history of one abstract individual stands for the set of possible individuals.

[164] Vtcnysvb cxbnfkbcm nt, rnj ghbt[fk<pf pst> c/lf gjckt djqys.
Anyone who had come here since the war was considered to be a local.

In a similar vein, in clauses embedded under elfd’kjcm ˜used to be successful™
with iterative force, an imperfective in¬nitive emphasizes a regular habit ([181]),
while the perfective describes the type of event that could, on occasion, occur --
the exemplary sense ([182]). These uses of the perfectives (not only present-tense
forms) demonstrate that exemplariness is one of the readings that a perfective
can have, at least in certain contexts.
Two additional minor functions of the perfective present are a present perfec-
tive of narrative, found in restricted styles (folk texts, in byliny or, as late as the
nineteenth century, in the narrative stage directions of folk drama):37

37 Panzer 1963:88, from Berkov 1953:168.
426 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[165] Nen ctqxfc d ytuj dscnhtk lflen<pf prs> , jy egfltn<pf prs> , f tuj ;tyf
yfxytn<pf prs> djgbnm gj ytv: <. . .>
Just then they will shoot him, he™ll fall, and his wife™ll begin to wail over him:
<. . .>

Related is the folk use of the perfective present with rfr to report an event
unexpected in the narrative ([166]) or with negation to report the failure of an
anticipated event ([167]):38

[166] Kbcf gjrhenbkfcm, gjrhenbkfcm, b ujdjhbn: <. . .> Njulf cjkjdeirf rfr
pfgjtn<pf prs> , rfr pfcdbotn<pf prs> , nfr kbcf b eib hfpdtcbkf.
The fox turned around, turned around, and says: <. . .> Then the nightingale
sings so, whistles so, that the fox dropped her ears.
[167] Jy cjuyekcz<pf pst> , cblbn<if prs> yf rjpkf[ b yt itdtkmytncz<pf prs> .
He bent over, sits on the sawhorses and he won™t move.

6.5.10 Infinitive contexts: perfective and imperfective
The aspect of an in¬nitive depends to a large extent on the predicate on which
the in¬nitive depends.39 (In¬nitives in the free in¬nitive construction have the
same aspect usage as in¬nitives attached to modal governing predicates such as
y’lj ˜be necessary™.)
At one extreme are phasals: yfx’nm/yfxby’nm ˜begin™, ghjljk;’nm ˜continue™,
´yxbnm/rjyx’nm ˜end, ¬nish™, gthtcn’nm/gthtcnfd’nm ˜cease™. They govern only the
imperfective: z {yfxfk ∼ gthtcnfk} pf[jlbnm<if> r ytq ˜I {began ∼ stopped} drop-
ping in to see her™. K/,«nm\gjk/,«nm ˜love™ (also ghbdßryenm/ghbdsr’nm ˜become
accustomed to™, jndßryenm/jndsr’nm ˜lose the habit of™) implies that the depen-
dent predicate is a habit, and therefore imperfective ([168]), except for quantizing
perfectives ([169--70]):

[168] Jyf k/,bn pf,fdkznmcz<if> buheirfvb.
She likes to amuse herself with toys.
[169] Jy k/,bk gjpf,fdbnm<pf> yfhjl ienrjq.
He used to love to amuse the people now and then with a joke.
[170] K/,bk z pf,htcnb<pf> d rfhtnysq cfhfq.
I loved to wander off into the carriage barn.

At the opposite extreme are verbs of occasion. El’cnmcz ˜be successful™ implies
success, therefore perfective in a dependent in¬nitive:

38 [166], [167] cited by Panzer 1963:73. This usage continues to show up in literary texts through
the beginning of the nineteenth century, as an imitation of folk style, for example, in Pushkin™s
“Ruslan i Liudmila,” “Poltava,” or “Evlega.” The negative usage is termed “the present of futile
expectation” by Zalizniak (1995:159).
39 Based on Fielder 1983; on aspect and modals, see Rappaport 1985.
Mood, tense, and aspect 427

[171] Vyt elfkjcm<pf> j,hfnbnmcz<pf> r jnrhsnjve afqke cnfnbcnbrb c gjvjom/
Notepad b crjgbhjdfnm ;ehyfk, bcgjkmpez Windows Explorer.
I managed to turn to an open statistics ¬le with the help of Notepad and copy the
journal, using Windows Explorer.
[172] Vyt elfkjcm k/,bnm<if> , cvtznmcz<if> .
I have managed to love, to laugh.

As in [172], imperfectives are possible in contexts that list a series of activities.
Ghbqn«cm/ghb[jl«nmcz ˜have occasion to™ is similar, but the implicature of suc-
cess is weaker. When a single occasion arises, that event is often a completed,
perfective, event ([173]). Sometimes what arises is the necessity of engaging in
an activity, implying imperfective ([174]).

[173] Vyt ghbikjcm<pf> r ytve j,hfnbnmcz<pf> pf cjdtnjv.
I had to turn to him for advice.
[174] D bnjut tq ghbikjcm<pf> j,hfofnmcz<if> pf gjvjom/ r cgtwbfkbcne.
In the end she had to try turning to a specialist for help.

In other contexts in which in¬nitives are used, the event described by the
in¬nitive is a potential rather than an actual event. It is striven for (with volitive
verbs such as cnhtv«nmcz ˜strive for™), imposed or requested (with m a n d verbs
such as l’nm/lfd’nm ˜let, allow™, gjpdj ´kbnm/gjpdjkz ˜allow™, ghjc«nm\gjghjc«nm
˜ask™), expected or made possible by universal authority (y’lj ˜be necessary™,
ytkmpz ˜be impossible™, vj ´;yj ˜be possible™), or simply possible (vj ˜be able,
´ ´xm
can, be possible™). As a rule, the potential event is a single potential event, and
this context usually calls for the perfective aspect in the in¬nitive. For example,
in [175], what is at issue is the possibility of making a successful purchase on a
possible occasion, hence perfective:

[175] Rhtcnmzyt zdbkbcm c ;fkj,jq, xnj ybrfrb[ vfnthbq b ujnjdjuj gkfnmz
regbnm<pf> ytkmpz.
The peasants came with the complaint that it was impossible to buy any dry
goods or ready-made dress.

An imperfective is used if the situation under the force of modality is a habit

[176] Ytkmpz nfr ytyjhvfkmyj djcgbnsdfnm<if> csyf.
It is not right to raise one™s son so abnormally.

Or if the situation is viewed as an activity -- if what is required (possible, striven
for, expected, etc.) is not a de¬nitive change but an attempt, the mere existence
of some activity that bears a certain name ([177--78]):
428 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[177] Ytkmpz pltcm gtht[jlbnm<if> ekbwe.
One should not try [=it is not permitted] to cross the street here.
[178] Rjulf z cbltkf yf ,thtue, gjljitk Vfyltkminfv b cjj,obk, xnj yflj
etp;fnm<if> , nfr rfr djrheu yfxfkfcm [jkthf.
As I was sitting on the shore, up walked Mandelshtam and announced that what
we must do is leave, since cholera had broken out.

More than other modals, vj is concerned with whether a certain activity
could exist at all; it allows imperfective in¬nitives freely.
The matrix context colors expectations about the event expressed by the in-
¬nitive. With ghbqn«cm/ghb[jl«nmcz ˜have occasion to™, when the matrix occasion
is iterated, then so is the dependent event. Accordingly, it is often expressed as
an imperfective:

[179] -- Xfcnj ghb[jlbkjcm<if> cnfkrbdfnmcz<if> d ;bpyb c gjkbnbrfvb?
-- Have you often had occasion to run up against politics?
[180] Relf Dfv ghb[jlbkjcm<if> j,hfofnmcz<if> pf rdfkbabwbhjdfyyjq
/hblbxtcrjq gjvjom/?
Where have you had occasion to turn for quali¬ed legal aid?

With el’nmcz/elfd’nmcz, the in¬nitive can be imperfective if the context stresses

[181] Cgecnz xtnsht vtczwf gjckt lt,/nf vjkjlsv k/lzv elfdfkjcm<if>
ghjlfdfnm<if> gj ldflwfnm l;tvgthjd d ytltk/.
Four months after their debut, the young people used to manage to sell twenty
jumpers per week.
[182] Cxbnfkjcm elfxtq, tckb elfdfkjcm<if> ghjlfnm<pf> ytcrjkmrj rjgbq d
It was considered an accomplishment when they were able to sell several
copies in a month.

