In «Так что же нам делать?», Lev Nikolaevich wrote

«Я сижу на шее у человека, задавил его и требую, чтобы он вез меня, и, не слезая с него, уверяю себя и других, что я очень жалею и хочу облегчить его положение всеми возможными средствами, но только не тем, чтобы слезть с него.»

Normally Russian and English grammars agree completely, such that it's possible to translate using the same construction. But here I'm baffled. He switches from simple present to simple past and then back again (сижу...задавил...уверяю).

Translating directly into English, the construction doesn't work: "I sit on a person's neck, crushed him and demand, that he carry me..."

I'd expect him to have written «сижу на шее у человекa, давя его, и требую...», which of course in English would be "I sit on a person's neck, crushing him, and demand that he carry me...".

Could someone explain? If we were ever taught how to deal with such constructions, the intervening 50+ years have wiped out the memory.

  • 2
    "Задавая" is the form of the verb "задавать", not "задавить".
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 15:02
  • BTW. You can't form деепричастие of the present tense of the verb "задавить" at all. Only "задавив" (i.e. past tense) or "давя" (which is the form of "давить").
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 16:09
  • 2
    @user4419802: you can't form any present tense from any perfective verb.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 20:03
  • 1
    The article name is «Так что же нам делать?». Unlike English, in Russian only the first word in article/book name is capitalized.
    – user31264
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 22:41
  • 1
    I believe this translation would be closer: "I am sitting on person's neck, i have crushed him and i am demanding from him to carry me"... and so on. The times are present continious for сижу, past perfect for задавил, not simple present and simple past.
    – Srv19
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 11:14

1 Answer 1


Russian language is not so strict about mixing past and present tense. Consider that Russian Past tense plays both English Simple Past and Present Perfect.

So you may think this sentence as I sit, I have crushed, I demand etc. For the sake of better translation, it's also possible to use just participle crushing, if you'd like to. There's no big difference here.

  • +1 on the note of English Present Perfect, especially considering that "задавил" is a perfect verb due to the prefix "за-". The imperfect counterpart to it is "давил", which corresponds much more to English Past Indefinite, or even Past Continuous. Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 17:41
  • @DK As far as I understand, "choked" is even better here.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 6:40
  • -1 for English Present Simple "I sit". I'm sitting would be correct
    – d.k
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:45
  • @user907860 Not, as far as I understand English. Tolstoy didn't talk about some real action, it's just a metaphor. There's no true "time setting" here, so there's no reason to use continuous tense.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:53
  • as far as I remember the rules, the is no exception for a metaphor in the case of Present Simple. He says that he is sitting on the man's neck right now, not everyday, not from the time he was born etc. So the only correct tense here is the Present Continuous one.
    – d.k
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 14:57

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