The dictionaries I could find did not agree on whether the perfective form of the (imperfective) verb курить is either: (i) закурить or (ii) покурить.

What is the correct perfective partner for курить? Is it закурить, покурить, or neither?

I suspect that the answer might, in some sense, be neither, because both закурить and покурить have "imperfectivizations", закуривать and покуривать, respectively, both of which are hyponyms of курить. (Definition of hyponym, a word which I learned today -- по-русски.)

Thus one might expect that both закурить and покурить would be hyponyms of a "perfective partner of курить" if such a verb actually existed (it seems not to).

In particular, perfective verbs formed by adding the prefix по- sometimes are restricted to the specific meaning of "a little, for a while", while perfective verbs formed by adding the prefix за- sometimes are restricted to the specific meaning of "to begin to". This appears to be the case for покуривать/покурить and закуривать/закурить.

Although I should add as a caveat that I am assuming that покуривать does correspond in meaning to покурить, even though Wiktionary does not say this explicitly (it does say explicitly that the corresponding statement is true for закуривать and закурить).

Also since покуривать is apparently colloquial, I may be misleading myself by considering it too much. (I.e. maybe по- is just a perfectivizing prefix with no specialization in meaning for курить (definition 1), and those who use the colloquial term покуривать misunderstand (definition 3) the use of the по- prefix for курить, which maybe also explains why покуривать has not become a formally accepted word.) Wiktionary does say that покуривать has no perfective partner (1)(2).

Note: Here is a related previous question of mine. For смеяться, the по- and за- perfectivizing prefixes seem to have the same meaning as for курить, yet nevertheless посмеиваться and засмеиваться do not correspond in meaning to посмеяться and засмеяться according to one of the answerers.

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    The word you're looking for is, perhaps, выкурить. Yet, as you were answered in the previous question, there's no single "right" form. Each perfective verb - покурить, закурить, выкурить, прикурить and so on - has its own usage depending on what part of "the smoking action" was actually finished.
    – Matt
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 16:38
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    'Покурить' means an action with limited time frame, and it can be used as a perfective form: 'Мы славно покурили после обеда' - 'We had a good smoke after lunch'
    – HEKTO
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 19:29
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    there are also "выкурить" и "скурить" (last one probably is not present in "official" vocabularies) :-D
    – Arioch
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 16:12

3 Answers 3


I think every verb with a prefix mentioned above has its own pair "perfective -imperfective" and that's the main drawback. Consider the pairs : выкурить – выкуривать, закурить – закуривать, прикурить – прикуривать, покурить – покуривать, докурить– докуривать, etc. So what about курить? It doesn't have a prefix. It is imperfective. If we are looking for a perfective form, there shouldn't be any prefix either. That would be logical. The pair is the following

Курить – курнуть.

― Вовк. Дай курнуть! (И что за удовольствие ловить на мушку?) [Владимир Маканин. Кавказский пленный

Бормотание прекратилось, потом Великий закряхтел, распрямляясь (к дождю у него по-прежнему ломило поясницу), и шагнул к нам. ― Табачку курнуть, ― сказал он. ― Ох, и препроклятое это дело… прав был батюшка, когда на улицах курить не велел… себе вред, иным соблазн… [Андрей Лазарчук, Михаил Успенский. Посмотри в глаза чудовищ (1996)]

Клубится ленивый дымок. Прохор вышел на воздух курнуть. Звездный свет закрыт тучами. [В. Я. Шишков. Угрюм-река. Ч. 5-8 (1913-1932)]


The trick is that Russian perfective conveys much more aspects than just perfectiveness/imperfectiveness, and therefore, as opposed to Germanic languages, multiple versions of perfective prefixes are possible.

In my opinion, the closest substitute for Germanic / Occidental perfectives would be вы- (or до-) for the verb in its transitional and по- (as a perfective prefix 'by default') in its intransitional sense.

Она выкурила сигарету / папиросу / самокрутку / цигарку / сигару / трубку / кальян / косяк.

Он покурил.


Roughly speaking, everything said of смеяться here is true for курить.

Покуривать means to smoke once in a while, on and off.

Закуривать means 'to be in the process of lighting up (a cigarette)', the imperfective of закурить 'to light up (a cigarette)', 'to start smoking'.

Прикурить means 'to light up a cigarette against someone else's lit up cigarette'. The imperfective is прикуривать, 'to be in the process of ...' You get the idea.

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    "покуривать" can also mean the same thing as simple "курить". Он вальяжно пошагивал по комнате и покуривал трубку
    – d.k
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 20:37
  • So, just to confirm, покурить is delimitative, and not a general catch-all perfectivization of курить? (The same way that посмеяться is delimitative and not a general catch-all perfectivization of смеяться, likewise with поговорить). Someone needs to change Wiktionary then: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/… Commented May 25, 2017 at 10:51

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