If the sense of success on a potential, exemplary occasion outranks habit, the
perfective is used with elfd’nmcz ([182]). Similarly, if permission is granted
(l’nm/lfd’nm, gjpdj ´nm), the performance of the dependent event
normally follows. Hence an imperfective is natural for multiple occasions of

[183] D ctvmt yfvtnbkcz rhbpbc. Z xfcnj gjpdjkzk ct,t jcnfdkznm<if> ctvm/ b
ghtlfdfkcz<if> hfpkbxysv ve;crbv hfpdktxtybzv.
In our family a crisis arose. I often allowed myself to abandon the family and turn
to various male diversions.
Mood, tense, and aspect 429

6.5.11 Retrospective on aspect
To review: Aspect is a partition of verbs into two groups, perfective and imperfec-
tive. The two aspects can be distinguished concretely by tense (only imperfectives
form the periphrastic future) and by contextual tests. Simplex verbs, usually im-
perfective, are associated with one or (usually) more pre¬xed verbs, which are
perfective. Many pre¬xed perfective verbs form a corresponding imperfective by
suf¬xation. Such pre¬xed perfectives and corresponding imperfectives are clearly
paired. Simplex verbs are less obviously paired, though for most simplex verbs,
there is usually one pre¬xed perfective that will function as the nearest thing
to a corresponding perfective (for example, in narrative sequence).
Every verb tells a story -- a history. The two aspects differ by virtue of the dif-
ferent histories the verbs relate. Perfective verbs mean that there is a de¬nitive
change of the world around some contextual occasion, imperfective that there is
continuity (or potential continuity) around the contextual occasion. More con-
cretely, perfective verbs tend to be used in sequential past-tense narrative and in
potential contexts in which the uniqueness and potential result are signi¬cant
(imperative, future, deontic modality). Imperfective verbs are used in contexts
in which, in one way or another, the continuity of the history is signi¬cant and
outweighs the question of completion and result. Imperfective verbs are then
used to identify the essence of an action, an action that goes on for some time
(but ceases), an activity in progress (at some point), or a repeating or generic

6.6 Temporal adverbs

6.6.1 Temporal adverbs
Predicate histories take place around a contextual occasion. Adverbial expres-
sions -- lexical adverbs or prepositional phrases or clauses introduced by con-
junctions -- delimit the contextual occasion of the predicate history.40 Three
broad classes of temporal expressions can be distinguished: those that measure
the duration of an interval over which an activity occurs; those indicating the
frequency of repetition of equivalent sub-events of a larger, macro-event; and
those that localize the contextual occasion for the predicate history.

6.6.2 Measured intervals
The duration of an activity or state or process is stated by a “bare” accusative
without a preposition:

40 Based on Srienc 1991; see also Sullivan 1998.
430 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[184] Jyb nhjt<acc> cenjr gjxnb ,tp jnls[f gthtdjpbkb<if> k/ltq b ,jtghbgfcs.
For almost three days without interruption they transported people and

The activity or state measured in this way could potentially go on longer. The
history is not de¬nitively closed, hence the imperfective is used, even though
the activity is understood to cease at the end of the interval. The accusative need
not be a word that names a time unit, if it can be understood as an interval of

[185] Dc/ cdj/ ;bpym<acc> jy ktxbk<if pst> rjhjd.
His whole life he healed cows.
[186] Njkcnjq gjxnb dc/ ljhjue<acc> dcgjvbyfk<if pst> ghjikjt.
Tolstoy spent almost the whole trip reminiscing about the past.

With a present imperfective, an accusative measures the duration of activity
up to and including the present. In this context English would use a present

[187] Gznyflwfnm<acc> gjcktlyb[ ktn z jnlf/<if pst> gjxnb dct cdjb cbks jlyjve:
,jhm,t pf vbh.
The last ¬fteen years I have given almost all my energy to one thing: the struggle
for peace.

A bare accusative of time normally occurs only with imperfective or anaspec-
tual predicates (gthtdjp«kb, ktx«k, dcgjvby’k, jnlf· in [184--87]). A systematic
exception is perfectives formed with the pre¬x ghj- (or gj-) ([150], [151] above).

6.6.3 Time units
Prepositional phrases formed with nouns naming time units -- seconds, minutes,
years, eras -- localize the history to one interval within a ¬‚ow of comparable units.
The case and preposition differ according to the time unit, listed in Table 6.6 by
increasing size. Small units up through a day take d with the accusative; larger
units (month, year, century) take the locative. Nouns referring to divisions in
a temporal cycle -- of the day (©nhj ˜morning™, l†ym ˜day™, d†xth ˜evening™, yj ´xm
˜night™) or year (dtcy’ ˜spring™, k†nj ˜summer™, j ´ctym ˜autumn™, pbv’ ˜winter™) --
use the instrumental case without a preposition.
These combinations of preposition and noun de¬ne an interval that can be
interpreted in a ¬‚exible fashion. The interval can be understood as an interval
around which an activity is in progress or an interval over the whole of which
a state holds (expressed with imperfective verbs). Or it can be understood as a
broader interval within which there is a sub-interval on which some de¬nitive
Mood, tense, and aspect 431

Table 6.6 Temporal expressions and time units

unit expression example

second, minute, d эne vbyene ˜at that moment™, d ldf
hour xfcf ˜at two o™clock™
day (of the week) d gjytltkmybr ˜on Monday™
ordinal numeral +
day (of calendar) ltcznjuj vfz ˜on May tenth™
week yf эnjq ytltkt ˜in this week™
month d zydfht ˜in January™
year d эnjv ujle ˜in this year™, d 41-jv ujle
˜in the year of 41™
century d ldflwfnjv dtrt ˜in the twentieth
noun<ins> ∼ d<\acc>
division of daily cycle lytv ˜during the afternoon™, d ltym
jcdj,j;ltybz ˜on the day of
noun<ins> ∼ d<\acc>
division of yearly cycle jctym/ ˜in autumn™, d ne jctym ˜in that

change occurs, implying a perfective verb: D 1921 ujle z cyjdf dcnhtnbkf<pf pst>
Reghbyf ˜In 1921 I met Kuprin again™ -- the event occurs over some sub-interval
within the whole period of that year.
Telling time is complex in Russian. Hours by themselves are expressed by
d<\acc>, with a cardinal number and possibly the word x’c: d nhb xfcf ˜at three
o™clock™. Minutes and fractions of hours look to the future; the hour that is
named is the end of the ongoing hour. Minutes are expressed with d<\acc>, the
hour as an ordinal in the genitive: d gznm (vbyen) dnjhjuj (xfcf) ˜at ¬ve (minutes)
of the second (hour)™ = ˜at ¬ve minutes past one o™clock™, d gznmltczn gznm gthdjuj
˜at twelve ¬fty-¬ve™ (possible in principle, but of¬cial), d xtndthnm jlbyyflwfnjuj
˜at a quarter past ten™. The fraction ˜half™ uses the locative, d gjkjdbyt ctlmvjuj
˜at half past six™, or more compactly d gjk ctlmvjuj. Minutes near the end of an
hour can be expressed by counting backwards from the upcoming hour using
the preposition ,tp and the accusative of the hour: ,tp ldflwfnb (vbyen) xfc
˜twenty minutes till one™, ,tp xtndthnb jlbyyflwfnm ˜a quarter till eleven™. Note
the progression in

[188] Dhtvz ltcznm, gjnjv xtndthnm jlbyyflwfnjuj, gjnjv gjkjdbyf, gjnjv ,tp
ldflwfnb . . .
The time was ten minutes, then a quarter after ten, then half past, then twenty
till . . .
432 A Reference Grammar of Russian

In of¬cial contexts (train schedules, for example), one can use a paratactic
construction of d<\acc> and the hour that has been completed, followed by the

[189] Yf gjtpl d 5 xfcjd 30 vbyen z jgjplfkf. Cktle/obq ,sk d 6 xfcjd 10 vbyen.
I was late for the train that left at 5 o™clock, 30 minutes. The next was at 6
o™clock, 10 minutes.

