Conjugating Verbs in Russian

Do we need to conjugate verbs in Russian? Absolutely. Needless to say, Russian grammar is challenging, but let’s think of it as an exciting adventure.

The present article will be the first piece in a series of comprehensive guides to conjugating verbs in Russian. This blog post will explore what conjugation is, as well as what aspects to consider when conjugating verbs in Russian, and will provide plenty of examples. After all, what good is an article about verbs without conjugation charts?

Are you ready to embark on this journey?

What Is Conjugation?

To conjugate a verb means to change its basic form. In case you’re wondering what the basic form is, it’s the infinitive, the form that you can mainly see in dictionaries.

Conjugating verbs in Russian means keeping the following aspects in mind:

  • Person and number;
  • Tense;
  • Aspect;
  • Mood; and
  • Gender.

In this article, we’ll focus on the first two; otherwise, things will pile up, and you’ll find yourself overloaded with new information.

Person and Number

Person, Singular and PluralRussianEnglish Equivalent
1st Person SingularЯI
2nd Person SingularТыYou
3rd Person SingularОн, она, оноHe/She/It
1st Person PluralМыWe
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)ВыYou
3rd Person PluralОниThey

Russian verbs conjugate differently with each person.

PersonRussianEnglish Equivalent
1st Person SingularЯ читаю книгу.I am reading a book.
2nd Person SingularТы читаешь книгу.You are reading a book.
3rd Person SingularОн/она/оно читает книгу.He/She/(It) is reading a book.
1st Person PluralМы читаем книгу.We are reading a book.
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)Вы читаете книгу.You are reading a book.
3rd Person PluralОни читают книгу.They are reading a book.

Tense

No matter how demanding Russian grammar is, there are just three tenses in the Russian language: present, past, and future. Without further ado, we will now explore how verbs conjugate in each of the tenses.

The Present Tense

When speaking about the present tense, there are two conjugation groups, depending on the ending of the infinitive form.

There are many ways to refer to them, but we will call them Present Group 1 and Present Group 2.

Present Group 1Present Group 2
Verbs ending in -еть, -ать, -ять, -уть, -тиVerbs ending in -ить

There are always exceptions to the rules, and here’s one to remember: there are 11 exceptions in Present Group 2 – verbs that only seemingly belong to Present Group 1.

  • Вертеть – to spin
  • Видеть – to see
  • Гнать – to drive fast
  • Держать – to hold
  • Дышать – to breathe
  • Зависеть – to depend
  • Ненавидеть – to hate
  • Обидеть – to offend
  • Слышать – to hear
  • Смотреть – to look
  • Терпеть – to tolerate

Here’s a popular Russian poem that will help you remember the eleven exceptions:

Гнать, дышать, дер­жать, обидеть.

Слышать, видеть, ненавидеть,

И зави­сеть, и тер­петь, а еще смот­реть, вер­теть.

So, how do you conjugate the verbs in both groups? In short, all you need to do is remove the last two or three letters, depending on the infinitive, and add new endings.

Present Group 1

-еть, -ать, -ять, -уть, -ти

Смотреть - to watch, to see Я смотрю Ты смотришь Он/она/оно смотрит Мы смотрим Вы смотрите Они смотрят

Стирать - to wash, to delete Я стираю Ты стираешь Он/она/оно стирает Мы стираем Вы стираете Они стирают

Удалять - to remove, to delete Я удаляю Ты удаляешь Он/она/оно удаляет Мы удаляем Вы удаляете Они удаляют

Уснуть - to fall asleep Я усну Ты уснёшь Он/она/оно уснёт Мы уснём Вы уснёте Они уснут

Трясти – to shake Я трясу Ты трясёшь Он/она/оно трясёт Мы трясём Вы трясёте Они трясут

TIP: Use the endings -ю/-ют after vowels or the soft sign, e.g., я читаю, они читают.

TIP: Use -у/-ут after consonants, e.g., я топчу, они топчут.

Present Group 2

-ить

Говорить – to speak, to say Я говорю Ты говоришь Он/она/оно говорит Мы говорим Вы говорите Они говорят

TIP: Use the endings and -ат after the letters Ж, Ш, Ч, Щ, and all hard consonants, e.g., я шучу, они шутят.

TIP: Use and -ят after soft consonants and vowels, e.g., я говорю, они говорят.

Russian Past Tense

Image source

The Past Tense

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

  • Masculine:
  • Feminine: -ла
  • Neutral: -ло
  • Plural: -ли

As can be seen, conjugating Russian verbs in the past tense is based on the gender aspect.

Let’s conjugate думать – to think – as an example.

PersonMasculineFeminineNeutralPlural
1st Person SingularЯ думал - I was thinkingЯ думала - I was thinking  
2nd Person SingularТы думал - You were thinkingТы думала - You were thinking  
3rd Person SingularОн думал - He was thinkingОна думала - She was thinking(Оно) думало - (It) was thinking 
1st Person Plural   Мы думали - We were thinking
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)   Вы думали - You were thinking
3rd Person Plural   Они думали - They were thinking

The Future Tense

As you can see, mastering the past tense is no rocket science. When it comes to using the future tense, there are two ways to conjugate verbs in Russian.

1- Use the verb быть – to be – in its appropriate future form + the infinitive of the main verb.

PersonБыть - to beEnglish Equivalent
1st Person SingularЯ будуI will be
2nd Person SingularТы будешьYou will be
3rd Person SingularОн/она/оно будетHe/She/It will be
1st Person PluralМы будемWe will be
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)Вы будетеYou will be
3rd Person PluralОни будутThey will be

So, what happens if we add an infinitive?

PersonУчиться - to learnEnglish Equivalent
1st Person SingularЯ буду учитьсяI will be learning
2nd Person SingularТы будешь учитьсяYou will be learning
3rd Person SingularОн/она/оно будет учитьсяHe/She/It will be learning
1st Person PluralМы будем учитьсяWe will be learning
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)Вы будете учитьсяYou will be learning
3rd Person PluralОни будут учитьсяThey will be learning

2- Use the perfective form of the verb + the present tense endings

PersonЗвонить - to call, to ringEnglish Equivalent
1st Person SingularЯ позвонюI will call
2nd Person SingularТы позвонишьYou will call
3rd Person SingularОн/она/оно позвонитHe/She/It will call
1st Person PluralМы позвонимWe will call
2nd Person Plural (and Formal)Вы позвонитеYou will call
3rd Person PluralОни позвонятThey will call

That’s the end of part one. Stay tuned for more articles about conjugating verbs in Russian!

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