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The expression <я пошёл к себе> is in the past tense but it means "I'm off home" which is the present tense. Why is this?

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  • Great question. Injunctive mood (declaration of intent) in this particular case is indeed expressed with a past tense verb. Even though there is an equally common expression "Я пойду к себе".
    – Vitaly
    Apr 16 '18 at 19:30
  • Do not compare tenses used in a similar context in different languages! This won't help you. You are comparing completely different phrases and trying to make some conclusions on wrong assumptions.
    – Abakan
    Apr 16 '18 at 21:40
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about comparing completely different phrases in Russian and English.
    – Abakan
    Apr 17 '18 at 8:03
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    @Abakan since it already has answers which could be of value to readers of the site i don't think closing the question is a prudent idea, or it may be put on hold so the answers stay Apr 17 '18 at 10:26
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    @Abakan A phrase "Я пошёл к себе" could be used at the end of a conversation where one speaker indicates his intent of going home. Hence using past tense for a future action is very unusual.
    – Vitaly
    Apr 17 '18 at 14:00
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For reasons unknown to me, verbs of movement with prefix "по-" are used in the past tense to indicate intent.

In general, prefix "по-" means the beginning of an action when used with any of the following verbs of movement: бежать, вести, везти, гнать, ехать, катить, лезть, лететь, нести, плыть, ползти, тащить, идти.

As a result the following phrases are used as farewells:

  • Я пошёл. / I'm leaving.

  • Я побежал. / I'm leaving in a hurry.

  • Я поехал. / I'm leaving by car, or public transport.

In a similar way the following phrases mean the intent of starting an action in the immediate future:

Я понёс. / I am starting carrying [it].

Я покатил. / I am starting rolling [it].

Usage of verbs in past tense for that purpose is unusual. A popular Russian writer K. Chukovsky says in his book "Alive as life itself":

Или эта форма: я пошел вместо я ухожу. Человек еще сидит за столом, он только собирается уйти, но изображает свой будущий поступок уже совершенным. С этим я долго не мог примириться.

Or this form: "я пошел", instead of "я ухожу". The man is still sitting at the table, he just started contemplating his leave, but he expresses his future action as complete. For a long time I could not accept it.

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пошёл has perfective verb aspect - verbs with prefixes usually do. It refers to a one-time event of starting to walk. If you're walking right now, that event of starting to walk is already in the past.

шёл would be the corresponding imperfective aspect, referring to a habitual or continuous process of walking in the past.

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  • Why do we use a perfective aspect of the verb for the action that one plans to do (i.e. not yet performed)? As in the farewell one says, "Я пошёл".
    – Vitaly
    Apr 17 '18 at 18:37
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    @Vitaly You mean why past tense? I'm afraid I don't have a good answer to that one. It might be an implicit "I've already made up my mind, please don't try to stop me".
    – ngn
    Apr 17 '18 at 18:53
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I would say it's akin to Present Perfect in terms of English grammar, because the verb is in perfective aspect, i.e. the act has been performed and its effect is still being felt at present.

So into English it would have to be translated as

I have gone to Seva

The question has probably been misunderstood because of a spelling mistake, so the response is "off home".


2nd attempt

Provided the Russian here is Я пошёл к сеБе (not севе) i believe one cannot meaningfully compare these two sentences because their structures are markedly different, it's only fair to compare more or less grammatically equivalent constructs.

Russian does have a construct similar to I'm off home, and that's Я домой, whose tense is equivalent to that of the English expression.

With a verb this idea can be expressed in all 3 tenses with a varying degree of determination (in a descending order)

Я пошёл домой
Я иду домой
Я пойду домой

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  • Regarding your comment "the act has been performed and its effect is still being felt at present", I assume the same goes for the past perfective verbs in these two instances: "Все еще по уши увяз в работе?" and "Я не привык тебя видеть здесь." Both past perfective verbs are translated as "you are buried in .." and "I'm not used to seeing ..." in the present tense in English, I take it? Apr 16 '18 at 18:04
  • @Alone-zee it's noteworthy that English translations of these sentences use not verbs but participles and it's only the verb to be which is in present tense and indeed in the Russian sentences the verbs have an undertone of a participle, увязший and привыкший respectively, which describe a state and not an action, so another way of translating the OP's sentence so that its tense is simple present is I'm gone to Seva, another case of using participle Apr 16 '18 at 18:35
  • So the real key is that Russian has no separate Present and Past Perfect tense.
    – Alexander
    Apr 16 '18 at 18:44
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    @Bob Daley probably wanted to say "Я пошёл к себе", which means "I'm off home"
    – Vitaly
    Apr 16 '18 at 18:49
  • Я пошёл к сеБе (not севе) - it could also be "к Севе" though of less probability :-D
    – Arioch
    Apr 17 '18 at 8:05

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