Questions about the time at which an event occurs are: for a punctual act, D
rjnjhsq xfc (ds et[fkb)? ˜At which hour (did you leave)?™ or, for a planned, recur-
rent activity, Dj crjkmrj (xfcjd) ds dcnftnt? ˜At how many hours do you get up?™.
Discussion of the current time lacks the preposition and uses the nominative.
Thus in answer to a question rjnjhsq xfc? ˜what time is it?™ or crjkmrj xfcjd?
˜what time is it?™, one might answer: xfc ˜one (o™clock)™, ltcznm vbyen djcmvjuj
˜7:10™, informal vbyen ltcznm djcmvjuj ˜around 7:10™, bureaucratic djctvm xfcjd
ltcznm vbyen ˜8:10™, ,tp xtndthnb djctvm ˜7:45™, gjkjdbyf dnjhjuj ˜1:30™.
Dates are expressed by the genitive of the ordinal of the date, with the genitive
of the month if necessary: ghbt[fkb ldflwfnm gthdjuj (vfz) ˜they arrived on the
twenty-¬rst (of May)™. The neuter singular ordinal usually occurs without an overt
head noun, though for explicitness the genitive xbck’<\nt sg> could be added:
ldflwfnjuj xbckf rf;ljuj vtczwf ˜on the twentieth day of every month™.

6.6.4 Time units: variations on the basic patterns
The locative case, as might be expected from its spatial meaning and its use with
large time units, converts a time unit to an interval that contains the contextual
occasion; the history of the change occupies some interval or intervals within
the larger interval. The accusative, in contrast, treats an interval more as a unit
that is ¬lled by an activity.
D<\loc> : Using the locative with an ordinal numeral turns an hour into an
extended interval composed of multiple sub-intervals, on one of which an event
occurs. In [190], the bell rings (regularly) at some time within the second hour
after midnight:

[190] Vs c ctcnhjq e;t ghbdsrkb r njve, xnj yjxm/, dj dnjhjv xfce, rjulf d ljvt
e;t dct cgfkb, hfplfdfkcz pdjyjr.
My sister and I had already become accustomed to the fact that, at night, between
one and two, when everyone was asleep, the doorbell would ring.

D<\acc sg> : This expression is used with hours and days of the week. It can be
applied to other time units, including large time units that might take d<\loc> or
the instrumental. Then d<\acc> de¬nes an interval that encompasses and bounds
a successful activity ([191--94]):
Mood, tense, and aspect 433

[191] Nfv yt gjdthzn, xnj z ghjxbnbdf/ rybue d ltym.
They won™t believe that I read a book in a day.
[192] Ljhjuf pbvyzz ,skf jxtym [jhjif. <tp jcj,tyys[ ghjbcitcndbq ljt[fkb vs d
ldjt cenjr lj Njh;rf.
The winter road was very good. Without any special adventures we reached
Torzhok in two days.
[193] D ujl, rjnjhsq z tt yt dblfk, jxtym jyf gthtvtybkfcm.
Over the year that I had not seen her she had changed considerably.
[194] Эvbuhfwbz vj;tn e,bnm k/,juj gbcfntkz d ldf-nhb ujlf.
Emigration can destroy any writer in two to three years.

A larger unit can use the accusative (instead of the locative) when a demon-
strative sets up a contrast between the speci¬c unit under discussion and other
possible units: other years are not so snowy ([195]); in other years Gorky lived
elsewhere ([196]):

[195] D njn ujl pbvf ,skf hfyyzz b jxtym cyt;yfz.
In that year winter came early, with much snow.
[196] D эnjn ujl Ujhmrbq ;bk d <thkbyt.
In that year Gorky lived in Berlin.

The locative is used when the demonstrative connects two events within one
time interval:

[197] D njv ;t ujle <jhe elfkjcm dgthdst lfnm yf jcyjdt cdjtq vjltkb fnjvf
j,(zcytybt gthbjlbxtcrjq cbcntvs эktvtynjd Vtyltkttdf.
In that year Bohr managed for the ¬rst time to develop an explanation for the
periodic table of elements of Mendeleev on the basis of his atomic model.

In [197], Niels Bohr made one discovery, and it was still in that same year, not
at some other time, that another accomplishment was made. The year is a con-
tainer for two events.
The instrumental is used with parts of the day or seasons if the signi¬cance of
the history is related to the nature of the time; note, for example, the inappro-
priate doorbell ringing yjxm/ in [190] above, or the chiasmic use of the summer
for winter memories in [198]:

[198] Эnbv ktnjv yf lfxt e hjlbntktq cyjdf b cyjdf ghbgjvbyfkf pbvybt dcnhtxb c
During that same summer at my parents™ dacha I rehearsed the winter meetings
with Tolstoy in my memory over and over again.

But d<\acc> is used if the speci¬c token (night, summer) is contrasted with other
434 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[199] Njkcnjq, ,sdibq d эne yjxm jndtncndtyysv gj lt;ehcnde, rhbryek:
Tolstoy, who on that night was on watch, cried out:
[200] <skj nhelyj gjyznm, gjxtve ahfywepcrbq ahjyn jrfpfkcz d Uhtwbb gjl rjytw
djqys, d ktnj ltdznyflwfnjuj ujlf.
It was hard to understand why, at the end of the war in the summer of nineteen,
the French front was in Greece.

In [199], Tolstoy was on duty on that speci¬c night but would not have been on
D<\acc pl> : Making the noun plural creates an extended period over which an
activity or state holds in contrast to other possible periods.

[201] Tot d ldflwfnst ujls jy vtxnfk gjt[fnm d Cjdtncrbq Cj/p.
As early as the twenties he dreamed of going to the Soviet Union.

In [201], the state extends throughout and saturates the interval, and the time is
modalized (˜in the twenties, earlier than one might have expected™). The locative
can be used if the decade is an interval internal to which a state holds or a
change occurs ([202]):

[202] D nhblwfns[ ujlf[ jy gjub, d kfuthz[.
In the thirties he perished in the camps.

Noun phrases that name imprecise periods of time use the accusative: dj
dhtvz ˜at the time™, d ntxtybt ˜over the course™, d ne ;t gjhe ˜in that time™, d
njn gthbjl dhtvtyb ˜in that period of time™, d rf;le/ nfre/ эgj[e ˜in any such
epoch™, d rjhjnre/ vj/ ,snyjcnm rjvfylbhjv ˜in my brief stint as commander™,
d gjcktlybq cdjq dbpbn ˜during my last visit™, d jlye bp yfib[ dcnhtx ˜on one of
our meetings™.
Words naming processes which have duration and internal sub-intervals use
the locative: d ghjwtcct ˜in the process™, d [jlt cjhtdyjdfybz ˜in the course of the
competition™. Yf ghjnz;tybb ˜over the duration™ gives time a dimensionality, a
division of a time period into sub-phases. Words referring to boundaries use the
locative: d yfxfkt ˜in the beginning™, d cthtlbyt ˜in the middle™, d rjywt ˜at the
end™. Phases of life do as well: d vjkjljcnb <fkmvjyn gsnfkcz rjyxbnm ;bpym
cfvje,bqcndjv ˜in his youth Balmont tried to commit suicide™.
Yf <\loc > : The seemingly arbitrary use of the yf<\loc> with weeks might have
been motivated by the sense that a week is a time unit composed of an internal
sequence of days; a week then has boundaries and a middle. Yf<\loc> is also
used with periods in the church calendar (yf Dtkbrjv gjcne ˜during Lent™) and
with nouns referring to meteorological events in the daily cycle (yf hfccdtnt
˜at dawn™, yf pfrfnt cjkywf ˜at sunset™). The idiom yf lyz[ ˜in a matter of days™
belongs here:
Mood, tense, and aspect 435

[203] Yf lyz[, nj tcnm nhb lyz njve yfpfl, jnghfdbkfcm Cfitymrf c ltnmvb b cdjbv
cegheujv d lthtdy/.
Around this time, actually three days ago, Sashenka left with her children and
husband for the country.

Yf<\acc (∼ loc) > : Yf<\acc (∼ loc)> is used in scenarios in which a series of units is
counted from an initial boundary: yf gthdsq lheujq ∼ cktle/obq ∼ nhtnbq ltym
˜on the ¬rst ∼ next ∼ following ∼ third day™. The notion of an initial boundary
is critical.

