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I have read somewhere that смотри is an unfinished action while посмотри is a completed action.

That does not help when I'm thinking of usage scenarios. For example I was watching the movie Лёд and there was a scene where the small girl tells her mother "Смотри!", which I understood to mean "Look!". So how do you classify that as either complete or incomplete when it hasn't even started?

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I'd say that "смотри" is used for immediate action. E.g. when something funny is happening. And "посмотри" is used for a future action. E.g. when you recommend a movie, or ask to take a look at some document. Something like that.

Note that you can say "посмотри" for an immediate action, and in most cases it would sound ok. But saying "смотри" for a future action sounds weird and would probably be understood as "Look at it now"

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    I agree more with this answer. "Смотри вокруг" and "Посмотри вокруг" have completely different meaning, it's not about being more calm and/or polite. – shabunc Jul 4 '18 at 12:04
  • Maybe in context of something peculiar happening around, "посмотри" would be a bit more calm (e.g. "смотри что творится!" vs "посмотри что творится!"), but not in general, and I really don't think it has anything to do with politeness. – Alissa Jul 6 '18 at 15:00
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    Смотри can well be used for future, e.g. Смотрите в следующем месяце на нашем канале in a TV ad. Or Завтра выходной, смотри свои сериалы сколько влезет, а сегодня надо поработать. – Yellow Sky Jul 9 '18 at 6:04
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Indeed, "смотри" means the unfinished action, but not necessary the action that's going to happen right now.

Some of the meanings, prevailingly colloquial and possibly requiring certain intonation and (or) words: - "смотри!.." with intonation raising and lowering, /и/ drawn out: "just you wait; watch yourself", with mildly confrontational/threatening connotation; - "ты смотри" or "смотри ты" -- "what a surprise; would you look at that"; - "смотри там" -- "be careful/watchful (there); be on the watch (there)".

Your example means, almost literally: "Turn your eyes there (and see something)".

Now, "посмотри" means the action with a definite end/result to it: - "посмотри в книге/Гугле" -- "look it up in the book/Google"; - "посмотри за ребенком" -- "watch the baby (for the period of time)".

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Смотри is a call for immediate action. Посмотри is more calm and polite:

  • Смотри! = Look!
  • Посмотри мою статью = Have a look at my article.

The Russian imperative is quite complex when it comes to aspect. All nuances would be impossible to list in a short post.

In Russian:

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Смотри из typically about attracting attention to something speaking for itself, while посмотри is more about having a look at smth. and making (more or less deep) conclusions from that (approximately, look vs have a look).

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