Russian course - Lesson 11

Russian course
Basic Russian for beginners

Lesson 11:
Don't say what you were doing, but say what you did.

In this lesson you will learn:

  • the verbal aspect: imperfective and perfective verbs in Russian
Useful phrase in Russian

Useful phrase in Russian

Listen and repeat the following sentence:

Не говори́, что де́лал, а говори́, что сде́лал
nye ga-va-rí, shto dyé-lal, a ga-va-rí, shto sdyé-lal
Don't say what you were doing, but say what you did (Russian saying)

Pay attention to this lesson: You will learn something very important, the verbal aspect. We can define it like this:

In Russian there are two kinds of verbs:

  • verbs which mean "to be doing something" (imperfective verbs)
  • verbs which mean "to have done something / to have finished doing something" (perfective verbs)

The concept of "verbal aspect" is not studied in English, that's why it is something new for you. But today you'll learn it!

Russian vocabulary

Russian vocabulary

Read, listen and repeat the basic vocabulary of this lesson:



to be tired

уста́л (masc.) / уста́ла (fem.)

all, every, everything

весь (mas.) / вся (fem.) / всё (neuter)







home / at home

дом / до́ма



yummy, delicious


what a pity!


long, for a long time








Imperfective and perfective verbs

In this lesson you will learn that Russian verbs are presented in couples.

Each couple of Russian verbs has (usually) only one English equivalent.

In the grammar section, at the end of this lesson, you have an explanation on this topic.


Russian (imperfective verb / perfective verb)

to do

де́лать / сде́лать

to read

чита́ть / прочита́ть

to watch, to look

смотре́ть / посмотре́ть

to write

писа́ть / написа́ть

to like, to please

нра́виться / понра́виться

to think

ду́мать / поду́мать

to cook

гото́вить / пригото́вить

Russian dialogues

Dialogues in Russian

With extra help for verbs!

Now you are going to see a series of short dialogues which include perfective and imperfective. verbs. In the grammar section (after these dialogues) you will learn more about these verbs.

We are going to help you:

  • Perfective verbs will be highlighted.
  • Imperfective verbs will be highlighted.

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Russian grammar

Russian grammar

Read the following grammar explanations for this lesson:

The aspect: imperfective and perfective verbs


In this lesson we have seen something VERY IMPORTANT regarding Russian, which we will now explain in a way that is easy to understand:

In English we can talk about imperfect actions (ongoing or not finished actions) and perfect actions (=finished actions):

  • Imperfect actions: Yesterday Anna was reading when I came home. This morning I was cooking when you called me.
  • Perfect actions: Yesterday Anna read a book. This morning I have cooked soup.

The "verbal aspect" is this comparison between "what is finished" and "what is happening". Thus, we will have:

  • Imperfective aspect: when we express an imperfective (non-finished) action.
  • Perfective aspect: when we express a perfect (finished) action.

What is an imperfective verb? and a perfective verb?

In English, the same verb ("to cook") is used to express both an ongoing action (I was cooking, I have been cooking) or a finished action (I cooked, I have cooked). That is why, when learning English, we don't talk about "verbal aspect".

In Russian, the contrast between imperfect and perfect is expressed with two different verbs:

  • The imperfective verbs are those which only express imperfect actions (= ongoing and unfinished actions).
  • The perfective verbs are those which only express perfect actions (= finished actions).

That is why, when learning Russian we MUST take into account the concept of "verbal aspect".


  • Imperfective: Гото́вить / Чита́ть = to cook / to read (when we talk about and ongoing/unfinished action).
  • Perfective: Пригото́вить / Прочита́ть = to cook / to read (when we talk about an already finished action).

When you learn a new verb, try to memorize the pair imperfective / perfective. In the vocabulary section, at the beginning of this lesson, we show you some pairs of verbs, so you start getting used to this way of learning them.

When do we use an imperfective verb?

  1. To explain what we usually do, repeated actions, habits, etc...
    1. the present
      • Я чита́ю ка́ждый день / Он гото́вит о́чень хорошо́ / Мы смо́трим то́лько ру́сские фи́льмы
      • I read every day / He cooks very well / We only watch Russian movies
    2. ...or in the past
      • Ра́ньше я чита́л ка́ждый день / Когда́ я жил в Росси́и, я ча́сто гото́вил суп.
      • Before I used to read every day / When I was living in Russia, I would often cook soup.
  1. To explain a process while it's happening...
    1. the present (what are we doing?)
      • Я читаю (I am reading) - Он делает что-то (He is doing something) - Мы готовим ужин (We are cooking dinner)
    2. ...or in the past: (what were we doing?)
      • Я смотре́л телеви́зор, когда́... (I was watching tv, when...) Вчера́ я чита́л рома́н (yesterday I was reading a novel).

When do we use a perfective verb?

To explain a finished action (in Russian it is always in the past)

  • Я прочита́л рома́н = I have read the novel / I finished (reading) the novel.
  • Он пригото́вил у́жин = He has cooked dinner / He finished cooking dinner.

Perfective verbs don't exist in the present: when you finish something, that is already the past (even if only one second in the past).

NOTE: The future of perfective and imperfective verbs will be studied in lesson 13 of this course.

Russian test


Check how much you have learnt in this lesson:

1. How would a woman say "I'm tired"?
я уста́л
я уста́ла
я уста́ло

2. What kind of verb describes what you have been doing?

3. How do you say "to cook"?
both answers are correct

4. How do you say "yesterday I was reading"?
вчера́ я чита́л
вчера́ я чита́ю
вчера́ я прочита́л

5. Say "I have read (and finished) the novel"
я чита́л рома́н
я прочита́л рома́н
я чита́ю рома́н

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