[204] Yf xtndthne/ yjxm jyf djhdfkfcm, rfr fvfpjyrf, c [kscnjv d hert d nb[bq,
ctvtqysq gfycbjy.
On the fourth night she rushed in like an Amazon, whip in hand, into a quiet
family pension.

In [204], the counter is set in motion one night when Esenin takes refuge from
his wife Isadora Duncan, and it is four nights from that time that she locates
him. Yf<\acc> is not used when sequencing one event relative to another is not
paramount: d cktle/oe/ ce,,jne <jhz gjrf;tn vyt cdjb rjkktrwbb ˜on the next
Saturday Boria will show me his collections™ simply locates an event subsequent
to some known time. It is the same sense of an extended period that yf brings
out in [205]:

[205] 11 b/yz 1770 u. yf 29-jv ujle ;bpyb <fibktd evth.
On the 11th of June, 1770, in the twenty-ninth year of his life, Bashilev died.

6.6.5 Boundaries: r<\dat>
Some prepositional phrases de¬ne boundaries of time intervals. With the bound-
ary de¬ned by r<\dat> , there are different expectations before and after the
boundary. In [206], if the addressee arrives by the boundary, one future is an-
ticipated; if he does not, a different history is expected: his fate hangs on that

[206] Ghb[jlbnt pfdnhf yf htgtnbwb/ r jlbyyflwfnb xfcfv, -- crfpfkf Dctdjkjl
Эvbkmtdbx, -- ghzvj d phbntkmysq pfk, b cflbntcm hzljv cj vyjq.
Come to the rehearsal tomorrow by eleven, -- said Vsevolod Emilevich, -- right into
the hall, and take a seat next to me.

Perfectives are usual with r<\dat> but imperfectives are possible when a new
activity is in place by the boundary (both aspects occur in [207]).

[207] D nj dhtvz d Neybct ikb j;tcnjxtyyst ,jb. R njve dhtvtyb Hjvvtkm e;t
ektntk<pf> d Uthvfyb/ b fhvbtq rjvfyljdfk<if> tuj pfvtcnbntkm.
At that time in Tunisia there were vicious battles. By that time Rommel had
already ¬‚own to Germany and his army was commanded by his replacement.
436 A Reference Grammar of Russian

6.6.6 Boundaries: gthtl<\ins>
With gthtl<\ins> , a perfective change occurs before the boundary, while in the
immediate vicinity of the boundary event, no other events occur.

[208] Gjckt nhtnmtuj pdjyrf, gthtl yfxfkjv cktle/otuj frnf, rjulf frnths e;t ,skb
yf cwtyt, d phbntkmyjv pfkt hfplfkbcm fgkjlbcvtyns.
After the third bell, before the beginning of the next act, when the actors were
already on stage, applause erupted in the auditorium.

The perfective event has consequences for the subsequent history; usually, after
the boundary a new change is expected imminently (in [208], the resumption
of the performance). An imperfective can be used with gthtl<\ins> if it has an
iterative sense.

[209] B gj-ght;ytve, rfr vyjuj ktn yfpfl, gthtl yfxfkjv cgtrnfrkz e d[jlf d ntfnh
cksifncz<if> pyfrjvst b nfrbt ghbznyst ckjdf: ¤Ytn kb kbiytuj ,bktnbrf?≥
And just as many years ago, before the beginning of the performance at the
entrance to the theater could be heard the familiar and comforting words: “Does
anyone have an extra ticket?”

Gthtl<\ins> , then, de¬nes a minimal interval (not an extended series of inter-
vals) adjacent to a boundary event; the boundary event is imminent, precluding
other events.

6.6.7 Boundaries: gjckt<\gen> , gjl<\acc> , gj<\loc>
Gjckt<\gen> locates the change or signi¬cant part of a history after the boundary
occasion named by the noun: gjckt jn(tplf ˜after departure™, gjckt nhtnmtuj
pdjyrf ˜after the third bell™. At the same time, it connects the new event to the
last event:

[210] Jlyf;ls dcrjht gjckt yfxfkf pfyznbq jy gjljitk rj vyt.
Once soon after the start of lessons he came to me.

Gjl<\acc> locates a history in anticipation of a boundary such as a holiday:
yjxm gjl Hj;ltcndj ˜the night before Christmas™, gjl rjytw ˜near the end™.
Gj<\loc> places a history after another event (the noun names an event, not
a time). The event is anticipated and sets up expectations for the subsequent
history: gj ghbtplt ˜upon arrival™, gj jrjyxfybb ubvyfpbb ˜upon the completion of
gymnasium™. In [211], recovery from illness will set in motion another perfective

[211] Gj dspljhjdktybb (e vtyz ,sk uhbgg) z ytvtlktyyj dstle<pf prs> d Gtnhjuhfl.
After convalescence (I had the ¬‚u) I was to leave immediately for Petrograd.
Mood, tense, and aspect 437

6.6.8 Bounded intervals: lj<\gen>
Lj<\gen> de¬nes an interval composed of multiple sub-intervals that extends
up to the boundary named by the noun. An imperfective (the usual aspect)
characterizes a situation that extends up to the boundary (for example, the
continuing state of secrecy in [212]).

[212] Yfi jn(tpl, rfr b dct gthtldb;tybz dj dhtvz djqys, lth;fkb<if pst> d
uke,jxfqitq nfqyt lj gjcktlytuj vjvtynf.
Our departure, just like all movements during war, was kept in the strictest
secrecy until the last moment.

After the boundary occasion, one can expect the state projected by the predicate
to be canceled. After the departure in [212], the operation is no longer secret.
With a perfective, lj<\gen> refers to the state that results from the event

[213] Bvgthfnjhcrbt ntfnhs d Vjcrdt b Gtnth,ehut pfrhskbcm<pf> lj 30 fduecnf, nj
tcnm gjxnb yf ctvm vtczwtd.
The imperial theaters in Moscow and Petersburg were being closed until
August 30, that is, for almost seven months.

Sometimes, what continues over the interval is the possibility of performing a
perfective event -- in [214], the opportunity of making the call:

[214] Jyf gjghjcbkf vtyz gjpdjybnm<pf> pfdnhf lj lde[ xfcjd.
She asked me to call tomorrow up to two o™clock.

Because lj<\gen> de¬nes an interval that begs to be ¬lled, a single perfective
event can set the scene for further perfective events that are squeezed into the
interval before the boundary.

[215] Lj yfxfkf ctfycf d pfkt gjzdbkcz<pf pst> ,hbnsq yfujkj vjkjljq xtkjdtr,
gjljitk<pf pst> r ,bktnthit, b jyb dvtcnt yfghfdbkbcm<pf pst> d yfie
Before the beginning of the session in the hall there appeared a clean-shaven
young man who went up to the ticket woman and together they came in our

Lj<\gen> , then, de¬nes an extended interval. The predicate history ¬lls the
interval up to the boundary, but changes after the boundary.

6.6.9 Bounded intervals: c<\gen>
The preposition c<\gen> de¬nes an initial boundary for a history that is usually
a continuous state or activity expressed by an imperfective.
438 A Reference Grammar of Russian

[216] Ltym dslfkcz [jkjlysq. C enhf yfrhfgbdfk<if> lj;lm, f r gjkely/ gjlek
htprbq dtnth, gjitk cytu.
The day was cold. From the morning it was drizzling, then by midday a sharp
wind had begun to blow and it started to snow.

A perfective de¬nes the initial boundary of a state that continues:

[217] Lj,hjt jnyjitybt Tdljrbb Lvbnhbtdys rj vyt ghjzdbkjcm<pf> gjxnb c gthds[
lytq vjtq cke;,s d Vfkjv ntfnht.
The kindly attitude of Evdokiia Dmitrievna to me became evident almost from
the ¬rst days of my working in the Maly Theatre.

As an extension, a perfective with c<\gen> can be the ¬rst event in a larger series
of events. In [218] the ¬rst shipment of household goods initiates the extended
process of moving.

[218] C dtxthf, yfrfyeyt, dst[fkj gj Ikbcctkm,ehucrjve nhfrne itcnm djpjd c
vt,tkm/ b rybufvb.
From the evening, on the eve before, there went on the Schliesselburg Road six
wagons with furniture and books.

