Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 5

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All phrases intended for translating/listening practice have been deleted.

Welcome to Episode #5 of Understanding Spoken Russian. If you’re new to the series, I recommend starting from the first episode, because the lessons are cumulative, and in each one I assume you’re comfortable with the material learned in all prior episodes.

Let’s get to it. I’ll start by rattling off a few related words…View, vista, visual…вид

Listen again: вид It translates as “view”..like, Our hotel room has a great вид…a great view.

And it’s the root of our new word for this lesson. Listen? увидеть

So I’d like you to connect that core sound—вид—to those three English words which also begin with a “V” sound. What were they again?

Now, увидеть is the dictionary form of the verb, but we’ll be working with the past tense today.

Here it is in context…

He said: Yesterday I saw Grandma in the library.

And she said: When I was in Hollywood, I saw Angelina Jolie.

So, the verb увидеть translates as “to see.” And did you notice that Babushka and Angelina changed to Babushku (Бабушку) and Angelinu (Анджелину) because seeing them counts as doing something to them?

How would you translate this?

– – –

What were those three English words that we want to connect to the word вид?

They begin with a V sound…

Alright, let’s review some of the key points from the last episode. How would you translate these phrases?

– – –

For today’s main topic, I want to talk about something called verb aspect. So, we’re going to hear phrases where the same action is described by seemingly different verbs. Listen and I’ll translate:

Я купила сендвич.

I bought a sandwich.

Я покупала все эти сувениры в Лондоне, кроме этого магнита.

I bought all these souvenirs in London, except for this magnet.

Hmm. Both sentences translate as “I bought…” but she used different verbs. Я купила in the first, and я покупала in the second. Now why would she do that? Let’s listen to a simpler example…

Я сказала <Нет.>

That was: I said no.

Мы говорили о музыке.

We were talking about music.

Here’s the Big Question: What’s the difference between I said…and I was talking?

With “said” you get this sense of the whole thing. You said it, and you were done. But with talking…you envision this ongoing conversation. And in that first example: Я купила сендвич. Hearing that, a Russian person envisions the whole transaction. She stood in line, paid the guy, and walked away with her sandwich.

But that other phrase: Я покупала все эти сувениры I bought all these souvenirs in London… There, we see her going from shop to shop, maybe over the course of a week…it’s about the process of her shopping.

Books have been written exclusively on the topic of Russian verb aspect, but what’s nice is that, in this course, we don’t have to worry about the rules. We just want a general understanding. And for now, all I want to say is this:

Verbs that we call perfective emphasize the result.

Verbs we call imperfective emphasize the process.

Take the idea of reading. Here are the two forms in the past tense Читал / прочитал

See if you can determine which one emphasizes result, and which emphasizes process.

Imagine you’re a creative writing teacher and you tell a student: Hey, Jimmy..I just прочитал your story and I thought it was excellent. I loved the ending.


Last night I settled into my armchair and читал The Shining by Stephen King. I was so into it, I nearly jumped out of my chair when the phone rang.

Я прочитал your whole story. There’s a result. We read it from start to finish.

Я читал the book for a while…is about the process. He was reading it and then something happened. He clearly did not finish it. So…

Я прочитал is perfective.

Я читал is imperfective.

With that verb pair, the difference between perfective and imperfective is pretty clear. But with other verbs, it’s less so. Like today’s verb увидеть. Do you think it’s the perfective or imperfective form? Listen…

Today in the supermarket I saw your mom.

Yesterday in the park I saw your dog.

Those are perfective. They’re emphasizing that they saw your mom or saw your dog…and that’s pretty much it. Compare that with the imperfective…

In the podval I was seeing only books and photographs. You get the sense that they were looking around for a while, probably trying to find something, but all they saw were books and pics. (The word was видела without that ‘u’ sound in front.)

Again, verb aspect is a big deal when you’re trying to speak Russian. We work with it in great detail in my conversational Russian courses. It’s actually really interesting. But in this podcast, we just need to be aware that Russian uses two different verbs to convey these two aspects of any action. That’s my main objective here. Because I don’t want you saying,”Wait, why is he saying Прочитал?I thought the verb “to read” was читал.”

Now you know. They’re two versions, two aspects, of the same verb.

Next: Can you translate this brief exchange?

– – –

Now imagine you’re the teacher, and your student says…Hey, wait…I thought купил was the verb meaning “to buy.” Suddenly it’s покупал? What do you tell them?

Hit pause and give it a shot.

I’d tell them: Russian uses pairs of verbs to describe the same action. Купил means he bought the coffee and that’s that. Whereas покупала conveys the process of shopping—she was looking and buying some things and not buying others. The two forms are an aspectual pair, купил is the perfective form, emphasizing result. Покупал is the imperfective and emphasizes the process.

Let’s look at another aspect pair. In earlier episodes we encountered the verb смотрел.

