Linguistic encyclopedia

The Past Tense

The past tense is used to describe an action or an event in the past. In the past tense the verbs agree according to gender and number only. They do not conjugate according to person.

Formation of the Past Tense

The stem of the infinitive (removing -ть, -ти, or -чь) + suffix + the ending:

Masculine:
Feminine: -ла
Neuter: -ло
Plural: -ли

отдыха -ть + л + Он отдыхал. (Не was resting, he rested.)
работа -ть + л + а Она работала. (She was working, she worked.)
бы -ть + л + о Это было лётом. (It was in summer.)
кури -ть + л + и Они курили. (They were smoking, they smoked.)
купи -ть + л + Он купил машину. (He has bought a car.)
написа -ть + л + и Они написали письмо. (They wrote a letter.)

Irregular Past Tense Forms

masculine feminine plural
мочь (to be able to): мог могла могли
лечь (to lie down): лег легла легли
расти (to grow): рос росла росли
идти (to walk): шел шла шли
есть (to eat): ел ела ели
сесть (to sit down) : сел села сели
нестй (fo carry): нёс несла несли
везти (fo transport): вез везла везли
вести (to lead): вел вела вели
мерзнуть (to freeze): мерз мерзла мерзли
умереть (to die): умер умерла умерли

In the past tense the perfective or imperfective verb is used depending on the idea that you want to express:

Perfective or Imperfective: it depends on your point of view and what you want to say

Imperfective

  • You are only interested in the process or the duration of the action.

Я читал вчера весь вечер “Лолиту” Набокова. – Yesterday I was reading Nabokov’s «Lolita» all evening.

You are emphasising repetition or habitual action: часто (often), редко (rarely), всегда (always), иногда (sometimes), каждый день (every day), несколько раз (several times) etc… are always followed by the imperfective:

Она звонила тебе несколько раз, но ты был на работе. — She rang you several times, but you were at work.
Он делал эту работу всегда, и он знает, что делать. – Не has always done this work, and he knows what to do.

  • You want to know whether an event has taken place or not:

Ты смотрел фильм “Мужчина и женщина”? – Have you watched the film “A Man and a Woman”?

  • When describing two events happening at the same time, use the imperfective for both:

Он слушал музыку и курил. – Не was listening to music and smoking.
Она говорила по телефону и смотрела в окно. – She was talking over the telephone and looking out of the window.

Perfective

  • You are interested in the result of the action.

Ты уже прочитал “Лолиту”? Можно у тебя её взять? — You have already read «Lolita»? Can I have it?

  • You are talking about a single action:

Я позвонила Ольге вчера. – I called Olga yesterday.
Он сделал работу хорошо. – He did the work well.

  • You know that an event was planned, but you want to check that it actually happened.

Ты вчера посмотрел фильм “Мужчина и женщина”? – Did you watch the film “A Man and a Woman” yesterday?

  • When describing two consecutive events, use і the perfective for both:

Я прочитал книгу и отдал её другу. – I read the book and gave it back to my friend.
Мы поужинали в ресторане и вернулись домой. – We had dinner at the restaurant and went home.



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