6.6.10 Metric intervals: º<acc>
Combined with the adverbs (njv©) yfp’l or cgecnz any time measurement (in
the accusative) speci¬es a time frame located a certain distance from the cur-
rent temporal frame. Yfp’l measures not the duration of the activity, but
the gap between the current contextual occasion and some other displaced
occasion. Yfp’l then accommodates both perfectives (Xfcf xtnsht yfpfl vs
ghbt[fkb<pf> yfrjytw d Ym/rfcnk ˜Four hours ago we ¬nally arrived in New-
castle™) and imperfectives (Ktn nhblwfnm njve yfpfl jyf j,exfkf<if> ytvtwrjve
zpsre Rkjnbkmle Dfylth,bkmn ˜Thirty years ago she taught German to Clotilde

6.6.11 Metric intervals: pf<\acc>
Pf<\acc> likewise measures an interval. The change of a history occurs within
that interval and is con¬ned to the interval. There is a sense that the change
overcomes resistance:

[219] Pf ytltk/ vs e[bnhbkbcm ghjlfnm<pf> 10 nsc. эrptvgkzhjd ryb;rb.
Within a week we had managed to sell 10,000 copies of the booklet.

The usual aspect is perfective. Imperfective is possible if it is a conative activity
with a goal:
Mood, tense, and aspect 439

[220] Ghb[jlbkjcm pf ytcrjkmrj ktn yfdthcnsdfnm<if> egeotyyjt dtrfvb.
It became imperative in the space of several years to try to recapture what had
been omitted for centuries.

An imperfective can be used with pf<\acc> when iteration has wide scope (so
that each sub-event by itself would be perfective):

[221] Gkenjy j,hfoftncz<if> djrheu Cjkywf pf 250,6 ktn.
Pluto revolves around the sun in 250.6 years.
[222] D rfpbyj ghjbuhsdfkb<if> pf yjxm ytcrjkmrj vbkkbjyjd.
In the casino they would lose several millions in a night.

An imperfective is possible with narrow scope when the iteration occurs inside
the interval:

[223] Pf ldf nsczxtktnbz djqyf ltcznrb hfp ghj[jlbkf<if> xthtp b[
Over two millennia war crossed through their country dozens of times.

When the imperfective is negated, the existence of any occasion over the whole
pf<\acc> interval is denied (when there might have been many possibilities for

[224] Pf b/km-fduecn ntvg yfcnegktybz yt ghtdsifk<if> nht[
Over July--August the tempo of advance never exceeded three kilometers.

A series of imperfectives can be used with pf<\acc> when the series amounts to
an accomplishment over the interval:

[225] B z yf ctvm ktn eitk d k/lb. Pf эnj dtvz z ,sk<if> cjklfnjv yf hevsycrjv
ahjynt, gjnjv cke;bk<if> d Xtrf, d ghjljdjkmcndtyys[ эrcgtlbwbz[ 1918 ujlf
<. . .>
I went out into the world for seven years. Over that time I was a soldier on the
Romanian front, then I served in the Cheka, in the expeditions for provisions in
1918 <. . .>

Even without a verb pf<\acc> can specify the domain of an ordinal: nhtnbq pf
vtczw rjynhelfh ˜third counterattack in the space of a (single) month™.
Pf<\acc> can be combined with lj<\gen> or (unusually) gthtl<\ins> to measure
when a perfective event occurs relative to an interval™s ¬nal boundary: vbyen pf
ldflwfnm lj j,tlf ˜twenty or so minutes to dinner™, ytpfljkuj gthtl эnbv ˜not
long before that™.
440 A Reference Grammar of Russian

6.6.12 Metric intervals: yf<\acc>
Yf<\acc> measures the duration of the interval that results from a perfective
change, such as the closure of theaters in [226]:

[226] Ntfnhs pfrhskbcm<pf> lj 30 fduecnf, nj tcnm gjxnb yf ctvm vtczwtd.
The theaters were being closed until August 30, that is, for almost
seven months.

An imperfective can refer to iterative occasions ([227]) or promise the imminent
completion of change ([228]):

[227] Gjckt j,tlf Xthxbkkm elfkzkcz<if> yf ytcrjkmrj vbyen d cdj/ rjvyfne b
dcrjht ghtlcnfdfk gthtl ujcnzvb d zhrjv djcnjxyjv [fkfnt, d rjnjhjv j,sxyj
cvjnhtk abkmvs.
After dinner Churchill withdrew to his room for several minutes and then
reappeared before his guests in a bright Oriental robe in which he usually
watched ¬lms.
[228] D rfhvfyt e yfc kt;fkb gentdrb d ljv jnls[f, relf yfc dldjtv yf ldf vtczwf
gjcskfk<if> Kbnajyl.
In our pocket we had vouchers for a resort where Litfond was sending us for two

Lexicalized forms are yfdctul’ ˜for all time, forever™, yflj
´kuj ˜for a long time™.

6.6.13 Metric intervals: xthtp<\acc>
Xthtp<\acc> measures the duration of an interval from one boundary occasion
to an event. During the interval, contrary to possible expectations, no other
relevant event occurs. In [229], to describe how night falls quickly in certain
latitudes, the narrator mentions no events between the setting of the sun and
the perfective onset of darkness:

[229] Gjufckj cjkywt -- b xthtp ytcrjkmrj vbyen dct pfdjkjrkj<pf> vhfrjv yjxb.
The sun faded -- and after several minutes everything was wrapped in the dark of

With imperfectives, xthtp<\acc> jumps us ahead to the middle of a new ongoing
situation, which comes about as a surprise:

[230] Yf lheujq ltym z epyfk, xnj Vtqth[jkml hfcgjhzlbkcz yfxbyfnm htgtnbwbb.
Xthtp ytcrjkmrj lytq z buhfk<if> Vjkxfkbyf . . .
On the next day I learned that Meierkhol™d had arranged to begin rehearsals.
After a few days I was playing the role of Molchalin . . .

Thus xthtp<\acc> links two parts of a narrative that might otherwise be
Mood, tense, and aspect 441

6.6.14 Frequency
The temporal expressions discussed above all locate (however approximately)
the predicate history around a single time frame. Histories and their contex-
tual occasions can repeat over multiple occasions. Iteration can be signaled by
various means. A large stock of lexical adverbs signal iteration: byjul’ ˜some-
times™, x’cnj ˜often™, gjhj ˜off and on™, byjq h’p ˜now and again™, j,sryjd†yyj
˜usually™, h†rlj ˜rarely™. Any noun that refers to a time unit signals repetition
when it is modi¬ed by a universal quanti¬er; the whole expression is in the ac-
cusative without preposition: r’;lsq uj ˜every year™, r’;lsq l†ym ˜every day™,
r’;le/ ytl†k/ ˜every week™, dcz ´rbq h’p ˜each time™. (Some lexical adverbs as well
incorporate universal quanti¬cation: t;tvby©nyj ˜minute by minute™, t;tuj ´lyj
˜yearly™.) Names of days of the week or parts of days can be made distributive,
hence iterative: gj chtl’v b g„¦nybwfv ˜on Wednesdays and Fridays™, gj dtxth’v
˜in the evenings™. Frequency can be stated by combinations of h’p with a prepo-
sitional phrase in d<\acc> and a recurring time unit: hfp ltcznm d ltym ˜ten or
so times a day™, gj jlyjve hfpe d ldt bkb nhb ctreyls ˜once every two or even
three seconds™, rbns hj;lf/n jlyjuj rhegyjuj ltntysif j,sxyj hfp d 2 ujlf
˜whales give birth to one massive baby usually once every two years™. Xfc’vb
˜for hours on end™ and (w†ksvb) lyz ´vb ˜for whole days at a time™, which are lex-
icalized instrumentals, belong here. With any of these unambiguous indications
of iteration, the imperfective is required.

6.6.15 Some lexical adverbs
Some lexical items deserve attention. Lj ´kuj ˜for a long time™ and lfdyj ˜a long
time ago™ both project un¬nished histories that extend over and ¬ll intervals.
With lj´kuj, the activity is presumed to stop (without de¬nitive result, hence
imperfective), and it can be placed in sequence with other events:
[231] Vs ljkuj hfccvfnhbdfkb<if> dtkbxtcndtyyst hfpdfkbys, gjnjv cbltkb yf
ibhjrb[ rfvtyys[ cnegtyz[ e j,hsdf.
For a long time we looked at the magni¬cent ruins, then we sat on wide stone
steps at the ravine.

