They both seems to mean “to aim”, but dictionaries seem to indicate that it’s:

наце́лить – наце́ливать

which constitute an aspectual pair, and not

це́лить – наце́лить

as I have previously thought.

  • 2
    Нацеливать implies an object (e.g. нацеливать ружье - to aim a rifle). Целить can be used figuratively in the sense 'to have some aim, goal' (e.g. Он целит в президенты компании - He is aiming at the president's seat in the company)
    – alexsms
    May 22, 2019 at 8:01

3 Answers 3


So there are a few things going on here.

  1. In Russian verbs can contain prefixes (like на- here) and hence change its meaning and even grammatical properties. So such verbs are not always a pair, since they are actually two different words which have the same root (цел).

  2. In this situation in English нацелить и целить do mean the same thing, but the difference comes from the grammatical usage. Целить is an intransitive verb, whereas both нацелить и нацеливать are transitive verbs. An intransitive verb means that it does not allow a direct object, when transitive verbs do.

In Russian a direct object (called прямое дополнение) doesn't have any prepositions in front of it. A word which serves as a direct object is usually in the accusative or sometimes in the genitive case. Indirect objects would be constructed with a use of prepositions before a word and are conjugated in other cases.

So an intransitive verb Целить would be then:

Целить в мишень. Целить из ружья в мишень. To aim at the target. To aim a shotgun at the target.

Transitive verbs нацелить and нацеливать would be:

Нацелить ружье. Нацеливать ружье. To aim a shotgun.

  1. The difference between нацелить and нацеливать is that one is a perfective verb, whereas the second is imperfective.

Perfective verbs describe the action that happened or were supposed to happen once, the action that has already finished or it will only start. Due to the fact that the verb implies a finished action, it is never used in the present tense, it only has past and future forms.

Нацелить ружье. In English it would still mean "To aim a shotgun". The difference is more obvious in Russian when you don't use infinitive forms.

So let's consider the verbs in the past:

Он нацелил ружье. He aimed his shotgun. Action complete, he's ready to shoot.

Imperfective verb describes the action that is taking place at the current moment, actions with no indication of the start and the end, and actions that haven’t finished yet or actions are repeated multiple times. These verbs have past, present and future forms.

Он нацелиВАл ружье. He has been aiming his shotgun. Action was in progress, we don't know if he succeeded or not with aiming, we just know he's been doing it somewhere in the past.

  • Thanks for explaining, it’s the transitivity which got me. Can I also use в что-л. with нацелить, as in Нацелить ружьё во врага? May 22, 2019 at 6:52
  • 1
    Yes, certainly. May 22, 2019 at 7:38
  • It's a bit offtopic, but the examples have more correct translations. At first, about нацеливать, it translates as to target in practically all usecases with little amount of exceptions. At second, ружьё is shotgun in absolutely all cases. At the same time, the most correct translation of gun is пушка. I need to clarify it. gun and пушка have been meaning a weapon that throws projectiles using firepower. It could imply a cannon (aka артиллерийское орудие) or even a pistol (aka пистолет) in speech of movie gangsters. May 23, 2019 at 8:49
  • These are not exceptions, but additional meanings of the word. I assume that’s why in dictionaries all the meanings are numbered, as they all have a possibility to occur. As for the usage of a word gun as пушка, it’s quite an archaic and classic meaning, in the common English language a gun is a very collective word which also implies weapons like pistol, rifle and etc. Just google and find many news websites using “gun” instead of specifying what types of guns they refer to. Here is an example buzzfeednews.com/article/danvergano/more-guns-more-crime. May 23, 2019 at 19:14
  • I will change ружьё to shotgun though, because if you do care about this specific type of gun, shotgun is the correct translation indeed. May 23, 2019 at 19:19

Both words aren't used in used in the modern language, you wouldn't hear them in hunters' or shooters' societies/clubs. Just in literature. If a word hasn't everyday user, practically nobody could say what it means.

The correct modern translation of 'to aim' is 'прицелить'.

  • Does it behave the same way grammatically? Would that be прицелить – прицеливать? May 22, 2019 at 7:51
  • 1
    Yes, the same. он прицелил, она прицелила, они прицелили он прицеливал, она прицеливала, они прицеливали он будет прицеливать, она будет прицеливать, они будут прицеливать "он получил команду прицелиться по ближайшему танку" May 22, 2019 at 7:54
  • Why is reflexive only in the last example though? May 22, 2019 at 7:56
  • Typical usage of the word is "прицеливать (что?) винтовку" and "прицеливаться по (куда?) мишени". I mentioned tank as a target. If the whole sentence has weapon and target together then it could "он прицеливал орудие по танку" and "он прицеливался по мишени из винтовку". May 22, 2019 at 8:02
  • "Целить" и "нацелить" don't only mean "to direct a gun", it's incorrect to say that both words aren't used nowadays. In the context of "aiming guns", "прицелить" has only one meaning. But "to aim" has more meanings as "we aim to give you the best service" or "he aimed at changing narrative", or "I aim for a perfect score". The question didn't indicate in what meaning "to aim" was needed. Plus you can't use "прицелить" in these sentences: "он нацелил бинокль", "мы нацелены на гору", "книга нацелена на школьников", "в кого целила эта шутка?". May 23, 2019 at 5:16

The most sufficient difference is that целить can be used without a direct object (= целиться, метить, направлять выстрел) while нацели(ва)ть can't (only нацеливать ружьё, пистолет... на что-либо, куда-либо).

Целил в ворону, а попал в корову. (поговорка)

Вдруг вижу, что он вынул и целит пистолет (Л. Добринская)

To aim at = целиться в

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.