Can you take a stab at translating it? Andrusha is supposed to be doing his homework, but when I listen at his door, it doesn’t seem like he is. (TV sounds, then door opens…and TV clicks off)

Андрюша! Ты смотрел телевизор?

He says…Нет, Папа. Книгу читал.

So how would you translate: Ты смотрел телевизор?

Were you watching television?

Which form is that? Perfective or imperfective? The question was all about the process….about what Andrusha was doing. So it’s…imperfective.

Compare that with this situation: I know my sister has been sitting in her room for over three hours. I hear this music, and her gentle weeping…then she comes out and explains…

Я только что посмотрела <ТИТАНИК>.

I just watched Titanic.

Here, it’s clear she watched the whole thing. By choosing the perfective form, she’s emphasizing the result. In English we’d say, “Wow, I just watched Titanic.”

On his birthday, Alex comes home just as his wife pulls a dessert from the oven. Can you translate their exchange?

So he said…”Wow, crème brulee?” And she said…”Yes. I read the recipe in the magazine Cosmopolitan.”

So we say recipe and in Russian it’s: рецепт. And we say magazine or journal, and Russian pronounces it: журнал

But the real question is: Which verb aspect did she use? Listen again…

прочитала is the perfective. She used that because she read the recipe, the entire thing,obviously, in the journal.


Do you know how to use Google’s “exact match” function? If you put a search term in quotes, you’ll get results with that exact phrase. For fun, I just searched for exact matches of the Russian phrases “прочитала рецепт”… And читала рецепт.

Remember, the difference is that читала translates as was reading. I searched because, you gotta figure прочитала would far outweigh читала. Right? I mean, how often would you say, I was reading a recipe in a magazine…versus, I read the recipe in a magazine. Sure enough…прочитала рецепт got over 20,000 matches…and читала a mere five thousand. Curious on how they used it, I read some of the results that contained читала. Here are two. Listen…?

Я долго читала рецепт и список ингредиентов

I, for a long time, was reading the recipe and the list of ingredients. The writer used читала because she’s emphasizing the process..she was reading it for a long time. This next phrase also stood out…

Пока я читала рецепт, залила клавиатуру слюной.

Пока which we think of as a friendly ‘Goodbye’ in Russian, literally translates as “for the time being” or “while.” So she said: “While I was reading the recipe, I drooled on the keyboard.”

She had to use the imperfective читала…had to use it…because she was saying what happened during that process.

Where’s the language tip in all this? Well, although computers are still pretty lousy at language, they’re still very useful tools. And that exact phrase match is one way I use my computer. Another tool I used to use a lot was Google’s image search. If you’re not sure of the difference between two concrete objects—for example a тягач and an эвакуатор—do a search of Google images, and you’ll see right away.

I remember when I first read the word тягач and was confused, because one of my dictionaries defined it as a tow truck, which in the context of where I read it, didn’t make sense. So I did an image search of the word….bingo.. A тягач is the front part of an 18-wheeler…the truck part, with the engine. I was pretty sure a tow truck was an эвакуатор an “evacuator”…and again, a quick search on Google images brought up a hundred images of your classic tow truck. Long story short: The Google translate function is unreliable, but the image search is a very useful function.

Let’s get back to it. How would you translate this…

– – –

And what aspect are those verbs?

The perfective. We saw the person…and that’s about it.

Next, let’s listen to a some clips in Russian. All I want you to do is listen for the past tense verb.

She’s about to tell her viewers: “What I read in the month of June.”

прочитала…is which verb form? Perfective. She’s saying she read all of them, start to finish.

Next, this song…

Я видела сон в котором она целует тебя

I saw a dream in which she kisses you.

That’s how Russians talk about dreams. In English we say ‘I had a dream’ in Russian, Я видел сон

I saw a dream. And she chose the imperfective form, because it’s not important that she saw an entire dream…what’s important is what she saw during the dream. Compare that to this next one…

Я увидела тебя во снах

I saw you in my dreams.

She uses the perfective to emphasize that she saw you, and not someone else.

What’s this guy saying? It’s just three words. Listen again?

He said: “I read a book.”

Perfective, right?

Compared to this next woman, he’s not exactly an over-achiever. Listen…

Я прочитала 125 книг.

I read—and finished reading—125 books. (during the past year)

Last one…Listen to this kid…

Короче говоря, посмотрел фильм ОНО.

And a girl would say it like this…

Короче говоря, посмотрела фильм.

Alright, let’s go on to our final exam. Can you translate the gist of these phrases? Bonus points for shouting out the aspect of each verb.

– – –

How’d you do? Please let me know. Send an email to: mark @ understandingspokenrussian dot com

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the next episode where—just by spotting a certain sound at the end of someone’s name—you can get the gist of the entire sentence. See you there! Пока!