Because the time interval is closed, lj
´kuj occurs with the past tense or future,
but not with an actual present.
In contrast, lfdyj (or lfdyßv-lfdyj suggests continuation rather than lim-
´ ´)
itation. In [232], the mutual knowledge (or the illusion thereof) could easily
[232] Vs hfpujdhfbdfkb<if> ljkuj b nfr cdj,jlyj, rfr ,elnj pyftv<if prs> lheu-lheuf
We talked long and freely, as if we had known each other for ages.
442 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Table 6.7 Temporal expressions and aspect

form predicate history unmarked aspect

change ∼ process ∼ state either
d<\acc>∼ d<\loc> (∼ yf<\loc>)
º<\gen> change perfective
gthtl<\gen> , gjl<\acc>, change perfective
gj<\loc>, gjckt<\gen>
state ∼ process imperfective
stative result perfective
change perfective
º<acc> process imperfective
change perfective

Lfdyj is compatible with the present tense of a verb ([232]). The perfective is
possible when it characterizes the inception of a still-continuing state:

[233] Yfxfkbcm<pf> cxtns lfdyj, c gthdjq yfitq dcnhtxb d Gtnth,ehut.
The score keeping had begun long ago, from our ¬rst meeting in Petersburg.

´kuj, then, is analogous to the bare accusative, lfdyj to c<\gen> .
Lj ´
Another lexical contrast of interest is the set of words that place the contextual
occasion at the present moment, ntg†hm ˜now™ and ctqx’c ˜now, at the present
moment™. (Yßyt ˜nowadays™ is stylistically marked as quaint.) Ntg†hm implies that
the current situation departs signi¬cantly from the prior situation and that it
will remain in force for the inde¬nite future. It can be used with present-tense
verbs that contrast the current habit with a prior one:

[234] D cdjt dhtvz b[ ghbybvfkb pf xelfrjd, f ntgthm dhjlt ,s edf;f/n<if prs> .
In earlier times they were regarded as loonies, while now they seem to be

With a past perfective, ntg†hm contrasts the state resulting from a change with
the situation before the change ([235]). A present-tense perfective means the
future is anticipated to differ from the past ([236]).

[235] Ntgthm jy zdyj ecnfhtk<pf pst> .
By now he has obviously aged.
[236] Ntgthm dthjznyj b vs crjhj gjqltv<pf prs> .
Now, probably, we also will go.

Ctqx’c localizes the history to the interval of the immediate present. This present
is part of a sequence of continuously changing situations. Ctqx’c suggests that
the current situation is unstable and might well change in the not-too-distant
future. Hence ctqx’c is easily used with a present perfective (that is, imminent
Mood, tense, and aspect 443

[237] -- E yfc, -- jndtxfk jntw. -- Yj jyf tot cgbn. F xnj?
-- F djn vs tt ctqxfc hfp,elbv<pf prs> . Ult jyf?
-- She™s here -- answered father. -- But she™s still asleep. Why?
-- Well we will just have to wake her up now. Where is she?

or with imperfectives or anaspectual predicates in the sense of ongoing activity
or states, which might, however, be expected to change:

[238] Ytrjnjhst ;bds b ctqxfc.
Some are alive even now.

Thus lexical adverbs, like temporal expressions formed with prepositions, also
shape and in¬‚uence the history projected by the predicate.

6.6.16 Conjunctions
Subordinate clauses introduced by conjunctions provide a contextual time for
one history in terms of another. Subordinating constructions, of course, are
not exclusively temporal; at the same time as they signal temporal relations,
they are modal (not surprisingly, since some of the prepositional expressions
are highly modal) and textual -- the process of subordination ranks information
as presupposed or better known as opposed to focused or less known.

6.6.17 Summary
The range of temporal expressions is summarized in Table 6.7.
The most neutral expressions merely locate a history in the general vicinity
of the time, and are compatible with both bounded (perfective) and extended
(imperfective) histories. Many temporal expressions have a preference for a par-
ticular kind of history, which translates into a preference for one or the other
aspect. Thus yf<\acc> or c<\gen> indicates a state holding over an extended in-
terval, which is typically expressed by the imperfective, while r<\dat> implies a
history involving change, hence perfective. A temporal expression that presup-
poses change normally prefers a perfective verb, but allows an imperfective if
the history reported by the imperfective is novel (most natural when the im-
perfective is understood as a new and surprising activity already in progress). A
temporal expression that depicts continuity and stasis is a natural context for
imperfectives, but allows a perfective if the perfective is understood to report
the state resulting from an event. Any temporal expression involving change,
which usually implies the perfective aspect, can nevertheless occur with an im-
perfective as an iterative, as a historical present substituting for a virtual past
perfective, or as an imperfective with futurate sense (D ce,,jne z e[j;e r Vfit
yf wtksq ltym ˜On Saturday I™ll be going to see Masha for the whole day™).
The presentation of information

7.1 Basics
Language is not only a system of elements and relationships existing in poten-
tia. Language is also used in context, as an exchange of information (beliefs,
attitudes) between speaker and addressee. As language is used in context, al-
ternative messages are considered, and the components of the information are
hierarchized. The techniques used to manipulate information are quite hetero-
geneous, but they are also patterned, conventional, recurrent. Among the tech-
niques are those that derive from the speci¬c fact that, as language is used, the
elements of language have to be presented in a linear order (and in speech, pre-
sented in time). Russian is famous for its variations in presenting information
through the use of variations in word order, intonation, and lexical operators.1

7.2 Intonation

7.2.1 Basics
Each speaker has a characteristic fundamental frequency, which depends on
the size of the vocal chamber. The typically smaller chamber of children and
women implies a higher frequency than the larger chambers of adults and men.
Speakers vary the fundamental frequency over the duration of an utterance.
These variations of fundamental frequency over time result in a limited number
of intonation contours, analogous for different speakers.
Over the course of an utterance, the intonation, if left to its own devices,
declines gradually. It becomes possible to identify a contour when there is a
noticeable change in pitch, whether a rise or fall, that departs from this gradual
1 The Prague School of Linguistics, in the spirit of Saussurean structuralism, thought at ¬rst that
word order was parole, while syntactic relations were langue. But it soon discovered that word order
was not invented ex novo on each occasion. There are patterns; therefore word order belongs to
langue. The discussion here attempts to balance the patterned character of information devices
(they are constructions, or nhfafhtns) and their ability to convey quite speci¬c messages.
Intonation, though it is obviously a feature of spoken language, may nevertheless be relevant
to written language. Possibly speakers write and read written texts with a virtual intonation in
mind (the intonation with which the text would be spoken).
For attempts to bring together intonation and word order, see Keijsper 1985, Yokoyama 1986.

The presentation of information 445

downward drift. The rises and falls are usually centered on one stressed focal
syllable (or focus), even if the changes spread over onto adjacent syllables.
(When the focal syllable comes near the end of an intonation phrase, the contour
after the focal syllable is abridged.) The word that includes the focal syllable is
the locus of the semantic operation associated with a given contour. It seems
sensible to follow the system articulated by E. D. Bryzgunova, which identi¬es
an inventory of types of “intonational contour” (bynjyfwbjyyfz rjycnherwbz),
written here as “IC” with a superscripted number of the focal syllable.2 Each
contour can potentially be used in utterances of different kinds: in questions
and imperatives (more broadly, in utterances oriented towards the addressee),
in expressive functions (more broadly, utterances oriented towards the speaker),
and in narrative and descriptive utterances (utterances that purport to be
factual statements about the world -- utterances not oriented towards the speaker
or addressee).

