Intro to Russian Present Tense Verbs - Live Fluent

Intro to Russian Present Tense Verbs

Learning to conjugate verbs can be tough if you’re an English speaker starting your first new language. Learning to conjugate in Russian can be an extra challenge for new learners.

The goal of this article is to give you a simple introduction to Russian verbs. Keep reading to get started!​

*In the present tense especially, it’s crucial to keep track of stems and endings, so for each verb listed, I’ve put the stems in bold and underlined the suffixes to help with visualization.

Usage

Like Spanish and French, the present tense in Russian is used to express ongoing and habitual actions in the current time. Whereas in English, we say “I am doing” and “I (often) do”, Russian has one form to express both of those concepts.

Ex: Я делаю.

Ya delayu.

I am doing OR I (habitually) do.

You must use context to determine if an action is currently ongoing or habitual.

You can also use the present tense for actions that began in the past but are continuing in the present/have just stopped.

Ex: Я изучаю русский язык уже пять лет.

Ya izuchayu ruskiy yazik uzhe pyat’ let.

I have been studying Russian for five years.

Formation

Russian verbs have stems that are often derived from the infinitive. In order to conjugate a verb in the present tense, you drop the infinitive ending and add a suffix that corresponds to a subject pronoun.

If you just saw the word “do” in English, you would not be able to tell if the subject was I, you, we, you all, or they. Russian verb endings however tell you exactly who the subject is. No two conjugations look the same except for in third person singular.

Stem - Infinitive ending + Subject Pronoun Ending = Conjugated Verb

Subject Pronoun Endings

Subject Pronouns

Group 1

Group 2

Я

-у/-ю

-у/-ю

Ты

-ешь

-ишь

Он/Она/Оно

-ет

-ит

Мы

-ем

-им

Вы

-ете

-ите

Они

-ут/-ют

-ат/-ят

Ex: Делать (Delat’)- To Do (Imperfective)

Stem: Дела-

Infinitive ending: -ть

Cyrillic

Transliteration

Translation

ДЕЛАТЬ

DYEH-LAT'

To Do

Я делаю

Ya de-la-yu

I do 

Ты делаешь

Tiy de-la-yesh'

You do

Он/Она/Оно делает

On/Ona/Ono de-la-yet

He/She/It does

Мы делаем

Miy de-la-yem

We do

Вы делаете

Viy de-la-ye-te

You all/You (formal) do

Они делают

Oni de-la-yoot

They do

Most Russian verbs fall into one of two conjugation groups. The primary difference in the two groups is in the infinitive endings.

Group 1 Verbs

These verbs typically end in -ать, -ять, -еть, -овать, or -нуть. In order to conjugate, remove the -ть ending and add the Group 1 suffixes from the above chart.

The conjugations are pretty straight forward EXCEPT for -овать verbs which undergo a stem change. Look at the following chart:

Cyrillic

Transliteration

Translation

ТАНЦОВАТЬ

TAN-TSO-VAT'

To Dance

Я танцую

Ya tan-tsu-yu

I dance

Ты танцуешь

Tiy tan-tsu-yesh'

You dance

Он/Она/Оно танцует

On/Ona/Ono tan-tsu-yet

He/She/It dances

Мы танцуем

Miy tan-tsu-yem

We dance

Вы танцуете

Viy tan-tsu-ye-ti-yeh

You all/You (formal) dance

Они танцуют

Oni tan-tsu-yoot

They dance

As you can see, the infinitive form and the present tense form don’t match up. This pattern holds true for all present tense -овать verbs (although past tense conjugations retain the infinitive’s stem).

Group 2 Verbs

These verbs mostly end in -ить. To conjugate, remove the last three letters and add on the Group 2 suffixes. The conjugations are very similar to those of Group 1 verbs, except that they use the vowel “и” instead of “e”.

Cyrillic

Transliteration

Translation

ГОВОРИТЬ

GA-VA-REET'

To Speak

Я говорю

Ya ga-va-ryu

I speak

Ты говоришь

Tiy ga-va-reesh'

You speak

Он/Она/Оно говорит

On/Ona/Ono ga-va-reet

He/She/It Speaks

Мы говорим

Miy ga-va-reem

We speak

Вы говорите

Viy ga-va-ree-ti-yeh

You all/You (formal) speak

Они говорят

Oni ga-va-ryat

They speak

TIPS

Unlike the past tense, which is relatively stable and easy to figure out, the present tense in Russian requires a little more work. As I mentioned earlier, you need to learn present stems because you can’t rely on the infinitive form to help you conjugate.

If you learn the conjugations for first and second person singular (Я and Ты), as well as third person plural (Они), you should have an easier time predicting the other forms. A few common irregular verbs that you should know include:

ХОТЕТЬ

Я хочу

Ты хочешь

Он/Она/Оно хочет

Мы хотим

Вы хотите

Они хотят

KHA-TYET'

Ya kha-chu​

Tiy kho-chesh'

On​/Ona/Ono kho-chet

​Miy kha-teem

Viy kha-ti-tyeh

Oni kha-tyat​

To Want

I want

You want

He/She/It wants

We want

You all/You (formal) want

They want​

МОЧЬ

Я могу

Ты можешь

Он/Она/Оно может

Мы можем

Вы можете

Они могут​

MOCH'

Ya ma-goo

Tiy mo-zhesh'

On/Ona/Ono mo-zhet

Miy mo-zhem

Viy mo-zhe-ti-yeh

Oni mo-goot​

To Be Able

I can

You can

He/She/It can

We can

You all/You (formal) can

They can

Stress

One of the most challenging parts of learning Russian is getting the accents on words right, because they often change from syllable to syllable. There are three possible stress patterns for the present tense:

1) The stress falls on the stem in all forms of the conjugation

Видеть (я вИжу, ты вИдишь, они вИдят)

​VEE-di-yet' (ya VEE-zhu, tiy VEE-dish', oni VEE-di-yat)

To see (I see, you see, they see)

2) The stress falls on the end syllable in all forms of the conjugation

Говорить (я говорЮ, ты говорИШь, они говорЯТ)​

​Ga-va-REET' (ya ga-va-RYU, tiy ga-va-REESH', oni ga-va-RYAT)

​To speak (I speak, you speak, they speak)

3) The stress falls on the last syllable in the infinitive and first person singular (Я) then moves to the stem in all the other forms

Ходить (я хожУ, ты хОдишь, они хОдят)​

​Kha-DEET' (ya kha-zhu, tiy KHO-chesh', oni KHO-dyat)

Resources

alphadictionary.com

This website is one of my favorite resources for detailed grammar explanations. They have a few lessons that break down verb stems and endings, accents, and conjugations.

Bonus: Online quizzes with hints and an answer key.

verbs

learningrussian.net

This site breaks down both groups of present tense verbs and also gets into some irregular ones. There’s even a small quiz at the end to test your knowledge!

In Conclusion

In short, the subject pronoun endings are very easy to memorize because they don't change, so focus on learning your present tense verb stems.  Mastering this concept is achievable: it just takes some effort.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section!

About the Author Toni Cross

Privet! I'm a 21 year old polyglot (Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic). I'm very excited to share my language learning tips and experiences. Check back regularly for new posts!

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