I've noticed that imperfective can be used in questions where one might expect Perfective.

Мы должны провести подобный эксперимент. —We should carry out a similar experiment.

А когда его проводить? —When are we to carry it out?

Пожалуйста напечатай мне пару страниц. —Please type a couple of pages for me.

Хорошо. Что печатать? —All right. What is to be typed?

While watering a Garden—

Что поливать сегодня? —What should I water today?

3 Answers 3


It's natural to shift tenses or aspects in casual speech. Compare with English: - You will go to Canada to deal with this. - OK. When am I going?

It seems that (at least in your examples) if a person asks for something the perfective is preferable (sounds natural in orders or requests, please do it, сделай..., etc.), but the person answering is thinking about the process, how they are going to do it - so from their point of view the imperfective may often fit better (что делать? как делать? etc.).

Besides in your examples the second person doesn't really answer. They comment on the situation and are free to choose imperfective, as they continue the dialogue in a natural way.

NOTE: что, где, когда are irrelevant here. So your question might look better if you just ask WHY imperfective is used in the answer/comment, when perfective is used in the question/starting remark.

  • 1
    This use of the imperfective is most common when question words are used. The speaker focuses on the place, time, why, of an action and not its completion. (I checked a few references). The focus goes on the question word, and not so much on the verb. Your answer is very good. Thanks.
    – Skye
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 17:23
  • 1
    My personal feeling here is that by using Present Continuous - When am I going? a party conveys their agreement, compliance. Saying like that the process is already going they signal that the decision is made that it is final, and while the physical movement may not started yet, the very process in a broader sense is already going.
    – Arioch
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 16:51

It's also like that in English, i.e. you don't normally say "What should I have watered tomorrow".

Future perfect implies that there'll be a process of accomplishing that task before it's actually accomplished, so both is logically correct. (and imperfective is just easier to construct).

А когда его проводить? || А когда мы должны его провести?

Хорошо. Что печатать? || Хорошо. Что напечатать?

Что поливать сегодня? || Что полить сегодня?


You can also use Perfective, there are hardly any expectations you are talking about.

Мы должны провести подобный эксперимент. —We should carry out a similar experiment.

А когда планируется его провести? —When it is planned (by us) to be carried out (and completed) ?

Пожалуйста напечатай мне пару страниц. —Please complete typing a couple of pages for me. (You got it wrong here, "на" means complete-, it would literally mean complete-type)

Хорошо. Что напечатать? —All right. What is to be typed (and completed) ?

While watering a Garden—

Что полить сегодня? —What have I to water today?

Then you translate correctly translated statement into their approximate English equivalents. Your mistake is that you are trying to perform a translation from approximate one in Russian to approximate one in English directly. You can either make it long to retain the original intention or give up and make it short, but approximate.

  • "Please complete typing a couple of pages for me"—Nobody speaks like that. "Type" in the English sentence implies (to the end, completely). You are right that perfective can be used, but it usually isn't. That's why books on grammar include a section like this—with imperfective questions. Its pretty standard. As for your last paragraph, it doesn't seem to be connected to my question.
    – Skye
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 3:34
  • Nobody speaks like that, but it would look similar if you were to provide a more precise translation. Generally speaking, you can't claim that the translation is 100% correct unless you do something like that, Otherwise, logically it would be ALWAYS not 100% correct translation even though it would be acceptable in the speech - if you miss the original logic of the sentance. Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 3:46

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