7.2.2 Intonation contours
The least expressive intonation contour is IC1 , a modest rather than precipitous
fall in the intonation contour. If there are syllables following the focal syllable,
they continue the lower pitch. IC1 is the basic contour of factual assertion and
narrative. The fall, if it occurs in the middle of an intonation phrase, focuses on
that word. Often the fall occurs by default on the last stressed syllable in the
phrase. In Xnj bltn d rbyjntf1 nhf[?, the question asks simply what is happening
in the theaters; theaters are not singled out as opposed to other locales.
IC2 is a signi¬cant fall in intonation linked to a stressed syllable. The shape
of the contour -- falling -- is similar to that of IC1 , but the focal syllable and
the surrounding syllables are more marked in IC2 than in IC1 . The differences
are evident in, for example, the contrast of the neutral question Xnj bltn d
rbyjntf1 nhf[? as opposed to Xnj bltn d rbyjntf2 nhf[?. In IC1 , the fundamental
frequency falls less than 100 Hz -- for example, from 160 Hz to 100 Hz, over the
stressed vowel of rbyjntf1 nhf[.3 In IC2 , the fundamental frequency starts at a
higher level and falls more -- for example, from 300 Hz to 200 Hz, over the
stressed syllable of rbyjntf2 nhf[.4
In iconic fashion, IC2 is not only more marked phonetically, it is also func-
tionally more marked than IC1 . In questions, it contrasts one element with an
analogous element:
2 System and most examples derive from Bryzgunova 1972 and Bryzgunova™s contribution to the
Academy Grammar 1980 (96--122); now SRIa 1.69--72. Hesitations about the system have been regis-
tered by Matusevich 1976, Yokoyama 1986, Mills 1990, Schallert 1990 ([6]). Intriguing alternatives
have been proposed by Svetozarova 1982 and Od† 1989. For a summary of what can be determined
about historical changes in intonation, see Comrie, Stone, and Polinsky 1996:99--103.
3 4 Academy Grammar 1980, Fig. 33.
Academy Grammar 1980, Fig. 23.
446 A Reference Grammar of Russian

Ybrjkfz ecnhjbkb. F ult Gt2 nz ,eltn ;bnm?
Nikolai has been set up. And where will Petia live?

In narrative, IC2 distinguishes one element (time, individual, event) from other
comparable elements that could be expected or imagined: Z ghjcbkf dfc d
dj2 ctvm ˜I asked you to come at eight [speci¬cally then, not at another time]™.
In orders, it is more insistent than IC1 : Pfrhj2 qnt jryj! ˜Close the window!
[as you seem not to have done yet]™. IC2 , then, is similar to IC1 , but is more
exaggerated, phonetically and functionally.
In IC3 , the pitch jumps up suddenly over the focal syllable. By the end of the
focal syllable, the pitch begins to fall and continues to fall on further syllables
to a level lower than the level before the focal syllable. The contour over the
focal syllable is then not a pure rise, but a concave rise--peak--fall.
IC3 is used in various contexts. In questions, IC3 asks about polarity, for exam-
ple, whether the situation of possession is true: E dfc t3 cnm ghjcnjq rfhfylfi?
˜Do have an ordinary pencil [or do you not?]™, often in the face of the possibility
that the answer might be otherwise: Tuj pjden Cf3 if? ˜Is his name [really] Sasha
[or not]?™. In expressive contexts, IC3 emphasizes the polarity of a property: J[
b uhe3 ,sq ;t ns! ˜Oh are you ever rude!™. As a command, IC3 is softer than IC2 :
Pfrhj3 qnt jryj! ˜Close the window, won™t you™. In narrative and description, IC3
commonly occurs near the end of a clause and signals that the information to
this point is partial; further information will follow:

F njn, rnj pfgbcsdftn yfhjlyst gt3 cyb, ljk;ty cjplfnm yfcnhjt2 ybt gtdwfv.
Anyone who records folk songs has to create an atmosphere for the singers.

In this context, IC3 is anticipatory, cataphoric.
A sentence fragment from [2] can be used to illustrate graphically the differ-
ence between IC3 (¬rst sharp peak) and IC2 (valley), as in Fig. 7.1
IC4 is signaled by a fall in pitch over the focal syllable. The dip is followed by
a rise on the focal syllable or especially on the subsequent syllables, which then
remain higher than the pitch level preceding the focal syllable. In general, IC4
signals that the current information responds to the prior discourse (or to the
whole surrounding discourse). It leaves open the possibility that further infor-
mation will be forthcoming, but does not require it (unlike IC3 ). In a question,
IC4 acknowledges the prior information, but extends beyond it ([3]). IC4 can be
used in a series of questions, each of which contributes to a program of extract-
ing information: Dfit b4 vz? Dj4 phfcn? ˜Your name? Age?™. As a response to a
request or question, IC4 con¬rms the answer and extends it; thus, in [4], the
speaker offers permission to enter, and more. As an assertion of intention, IC4
continues and responds to the prior situation ([5]):
The presentation of information 447




p' s'

´n n´ p'ifcám
dólzh strΛ ©n'

0 1
0.5 1.5 2 2.5
Fig. 7.1 . . . gt3 cyb, ljk;ty cjplfnm yfcnhjt2 ybt gtdwfv ([2])

Z yt vjue1 gjt[fnm.
[3] --
F Yfnf4 if?
-- I can™t go.
-- [I understand that.] But what about Natasha?
Vj3 ;yj?
[4] --
Djqlb4 nt! Ghj[jlb4 nt, hfpltdf4 qntcm.
-- May I come in?
-- Come in! Come on in [now that you™ve come, go ahead,], take your coat off.
Ns3 yt gjtltim, / b z4 yt gjtle.
[5] --
-- You™re not going / and likewise I™m not going.

IC4 can be used in narrative and descriptive, as a way of ¬lling in background
that continues the prior discourse. For example, in a description of a photograph,
a clause with IC4 could be used to supply additional description:

Tplzn rfrbt-nj ljnjgys[ cjdthityyj vfhjr vfib4 ys.
[You can see in the picture] some absolutely antediluvian cars are driving.

IC4 , unlike IC3 , does not demand an elaboration in the following discourse.
Rather, IC4 elaborates the prior discourse.
The remaining three ICs (in the system of Bryzgunova) are all quite speci¬c
phonetically and quite expressive functionally. IC5 occurs in the construction in
which a quanti¬er or adjective (for example, rfrj comes at the front of the
448 A Reference Grammar of Russian

sentence and is split from the noun it quanti¬es or modi¬es. IC5 in this con-
struction has two focal syllables. The intonation rises on the ¬rst focal syllable
(here “V5 ”). By the end of the second focus (here “V5 ”), the pitch levels off and
falls, returning back to the low level before the ¬rst focal syllable.

Rfrf5 z d vbht nb5 im!
Such calm there is in this world!
B rfrj5 q jy ,sk bynthtcysq hfccrf5 pxbr.
And what an interesting storyteller he was!

In IC6 -- for example, Rjulf6 jy ghbl=n? ˜And when [did you say you think] he
will come?™ -- the pitch rises steeply on the focal syllable (Rjulf6 ) and may even
continue to rise on the following syllable (jy). After it reaches its maximum
value, as much as 150 Hz above the starting point, it remains level and high
(ghbl=n). IC6 is used in content questions that ask for an answer to be repeated
(D rfrj6q felbnjhbb? ˜In which auditorium [was that you said]?™), in expressive
exclamations (Rfrbt z6,kjrb cgtkst! ˜What luscious apples!™), and even narrative
(Dct cbcnt6vs / hf,j6nf/n / yjhvf2kmyj ˜All systems / are working / correctly™),
when this expressive intonation retards the ¬‚ow of narrative in non-¬nal phrases
in an expressive -- portentous, grandiose -- manner.
IC7 is an extremely sharp rise on the focal syllable (or the focal syllable and
an adjacent syllable), so sudden and emphatic that the vowel is truncated by a
glottal closure. It is followed by an equally precipitous fall in pitch over the fol-
lowing syllable(s). Consistent with the signi¬cant pitch increments, IC7 emphat-
ically expresses the speaker™s involvement in the content, ranging over disbelief
to anxiety: Rfrj7t ;fhrj! D gfkmnj [jlbv ˜How so hot! We™re going around in
coats™; Z xnj7 ! Djn Gfdtk -- if[vfnbcn! ˜Me? Take Pavel -- now there™s a real chess
It is conceivable that the core of the intonation system is simpler than the
heptopartite system of Bryzgunova. The ¬rst, IC1 , is a default contour. The next
three -- IC2 , IC3 , and IC4 -- are indeed real contours with recognizable functions.
The last three intonation contours (IC5 , IC6 , IC7 ) are less central than the ¬rst
four, and could be derivative of, or exaggerated versions of, the others. IC7 is
probably just an emphatic variant of IC3 , and IC6 is reminiscent of IC4 .5 IC5 is
arguably not a single contour, but two contours linked in a very speci¬c syntactic
idiom ([7--8]) which, because of its syntax, has two focal syllables.
Table 7.1 schematizes the four basic contours IC1 through IC4 . Intonation
contours manipulate ideas -- the content of the focal word (here “x”) or pos-
sible alternatives (here “x ”). If the focal word is a noun, the ideas manipulated
5 Similarities that Bryzgunova (Academy Grammar 1980:107, passim) acknowledges. SRIa 1.69--72
omits IC7 .
The presentation of information 449

