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When learning Russian grammar, the only auxiliary verb that is explained is быть, which is used for forming the imperfective future tense.

However, occasionally I have seen sentences where идти is used as an auxiliary verb. For example, I once saw the combination идти гулять.

Could someone explain how such constructions work and precisely what its nuances are (i.e. what's the difference between я погуляю and я иду гулять)? Is it also possible to say я шёл гулять?

Side question: are there any other auxiliary verbs in Russian besides быть and идти?

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    It's not an auxiliary verb here, it's just "to go for a walk". – Abakan Aug 28 '18 at 9:52
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1) As Abakan has noted these aren't auxiliary verbs, these are simply two actions in which one is the condition for another and which could be separated by the conjunction чтобы

идти гулять - идти, чтобы (по)гулять

Оther examples

я встал (, чтобы) выглянуть в окно - i got up to take a look outside

я ложусь (, чтобы) спать - (literally) i lie down to sleep; (idiomatically) i go to sleep
я иду (, чтобы) спать - i go to sleep

я сяду отдохну / (, чтобы) отдохнуть - i'll sit to take some rest

The nuance is that only the first verb is tensed and conjugated whereas the second usually maintains its infinitive form.

In future tense both verbs can be tensed and conjugated.

2) "я погуляю" - is future tense perfective
"я иду гулять" - is present tense whose future counterpart should be "я пойду (по)гулять/погуляю"

"я шёл гулять" is indeed a legitimate construction

В детстве, сделав уроки, я обычно шёл гулять. - In my childhood having done my homework i would usually go to hang outside.

In these collocations the action denoted by the tensed verb is more important, therefore they're used when that aspect needs to be stressed.

On the other hand one could say

В детстве, сделав уроки, я обычно гулял

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  • Thank you for the helpful answer, but there are still two things that aren't completely clear to me. First of all: can you use any combination of verbs in such a way, for example: is "я сажусь читать" correct because you usually sit when you are reading or is this only possible for some fixed pairs of verbs, like the examples you gave. Secondly: is there any difference between "я гуляю" and "я иду гулять"? – Uberfatty Aug 29 '18 at 12:24
  • @Uberfatty i've never analyzed this matter but offhand i'd venture to assert that this works for any pair of verbs provided their combination makes sense in the real world; there's difference indeed, just as there's difference between "i stroll" (action already takes place) and "i'm going for a walk/stroll" (i'm on my way to perform the action), a more illustrative example i guess could come from expressions which have greater lexical correspondence between the languages, я пишу - i'm writing, я сажуcь писать - i'm sitting down to write; я знаю - i know, я хочу знать - i want to know – Баян Купи-ка Aug 29 '18 at 13:39
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Идти is not an auxiliary verb, it refers to literal physical going/walking. Yes, it's also possible to say я шёл гулять, but it has the same meaning of having to get somewhere before the "actual" walk begins.

In fact, I can only think of one auxiliary verb in Russian besides быть. It's стать. On its own, it means "to become"; when followed by an imperfective verb in the infinitive, it means "to begin [to]". That is, it's broadly synonymous with начать, but начать's meaning of "begin" is lexically inherent, whereas стать in this sense is truly auxiliary. You can say, as a complete phrase, Мы уже начали "We've already begun/started [doing smth.]", but *Мы уже стали can only mean "We've already become" and wouldn't make sense when talking about starting something.

As for the nuances of usage, стать implies less of a clear plan of action, or intent to carry it through, or a more general expectation of consequence, than начать.

Вадим стал расхаживать из стороны в сторону.

Вадим начал расхаживать из стороны в сторону.

These are both "Vadim started pacing to and fro", but the difference is, the first one is just a thing that happened; with the second one, you vaguely expect it to lead to something else. Perhaps it's a thing with Vadim that he's known to start pacing to and fro when he gets angry and is about to yell.

Мы стали обзванивать больницы.

Мы начали обзванивать больницы.

"We started calling different hospitals [around the area]", presumably because someone's gone missing. The difference is: the стали one has the implication is that they were unclear what to do or were out of options at that point. Whereas the начали one sounds more like methodically going through a missing-person checklist.

And another important nuance. A negated or interrogative auxiliary стать has a significantly different meaning. In a way, the opposite of regular стать. It doesn't even mean "to begin to" so much as "to decide/choose to", with a particular shade of meaning that I'd describe as objection-based refraining from an already proposed or implied course of action. The objection in question can equally be moral or rational.

Я не стану выманивать деньги у матери троих детей.

"I will not coax money out of a mother of three."

Разве они станут связываться с племянником олигарха?

"Do you really think they'd mess with an oligarch's nephew?"

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I will touch only the nuances of given examples in my answer.

  • "я погуляю" ("I will go out") is perfective. The implied meaning can be "I will be out, but come back soon." For example: "The dinner is not ready yet" - "I will go out for a while"
  • "я иду гулять" ("I'm going to go out") is imperfective. The implied meaning can be "I will be out, I'm done here." or "I go out, come with me?"
  • "я шёл гулять" ("I was going out") is in past tense. This can be actually "past simple", as in Баян Купи-ка's example ("обычно шёл гулять"), or "past continuous", Ex.: "Я шёл гулять, но началась гроза, и я вернулся домой" - "I was on my way out, but thunderstorm broke out, and I returned home."
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