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Здравствуйте. I noticed that verbs of motion with the prefix по in the unidirectional forms, for example поехали, are in the past tense, even though the sentence is in the present - for example, сейчас мы поехали в квартиру. I would translate this as "we are going to the apartment." Why is this? Am I not understanding something? Also, do any other verbs of motion prefixes do this, or just the prefix по? There must be a rule. I'd be so grateful of someone could provide it.

Спасибо!

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    It's been used in old Russian when it still had a proper perfect, and has been revived in late XIX. Korney Chukovsky, a Russian writer, mentioned he had a hard time accepting this usage until he had found it in an old spiritual chant. – Quassnoi Nov 14 '15 at 19:36
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Prefix по- with verbs (wiktionary.org):

  1. Completion of the full or partial coverage of the action object (завершение действия с полным или частичным охватом объекта действия): завтракать → позавтракать; красить → покрасить.

  2. An act for some time (совершение действия в течение некоторого времени): крутить → покрутить; рубить → порубить; ходить → походить.

  3. Start moving (начало движения): ехать → поехать; ползти → поползти; двинуть → подвинуть.

  4. Action produced in large numbers and volume, at the same time giving derogatory (действие, произведённое в значительном количестве или объёме, одновременно придавая пренебрежительный оттенок): наехать → понаехать; разбросать → поразбросать.

In your example "сейчас мы поехали в квартиру" means 'we have started to go to the apartment.'

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From the point of view a native Russian. Perfective past tense to me indicates some sense of urgency or desire to have the action performed already. For example, if a runner is drafting behind another one in a track race, and his coach senses that his pupil is not running at his best and it is time to pick it up and take the lead he is more likely to say: "Вышел и пошёл!" rather than the present tense "Выйди и иди!"

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  • This is what I was looking for, and than you very much. I would be so happy if you or anyone would add a few examples. – cakebatter Nov 14 '15 at 17:21
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Поехать is perfective verb, i.e. it has no present tense at all. Поехали refers to a completed action, which is the start of moving.

Also, do any other verbs of motion prefixes do this, or just the prefix по?

Sure, there are quite a few. But being perfective, they also refer to some completed part of "moving action". For example, отъехать: Поезд уже довольно далеко отъехал от станции. This means that the train went quite far from the station, i.e. it has finished some part of the distance, but it says nothing about whether it stopped or was still moving.

Thus prefixes with motion verbs show which part of moving was finished. If you mean the journey was fully completed, you have to use prefix при-, like in приехать, прийти, прибыть, прилететь, приплыть and so on.

Yet note that sometimes поехать still could serve for the same purpose as simply ехать. That's because the speaker silently implies that after "they have started moving" immediately follows "they were moving", which is simply omitted but should be obvious from the context.

UPD. Now on the matter of "Сейчас мы поехали в квартиру". There's the obvious "time contradiction" between "сейчас" and "поехали", but this is quite tolerable in Russian. Though it makes the sentence ambiguous: it has (at least) three different meanings depending of context and pronounce.

  • Determination Now we shall go to the apartment. Here past tense is to show speaker's resoluteness (he thinks the future to be as definite as the past);
  • Narration Then we went to the apartment. So simply, "сейчас" is for "narration present time", "поехали" is "regular past tense" (as @Quassnoi mentioned, this could also be seen as a remnant of old "proper perfect" tense);
  • Small interval Last time we went to the apartment [but what about next time?!]. Сейчас (or now for that matter) is not "a point" but rather "a small time interval". So it's possible to match it over the past or future tense (like Now I will sleep), if speaker believes they are close to each other.
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    Поехать does have present tense. Я поеду, он поедет, мы поедем, etc. In English this is translated with the future tense, but in a Russian class in Russia when doing the sentence/word analysis you would mark those as совершенный вид, настоящее время - perfective in the present tense. A common mistake by English speakers is "Я буду поехать" not realizing that "Я поеду" is in the future already. – Sasha Pachev Nov 14 '15 at 15:07
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    @SashaPachev "Поеду" denotes a future tense, so it's called "a future tense" too. I don't know any reason why some teacher should call it "present". – Matt Nov 14 '15 at 15:15
  • @SashaPachev In a Russian class in Russia we marked those as будущее время – kotlomoy Nov 14 '15 at 17:34
  • Matt - it was not just some teachеr. If my memory serves me right, the Soviet textbooks in the 80s when I was in high school considered perfective verbs to be of the present tense. I checked a few modern references, and noticed that the theory has changed - they are considered to be future tense now. Perhaps for the better - stop confusing the poor foreigners with one more illogical thing. @kotlomoy - when were you in high school? – Sasha Pachev Nov 14 '15 at 23:53
  • @SashaPachev in the 90s – kotlomoy Nov 15 '15 at 9:15
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Because words "сейчас, вчера, уже, ..." clearly mark the whole scene on the time-line being pictured by the speaker, and have much higher, almost highest, priority over the tense forms of a verb. Like multiplication over addition are in a mathematical expression.

One person talk to another:
Едем мы вчера с другом на трамвае, и вдруг ... (Past)
but едем = present form of "ехать"

Where are you now?
Мы сейчас в трамвае, поехали на квартиру к Ивану. (Present)
but поехали = past form of "поехать"

Free speech:
Завтра мы едем на квартиру к Ивану. (Future)

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I agree with most answers, but want to notice one thing. Word "поехали" is in the paste tense, not because of prefix "по", since "ехали" is also in the paste tense.

Sometimes we use prefixes to change tense of words and sometimes we use suffixes (as here).

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