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Compare:

  • Вчера я шел в магазин купить хлеб.
  • Вчера я пошел в магазин купить хлеб.

If you translate the first as "Yesterday I was going to the store to buy bread," you need a further clause in English such as "..and I feel down." If such a clause is not necessary in Russian what is a possible translation that makes sense in English? Natasha's site once had this: Вчера я шел в магазин. Я купил .... (I forget what it was.) Why not "я пошел?"

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  • As a side note, you used English quotation marks in the title. In Russian we use either «angle quotes» or a different kind of the „curly ones“. – kirelagin Jun 28 '17 at 10:10
  • Ooops, I’m sorry, looks like in this case the website does the typography. Huh. – kirelagin Jun 28 '17 at 10:11
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Actually you are right, congrats for understanding Russian that deep. in first case native speaker indeed will expect some second part, something like "я шёл в магазин и увидел огромную ворону".

If one want to indicate the action itself he/she will probably use "пошёл/пошла в магазин".

The phrase that you've mentioned is just clumsy but that happens in colloquial speech. Just like you heard sometimes some grammar inconsistencies in English usage. Somebody was just inaccurate.

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  • Why do you necessarily need a further clause? "Что вы делали вчера? - Вчера я шел в магазин купить хлеб." Assuming you were doing that all day, the phrase is quite self-sufficient. – Headcrab Jun 22 '17 at 1:05
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    @Headcrab: But it doesn't sound right. Using "шёл" emphasizes the process of walking. If you're not going to say anything else about the road to the store, then the correct phrase is "Вчера я ходил в магазин купить хлеб." – zipirovich Jun 26 '17 at 20:53
  • @zipirovich It only doesn't sound right because spending all day walking to a store doesn't sound right. Replace it with something like "Вчера я шёл весь день по тайге." Still doesn't sound right? – Headcrab Jun 27 '17 at 0:31
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    @Headcrab: But it's a whole different sentence now! It doesn't have "купить хлеб", but has "весь день". With more emphasis on the duration and without specifying the purpose, which was important in the original sentence, it does sound right. – zipirovich Jun 27 '17 at 5:31
  • could be a tertiary sub-detail, like "я шёл в магазин - я там купил хлеба с молоком - и увидел огромную ворону". If the person stops parsing at the 2nd clause and considers the 3rd clause totally separate then this might be the effect described by the topicstarter – Arioch Jun 28 '17 at 8:10
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Вчера я шёл в магазин. Я купил ....

The first sentence is possible on its own, but it doesn't combine with the second one (there must be пошёл or ходил instead of шёл). Why? The meaning in case of шёл is 'I was walking towards the store/shop (in order to buy something)'. The expected story just after it is that something happened on the way (e. g. I met a friend), while the result of going to the shop (I bought something) sounds unnatural. The version with пошёл typically describes a sequence of events (then I bought something, etc.) and another possiible version using ходил is about 'where I was (what I was doing)' at the time mentioned (yesterday).

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Я шёл в магазин is used when you want to tell what happened to you when you was travelling to the shop. Ходил is like present simple in English. It means a repeating action, for example: я ходил в спортивную школу 2 года. Пошёл в магазин usually does NOT allow any explaining of the process when you are walking or travelling to the shop, instead, it is followed by telling about what happened in the shop.

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  • Welcome to Russian SE! You seem not to answer the question though - the author seems to know what the difference is - and this is why exactly the question exists. – shabunc Jun 27 '17 at 14:08
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Я шел в магазин is past continuous. Я пошел в магазин - is Present Perfect. I am simplifying here, because russian tenses don't match the English ones. For that reason Я пошел в магазин could very well be used in the past sense as well: Вчера я пошел в магазин.

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  • you seem not being answering the question asked. – shabunc Jun 28 '17 at 14:51

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