I was looking up the verb обнимать/обнять. Wiktionary says some very weird and confusing things about the “literary conjugation” of обнимать. The word объемлет, according to Wiktionary, does not correspond to any infinitive. But it is also a part of the literary conjugation of обнимать. This is oxymoronic.

It seems to me like the correct explanation is the following: объять is a verb that is neither perfective nor imperfective. It has both present-tense conjugation and future-tense conjugation: он объемлет (it encompasses) and он обоймёт (it will encompass). It has no past imperfective, only past perfective: они объяли (they encompassed).

Please explain the verb объять, and what the connection is between объять and обнимать/обнять.


3 Answers 3


The situation is diachronically unpleasant. The -н- in обнимать and обнять is an innovation replacing older forms which would give обымать and объять. (Cf. 3rd person pronoun's forms with н after prepositions, which are themselves due to reanalysis of forms like вън его > въ него (> в него) and further analogy.)

For the verbs, -н-forms (понимать, донимать, etc.) have all but expelled from Russian -н-less-forms. However, объять (and, to a lesser extent, its imperfective pair обымать) was maintained by Church Slavonic (CS) influence, where -н-forms do not seem to have won (except for prefix в < въ < вън, cf. внять - внимать - внемлет). Объемлет is itself a CS correlate to обнимает with another imperfective affix (*-j > л, not a); aspectual distinction was yet fuzzy in CS, so объемлет was taken as, so to say, habitual present form (though not continuous, which would still be обымает expelled by обнимает).

Synchronically, however, Wiktionary's analysis seems to be the best: объемлет would have infinitive обымать but the verb has no prescriptively approved infinitive stem (and therefore no past as well). So the imperfective pair of объять is largely defective, having only finite present forms (and present participles объемлющий and объемлемый; I do not want to be engaged in a discussion of whether participles are verb forms). Of course, the situation does somewhat remind the situation with biaspectuals like казнить, женить and many -овать verbs, but the latter use the same form for perfective future and (necessarily imperfective) present.

  • The situation for imperfective affixes is further complicated as it's more like fight between а/j and a(j) not just j vs. a. The details, however, are insignificant.
    – Viridianus
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 11:57
  • Can you explain what you mean by "not having a prescriptively approved infinitive stem"? Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 16:32
  • обымать and all its forms are well attested and mentioned by most dictionaries. It uses the same paradigm as изымать, so I wouldn't call it defective
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 18:03
  • The form обымать (as well as обымал(а/о/и)) is not accepted by prescriptive norm as part of literary Russian language, that's what it means. Hope that answers both of your comments.
    – Viridianus
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 16:54
  • @Quassnoi as for изымать/изъять - its Russian equivalent happens to be вынимать/вынуть which supported its abnormality.
    – Viridianus
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 23:56

According to the Russian Wiktionary, объемлет is 3rd person present of the imperfective обымать. The infinitive обымать is archaic but its other forms are still used and are considered high / literary / poetic style:

  • Как океан объемлет шар земной, Земная жизнь кругом объята снами.

Here is a table that sums up the four verbs:

| Imperfective | Perfective | | ------------ | ---------- | | обнимать | обнять | | обымать | объять |

  • 2
    addition: used in the same sense as обнимать but figuratively for inanimate objects, and relates to обнимать approximately like to embrace relates to to hug Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 19:15
  • That makes sense, thank you. However, do you know why English Wiktionary says what it says? That объемлет is a word with no infinitive? Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 19:56

Just to the 2nd part of your question:

The words "обнимать/обнять" are the imperfective and perfective forms of the same verb, meaning "to embrace/hug"

The verb "объять" is considered to be of rather high literary style, not usually encountered in oral speech. Meaning approx. "to encompass [in the sense of including, containing something big in size/volume or well-extended]".

Cf. "нельзя объять необъятное" -- "one can't encompass unencompassable" in the sense "don't disperse your efforts, concentrate" or "better leave this (subject, target) as is, it's too effort-consuming".

Or "необъятные просторы" -- "unbounded vastnesses".

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