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In a Russian dialogue course, I came across the following snippet in which the questioner uses the imperfective phrase мне выходить, and the respondent uses the perfective phrase вам выйти, and was curious as to why the conscious choice to use a different verb aspect in the response than that used in the original question:

  • А на какой станции метро мне выходить?
  • Лучше всего вам выйти на станции «Площадь восстания».
  • an awesome question on a very tricky aspect of Russian! – shabunc Mar 4 '20 at 17:12
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    Good to know! I'll look forward to an explanation 👍🏼 – CocoPop Mar 4 '20 at 17:14
  • I think the replying person may sometimes use another aspect (tense) in other languages too. Cf., - Where do we get off? - We'd rather get off at the next station. – alexsms Mar 5 '20 at 11:03
  • @alexsms In your example they use GET OFF in both cases. My question is about aspect, not tense. – CocoPop Mar 5 '20 at 23:55
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Russian imperfective and perfective verbs, in what is technically the imperative, convey different moods: сядьте and выйдите are imperatives ("do as you're told"), садитесь and выходите are optatives ("do if you feel like that"). This is close to English "go" vs "you should be going."

The same holds for interrogative dative constructs: мне выйти? means "do you want me to get off?" and мне выходить means "shall I be getting off?"

If you ask a stranger где мне выйти?, it would be somewhat rude for them to answer this question as asked and it's somewhat rude for you to force them to answer this question.

That's why you use the imperfective construct when asking the question.

If they were to answer you in the imperative, they would have probably used the imperfective in their answer too: Выходите на Площади Восстания. This would be a perfectly valid and polite answer, something you're likely to actually hear in the St. Petersburg metro.

But they are using an indirect phrase, and this modality rule does not work (or, rather, is much weaker) in this case. So they're using the perfective, as лучше всего вам выходить would mean something you would do every day, not just once.

The same way, you could have used the indirect phrase in your question: где мне лучше выйти and this would be ok too.

Also note that all above are very fine shades of politeness, so you can probably hear all combinations of perfective and imperfective in real speech.

It's very similar to the difference between "you should go" vs. "you better go" vs. "you should be going" vs. "you better be going" in English.

  • That was very informative and interesting - thank you for your response)) – CocoPop Mar 6 '20 at 12:58
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While (very) fine shades of politeness may exist, I can't but mention that at least in the Russian I'm familiar with, this dialogue with aspects interchanged

  • А на какой станции метро мне выйти?
  • Лучше всего вам выходить на станции «Площадь восстания».

sounds almost exactly the same, and most speakers won't notice any difference at all, provided that this is a dialogue regarding a one-off trip.

However, if a daily routine is being discussed, only the imperfective (выходить) will do.

  • Very interesting indeed - thank you))) – CocoPop Mar 6 '20 at 12:53

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