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In my Russian textbook I came across this example:

я помогу Татьяне написать письмо.

Why is помогу used with the perfective infinitive? I was expecting an imperfective verb, because "writing" is a process.

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I was expecting an imperfective verb, because "writing" is a process.

Perfective verbs are about state transition and imperfective verbs are about state.

Usually (usually) the state implies some process, and the state transition implies the start or the end of this process, but it's not always the case.

Я помогу Татьяне писать письмо

This would mean

I will help Tatiana to stay in her "letter is being written" mode.

The state here is "the letter is being written".

This is something you would say, for instance, when the letter is 50 pages long and it takes more than one day to write it.

You don't necessarily mean that the letter will be finished after you're done helping. What you're saying is that you'll see to it that she has everything she needs to keep pushing towards the end.

Я помогу Татьяне написать письмо

This would mean

I will help Tatiana to get from the world where the letter is not done to the world where the letter is done.

The state transition happens when she has dotted all her i's and crossed all her t's and the letter is ready to be sealed and mailed.

You are saying that you'll see to it that Tatiana has everything she needs to make this transition happen and you will keep helping her until it really happens.

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Consider following pairs:

Я помогу Татьяне писать письма

and

Я помогу Татьяне написать письмо

In first case it's about helping Tatyana to write letters in general - like (let's just imagine) she is exhausted to do it on her own.

Here are some other pairs to give you idea:

  • Я помогу тебе делать домашние задания.
  • Я помогу тебе сделать домашнее задание.
  • Я покажу тебе как проходить компьютерные игры.
  • Я покажу тебе как пройти эту компьютерную игру.

The second sentence is about writing this particular letter. It's just the way the language functions and - like many, many times throughout answering at this Stack - I advise you from relying heavily on any grammar aspects but rather just memorising what and when is used.

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It means "I'm going to help Tatyana to have the letter written" or just "to write the letter".

You can't use words of one language for your assumptions regarding another language. "Writing" is a process, yes, but there is no word "writing" in the Russian sentence.

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  • Thank you for the answer, I think I now understand it. But then the sentence "я помогу Татьяне писать письмо" can be used in another context with another meaning? And if so, what would it mean? – Lukas Jul 12 '20 at 14:14

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