Здравствуйте! I speak spanish, and I'm learning russian. We're studying perfective and imperfective verbs, like читать - прочитать. I get really confuse with some глаголы, like купить & покупать, i thougth they were imperfective and perfective respectively, but it turns out that is the other way around, is there a rule for this or it's just an exception? Then another глагол wich is confusing is говорить, and разговаривать, заговаривать, поговорить, I assume that all of this are perfective глаголы of говорить, but i don't know when to use them. There are other words like полюбить that i don't understand how to use, here i have an example from the excersize book: Хуан полюбил Марию, когда они вместе учились в школе, here полюбил is perfective, but the translation isn't clear for me, is it: "Juan loved María when they were studying together in the school"? or "Juan used to love María when ...." I don't know if you can tell the difference in english, but in spanish there's a difference. Hope you can help me, спасибо большое. Thank you for your time!

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    It isn't clear if Juan still loves her, but by default he still does. So, the translation would be like: "Juan fell in love with Maria when he studied in school."
    – Artemix
    Aug 26, 2013 at 3:37
  • @Artemix what if i want to say that he used to love María, but not anymore, would be something like: Хуан любил Марию? I thought that полюбить was used when the action was over
    – Ana Galois
    Aug 26, 2013 at 18:50
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    Хуан любил Марию means Juan loved Maria. That would weakly imply it's over (the love has faded away or e.g. Juan has died), unless stated otherwise (the next phrase could be и до сих пор любит). Полюбить means to fall in love. Разлюбить means to stop loving ("to fall out of love"). You cannot easily express "used to love but not anymore" with just one verb.
    – user248
    Aug 26, 2013 at 19:58
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    @n.m. so the prefix раз- helps me to tell that любить is over?
    – Ana Galois
    Aug 26, 2013 at 20:01
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    In this case раз- means undoing or ceasing an action (раздеть: to undress, развязать: to undo a knot, расхотеть: to stop wanting). The emphasis is on more or less actively putting an end to something. There are other meanings as well. One needs to remember which meaning goes with which verb. This is not unusual, many Russian prefixes have more than one meaning.
    – user248
    Aug 26, 2013 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


Yes, this is confusing. What is happening here is that sometimes a prefix is used to change the aspect of the verb, and sometimes it is used to modify its meaning.

  • говорить means "to talk" or "to say" in general. The perfective form is сказать. Разговаривать, on the other hand, means "to have a conversation".

Он говорил о погоде. - He was talking about the weather.

Он сказал, что он был в Москве. - He has said, that he was in Moscow.

Они разговаривали. - They were talking / They were having a conversation.

Now it gets even more interesting. Заговаривать can mean "to strike up a conversation":

Он часто заговаривал с людьми на улице. - He was often striking up conversations with people on the street.

It can also mean to talk so much as to make your interlocutor tired of your talking. Он меня заговорил! On top of that заговаривать can mean "to cast a magical spell".

Поговорить means "to have a talk" with someone. Typically a short talk, but not necessarily. For example, "I need to talk to you" would be translated as Мне нужно с Вами поговорить.

  • полюбить is the easy one. It simply means "to fall in love".
  • Thanks a lot, i have one more cuestion, i thought that сказать was used only to qoute someone, like your example, but if it is the perfective of говорить then, can i say Я сказалa c "моя сестра"? (i know that this example has grammatical mistakes, but i don't know how to write "with my sister" just yet)
    – Ana Galois
    Aug 26, 2013 at 19:02
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    No, that will not work. Сказать can only be used in the sense "to say" or "to tell", but not "to talk". You can say "Я говорила с моей сестрой", meaning "I was talking with my sister". Or you can say "Я сказала моей сестре об этом", meaning "I told my sister about this."
    – Dima
    Aug 26, 2013 at 19:54

Perfective / imperfective verbs in Russian is a way of expressing grammatical aspect of a verb. Aspect is a very important grammatical category, along with tense and mood, and probably all world languages have means of expressing it one way or another.

In English, the perfective meaning is often expressed with the auxiliary verb have, hence the names for differrent "perfective" tenses like Present Perfect, Past Perfect etc.

In Russian, perfective / imperfective meaning is often encoded in prefixes or more rarely suffixes.

There are quite a lot of different prefixes and suffixes in Russian, and of course, there's no reason to remember them when you start learning Russian. Just remember what aspect a verb has, if possible, but don't get too overwhelmed, it will make more sense with more practice.

Perfective meaning is often expressed with prefixes like по- or с- and sometimes suffixes like -ну-.

For example, compare imperfective / perfective pairs like просить - попросить (ask/be asking - have asked), делать - сделать (do/be doing - have done), улыбаться - улыбнуться (smile/be smiling - have smiled/give a smile).

An example of an imperfective suffix is -ыва-: забыть - забывать (have forgotten - forget/be forgetting), закрыть - закрывать (have closed - be closing).

Also, in your example, купить - покупать, it's the suffix that changes the aspectual meaning, not the prefix по-. Compare another similar pair закупить - закупать. In these verbs, the suffix -и- expresses perfectiveness and the suffix -a- expresses imperfectiveness. But it's only true for some verbs, others can use -и- for imperfective meanings, e.g. стелить 'spread, lay' and клеить 'to glue' are imperfective.

As you can see, it's not always easy to "guess" the aspect simply by looking at the verb. But it will get easier when you've learned a good number of Russian verbs because there's a common pattern. Always consult a good dictionary when in doubt.

Even when you know what aspect a verb has, it can still be tricky to figure out when to use perfective versus imperfective, as the aspectual meaning is quite abstract.

A general rule would be:

Use imperfective verbs for repeated and/or continuous actions:

Я говори́л ей не гуля́ть допоздна́. (I told her / I kept telling her not to go out until late at night.)

Here, the imperfective говорить implies a repeated past action. I told her numerous times in the past.

Use perfective verbs for short and/or one time and/or finished actions.

Я сказа́л ей не гуля́ть допоздна́. (I told her not to go out until late at night.)

Here, the perfective сказать refers to a one-time past action. It implies that I told her one time / on one occasion.

But this is just a very general rule. Aspect + tense + context produce a wide variety of different shades of meanings.

So always feel free to ask about specific verbs and contexts for more explanation.

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