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Looking помнить and вспомнить up in a dictionary yields the same results. Is there any difference between them?

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    There are some other interesting variations here: - вспоминать means "to reminisce" - напомнить means "to remind" – Dima Apr 24 '13 at 14:02
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Помнить is just "to remember" in sense to keep in mind, to retain (in the memory), so it is not bind any temporal context.

Closest to вспомнить is "to recall", "to recollect". So it is something about having something in mind again.

Compare:

  • Мария помнит о работе. (Maria [always] remembers about the job).
  • Мария вспомнила о работе. ([All of a sudden] Maria remembered about the job).

I guess you are confused because in English you can express both of this with remember, but, be warned, in Russian phrase such like "он вдруг помнил" is incorrect.

Also, it worth to mention that by adding prefix вс- (or вз- with voiced consonants) to some other verbs gives a connotation of suddenness as well.

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    In some cases using вс- or вз- prefix indicates completed action, as opposed to a continuous one, e.g. вспахать, вставить. – Aleks G Apr 24 '13 at 8:20
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    @AleksG, well, may be, I'm not so sure. In any case, I'm not claiming that suddenness is the only thing that this prefix could indicate. But at least "вставить" is an incorrect example in any case, since the root is "ставить" and therefore there's no вс- prefix at all. – shabunc Apr 24 '13 at 8:25
  • Point taken. I do agree with your answer though. – Aleks G Apr 24 '13 at 8:53
  • @AleksG, you know what, after a bit of thought I've came up to conclusion that вставить is indeed can be a reduced form of вс-ставить, but once again, I'm not sure, such things should be checked. – shabunc Apr 24 '13 at 12:49
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помнить and вспомнить are imperfective and perfective aspects of the same verb. See Russian Verbs - Aspect

That's why you probably find both of them when looking up 'remember'. And in the Russian-English dictionary again they both refer to 'remember'. Do not get confused by other examples mentioned here. Almost all Russian verbs have 2 aspects:

помнить - вспомнить
напоминать - напомнить
вспоминать - вспомнить
поминать - помянуть
мнить - возомнить
мять - смять
внимать - внять
вставлять - вставить
таять - растаять

The rules for forming perfective aspect from imperfective exist but most of the time you'll have to learn these two forms for each verb and even for each meaning of the verb separately. Eg.:

держать слово - сдержать слово (keep your word)
держать ложку - взять вилку (hold a spoon - take a fork)

It's probably one of the hardest things to learn for a foreigner as for a native speaker most of this is very intuitive.

Eg. although помнить and вспоминать are both in the imperfective aspect and they both have the same perfective counterpart they still have different meaning:

Ты его помнишь? - Do you remember him?
Ты часто его вспоминаешь? - Do you reminisce/recall/recollect him often?
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Помнить - to remember, to actively keep remembering, indicating an ongoing process.

Вспомнить - to recall something that you did not actively keep in mind, to all of a sudden remember something.

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