Table 7.1 Phonetics and generalized function of IC1 --IC 4

pre-focal focal post-focal
contour syllable syllable syllable function

IC1 mid fall low default intonation
IC2 mid fall low cohonymy operator: indeed x, despite possible x
IC3 mid rise--fall low polarity operator: indeed x, despite possible not x
IC4 mid fall--rise high textual operator: granted x already, now also x

are entities. If the focal word is a verb, the ideas manipulated are events or

7.3 Word order

7.3.1 General
Words, in speech and writing, are produced and processed in linear order. In
some combinations the sequence of words is predictable: for example, adjectives
almost always precede the nouns they modify. The major constituents -- the verb
(V), the subject (S), the objects (O), domain phrases such as the goal of activity
(D) -- have more freedom. While the order is not “free” in the sense of being
random or without consequences, still, the major constituents can occur in
different orders, and variation in word order is one of the important devices
Russian employs for shaping information.
It is traditional to describe word order in terms of a division of the utter-
ance into two parts. Thus a sentence consisting of elements V is parsed as
|V , where the elements that come before the verb are taken as the basis
(the theme, jcyjdf, topic) for the focus (rheme, zlhj, comment) -- the informa-
.6 Moreover,
tion provided by the verb and further constituents to the right
6 Two important studies attempt to develop a single principle for all combinations of the verb and its
major arguments. Adamec 1966 imposes a binary distinction between basis/jcyjdf and focus/zlhj
on all sentences. As a rule (except when a constituent has a “speci¬c informational” or “speci¬c
veri¬cational” function), the boundary falls in the same place -- immediately before the verb -- in
all word-order patterns. Yokoyama 1986 sees word order as re¬‚ecting a gradation in the degree
of accessibility of knowledge. Although the most general schema has four positions (1986:234) --
two before the verb, two after -- in fact only two positions are distinguished consistently: a con-
stituent that precedes the verb is information that is a current concern of both the speaker and
the addressee, while a constituent that follows the verb is information that is not yet a current
concern of the addressee. Both approaches, then, impose a binary division on the utterance.
Binary approaches can only classify constituents as belonging to one half of the utterance or
the other. They cannot, therefore, take into account what grammatical and semantic role the ar-
guments have. For example, in binary models, the S of the rather marked VS order should have the
same value as the O in VO, which is the neutral order, from which it follows that (O)VS and (S)VO
orders cannot be differentiated, when surely their functions are very different. For this reason,
450 A Reference Grammar of Russian

|V )
elements on the margins of the utterance far from the verb ( or in
are more exaggerated, or “stronger,” in their function than elements near the
verb. Thus the initial subject argument in [9] announces an unexpected entity
and might well have emphatic stress (ve ;); the ¬nal adverb in [10] answers an
implicit question about the manner of reception.7

[9] B vjq ve ; nfr;t dfc gjplhfdkztn.
And my husband also extends his best wishes.
[10] E Jcjhubys[ dcnhtnbkb vtyz hfljcnyj.
At the Osorgins, [they] met me with joy.

The division into basis and focus (or the equivalent in any other terminology),
while it expresses a valid insight, is a rather general model; the binary partition
is misleading. Each combination of major constituents, such as OVS or VSO,
has its own properties -- its own stylistic value, its typical use in context, its
lexical preferences. For this reason, the discussion below is organized according
to whole patterns of major constituents and uses examples taken from a cor-
pus of examples of word order involving transitive verbs with the ¬rst-person
singular accusative pronoun vtyz.8 The basic corpus consists of 359 examples
with all three constituents present. Another 138 examples have only verb and

7.3.2 SV, SVO
The most neutral and frequent order of major constituents in Russian is that
in which the subject precedes the verb. The subject announces an entity for
discussion, the verb states a property that holds of it.

[11] Vjz s vfnm v dthyekfcm d cj cnfywbb, ujnjdfz ltqcndjdfnm. Rfr vj;yj crjhtt s jyf
gthtdtptn o dct[ yfc d yf yjde/ rdfhnbhe, v yfvtyztn o ghjlernjd, v gjtltn d d
Neke. Yf cktle/ott enhj s jyf v dpzkf o vtyz c cj,jq d yf ,fpfh.
My mother returned from the station ready to act. As fast as she could, she would
move us all to a new apartment, trade for food, go to Tula. Next morning she
took me with her to the bazaar.

the description here is organized in terms of conventional patterns, like the descriptive practice
of Adamec as well as Schaller 1966, Bivon 1971, Kovtunova 1976, Svedstedt 1976.
7 For a strong rhematic element ( in the abstract scheme), Bivon uses the apt term “essential new,”
which is opposed to “non-essential new” ( in the abstract scheme).
8 From S. Golitsyn, Zapiski utselevshego (Moscow, 1990). Not included in the count were objects of
imperfective futures, participles, and in¬nitives (and objects of matrix verbs that govern in¬ni-
tives); objects of passages marked as discourse; questions. The frequencies in this homogeneous
corpus differ from those reported by Bivon (1971:42), who used a larger corpus composed of texts
of varied genres. In that corpus, SVO was thoroughly predominant (79%) and other orders were
correspondingly much less frequent (OVS 11%, SOV 1%, OSV 4%, VSO 1%, VOS 2%). The difference
results from the differences in the corpora and the restriction here to vtyz
The presentation of information 451

In [11], the ¬rst sentence announces the individual who is the hero (the mother),
the intransitive verb (dthy©kfcm) then states a property, including a further post-
verbal domain. In the later transitive verbs (gthtdtp=n, dpzk’), a direct object
follows the verb, as happens frequently. (In the test corpus, 164/359xx = 46% of
transitives with the object vtyz had the order SVO.) Often the object has been
mentioned earlier and is known; for example dc†[ y’c ˜all of us™, vtyz in [11]. But
when an object is placed after the verb, the fact that it was mentioned earlier is
irrelevant. It enters the picture only through the verb: it is de¬ned as the entity
that is the patient of a speci¬c predicate. Thus the object argument dc†[ y’c
tells us who was displaced; then post-verbal vtyz identi¬es who accompanied
the mother. Other constituents, such as manner adverbs or domains, can follow
and further elaborate the nature of the property that is ascribed to the verb -- yf
´de/ rdfhn«he, yf ,fp’h in [11], gj k,© in [12]. In the extreme case, a post-verbal
constituent (such as a manner argument) is an essential focus that answers an
implicit question about the whole predicate -- in [12], how did she teach?
[12] Cjyz v exbkf o vtyz d dtcmvf m эythubxyj b jhbubyfkmyj. Njkmrj z yfxbyfk

jib,fnmcz b pfbrfnmcz, rfr jyf c djpukfcjv ¤lehfr≥ v [kjgfkf o vtyz d gj k,e.
Sonia taught me in a very energetic and original manner. As soon as I started to
falter, she, with a shout of “fool,” would whack me on the forehead.

In general, the patterns of SV, SVO, and SV(O)(X), X any other major con-
stituent, name the subject entity and differentiate it from the property stated
to hold of it. The pattern can be termed hierarchical.

7.3.3 OVS
The order OVS combines two non-neutral positions: the object is before the verb,
the subject afterwards. Though these are not the neutral positions for these
arguments, the combined pattern is not infrequent (it was third most frequent
in the test corpus with vtyz 51/359xx = 14%). OVS order is used for two quite
speci¬c functions. One is to establish a relationship between the object, which
is a known entity, and an abstract condition ([13]). Another is to introduce a new


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