Russian verb conjugation
Russian

Russian Verb Conjugation: Everything you need to know about Russian verbs and their conjugation

Russian verb conjugation seems very confusing to a large number of learners. It may be because Russian grammar and conjugation are very demanding and requires a lot of attention and practice. It is an adventurous experience and this guide will help you get through this.

Conjugation is the process of changing the basic form of a verb. The infinitive form of the verb is what you see in the dictionary. Many conjugation tables include “verb derivatives” such as participles, verbal adverbs, and so on.

They are derived from verbs, but they behave differently. They either decline like adjectives or do not change form. So, in this article, we will primarily concentrate on verbs.

To conjugate a verb in Russian, keep the following factors in mind:

  • Person
  • Number
  • Tense
  • Conjugation group
  • Aspect
  • Mood
  • Gender

You can learn Russian easily by keeping all the relevant factors in mind. Make notes for yourself so that you memorize everything in an organized and systematic manner.  

It is significant for you to remember that Russian verb conjugation differs significantly from English verb conjugation. Now let’s discuss all these factors one by one.

Person and Number

1st person singularя (ya)“I”
2nd person singularты (ty)“you” (casual)
3rd person singularон, она, оно (on, ona, ono)“he” / “she” / “it”
1st person pluralмы (my)“we”
2nd person pluralвы (vy)“you” (plural), “you” (formal)
“you” (plural), “you” (formal)они (oni)“they”

For example:

  • Я рисую (Ya risuyu) — “I draw.”
  • Мы рисуем (My risuyem) — “We draw.”

Tense

As difficult as Russian conjugation and grammar appear to be in general, here’s some good news. In Russian, there are only three tenses: present, past, and future. It’s not hard to figure out what each of them represents!

The present tense

  • покупать (pokupat’) — “to buy”
  • я покупаю (ya pokupayu) — “I buy”
  • мы покупаем (my pokupayem) — “we buy”

Notice that we have changed the verb’s ending. And we would be delighted to tell you that all you need to do is remove the final letters of the infinitive, and you will be fine.

Russian verbs have two sets of endings, and thus two conjugation groups. We didn’t give them complicated names; we simply called them “Group 1” and “Group 2.” The ending of the infinitive can often be used to predict which group a verb belongs to.

Group 1Group 2
Endings -еть, -ать, -ять, -уть, -ти(-yet’, -at’, -yat’, -ut’, -ti)
For example:
Богатеть (bogatet’) — “to get richer”Играть (igrat’) — “to play”Гулять (gulyat’) — “to stroll”Гнуть (gnut’) — “to bend”Ползти (polzti) — “to crawl”
Most verbs ending with -ить (-it’)
For example: 
Говорить (govorit’) — “to speak”Учить (uchit’) — “to learn” / “to teach”
+ 11 exceptions, verbs that seemingly belong to Group 1:Дышать (dyshat’) — “to breathe”Держать (derzhat’) — “to hold”Гнать (gnat’) — “to drive fast”Ненавидеть (nenavidet’) — “to hate”Слышать (slyshat’) — “to hear”Вертеть (vertet’) — “to spin something”Смотреть (smotret’) — “to look”
Видеть (videt’) — “to see”Обидеть (obidet’) — “to offend”Терпеть (terpet’) — “to tolerate”Зависеть (zaviset’) — “to depend”

You can easily identify the group by keeping in mind that eleven exceptions, and most verbs ending with -ить, belong to Group 2. The rest belong to Group 1. Many infinitives end with -ть, but sometimes -ться can pop up. It’s a typical ending for reflexive verbs like одеваться (odevat’sya), meaning “to dress.”

Now, let’s have a look at the endings that we use for each conjugation group.

Group 1
играть (igrat’) — “to play”
я играю* (ya igrayu) — “I play”ты играешь (ty igrayesh’) — “you play” (inf.)он играет (on igrayet) — “he plays”мы играем (my igrayem) — “we play”вы играете (vy igrayete) — “you play” (f./pl.)они играют* (oni igrayut) — “they play”
Group 2
учить (uchit’) — “to learn”, “to teach”
я учу* (ya uchu) — “I learn”ты учишь (ty uchish’) — “you learn”она учит (ona uchit) — “she learns”мы учим (my uchim) — “we learn”вы учите (vy uchite) — “you learn”они учат* (oni uchat) — “they learn”
* Use the endings -ю, -ют after vowels or the soft sign (e.g.: я думаю, они читают).

Use -у, -ут after consonants (e.g. я расту).
* Use the endings and -ат after the letters Ж, Ш, Ч, Щ, and all hard consonants.

Use and -ят after soft consonantsand vowels.

As you can see, the Russian verb conjugation endings are pretty similar. The biggest difference is that -е changes into -и, and -у/ю is replaced with -а/я.

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The past tense

To generate Russian verbs in the past tense, you need to drop the infinitive endings -ть, -ти, -чь, and add the following endings:

  • masculine: -л (-l)
  • feminine: -ла (-la)
  • neuter: -ло (-lo)
  • plural: -ли (-li)

For example

  • думать (dumat’) — “to think”
  • он думал (on dumal) — “he thought”
  • она думала (ona dumala) — “she thought”
  • мы думали (my dumali) — “we thought”

The future tense

There are two ways to create the future form in Russian:

1. Appropriate form of the verb быть (byt’), meaning “to be,” + the infinitive

писать (pisat’), meaning “to write.”

  • я буду писать (ya budu pisat’) — “I will write”
  • ты будешь писать (ty budesh’ pisat’) — “you will write” (inf.)
  • он будет писать (on budet pisat’) — “he will write”
  • мы будем писать (my budem pisat’) — “we will write”
  • вы будете писать (vy budete pisat’) — “you will write” (f./pl.)
  • они будут писать (oni budut pisat’) — “they will write”

2. The perfective form of the verb + the present tense endings.

  • писать (pisat’) — “to write”
  • я напишу (ya napishu) — “I will write”

Aspect

In Russian, there are two types of verb aspects: imperfective and perfective. Aspects are only used in the past and future; we do not distinguish verbs by their aspect in the present tense!

Aspects are used to distinguish between an ongoing / repeating action (the imperfective aspect) and an action that was successfully completed (the perfective aspect). Is there anything it reminds you of? That’s right, the English continuous/simple tenses versus the perfect tenses. The only difference is that in Russian, the English present perfect will be considered past.

Make a comparison:

  • я ел (ya yel) — “I was eating”
  • я поел (ya poyel) — “I’ve eaten”

The verb now has a prefix! A prefix is a set of letters that is added before the verb stem. As a result, prefixing Russian verbs is the most common way to create perfective forms. We can make them with a suffix instead in some cases, but it is less common.

A perfective form can be identified by its prefix (with some minor exceptions). The bad news is that there are a lot of prefixes to remember, and they can completely change the meaning of a verb. We recommend that you memorize the verb’s prefix as well as the meaning it conveys.

Mood

The intention of what we say defines our mood.

MoodExampleIntention
IndicativeЯ говорю (Ya govoryu) — “I speak”Expressing facts and reality
ImperativeГовори! (Govori!) — “Speak!” (informal)Говорите! (Govorite!) — “Speak!” (formal)Giving orders or instructions
ConditionalЯ бы сказал (Ya by skazal) — “I would say”Talking about a condition or a possibility

The Indicative Mood

This is the first thing that beginners learn. This is by far the most common Russian mood. The indicative mood is typically combined with three tenses, resulting in a unique set of endings for each verb group.

The Imperative Mood

In an informal situation, the imperative form usually ends in -и, -ай, or -ь.

  • The verbs ending in -ать in the infinitive mainly take -ай. For example, играть (igrat’) >> играй (igray) — “Play!”
  • The verbs ending in -ить mainly take -и. For example: говорить (govorit’) >> говори (govori) — “Speak!”

In a formal situation, or when we speak to more than one person, we take the informal imperative form and add -те. For example: играть (igrat’) >> играйте (igrayte) — “Play!” (Formal / plural).

The Conditional Mood

We use бы (by) + the past tense of the verb.

For example

  • я бы подумал (ya by podumal) — “I would think”
  • он бы написал (on by napisal) — “he would write”

Бы doesn’t have a fixed place in the sentence. I would say it’s pretty common to place it closer to the subject (noun or pronoun) rather than the verb.

In this guide, you have learned everything about Russian verb conjugation, endings, aspect, mood, and tenses. We understand that it is too much for you to memorize. We recommend you absorb these concepts at a slow pace.

Looking at the Russian verb conjugation examples can also expand Russian vocabulary as all these aspects are related to one another and they are going to benefit the learner in the end. Follow the basic steps to learn Russian and you will not find these concepts difficult or troublesome. Be consistent in your learning approach and try to grasp one concept at a time.

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