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Textbooks teach that a negative perfective is used to express a failure to do something. This is confusing to me in regard to certain verbs — especially понравиться.

In the following sentence:

Ма́ма купи́ла сы́ну брю́ки. Они́ не __________ ему́.

I thought the correct form was нравились, meaning that "He didn't like them". However, the answer key says the correct answer is понравились.

At this point, I could not decide whether понравились is used because of the sequence of events (ie. the mother bought the trousers first and then the son didn't like them later on) or to give the meaning that he tried to like them (maybe to make the mother happy), but he just couldn't. I'd appreciate an explanation. Thanks!

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понравились is used because apparently the mother bought these trousers in her son's absence, and when he saw them, he completed the single act of evaluating them and didn't like them. That's why the perfective verb is used.

If they had gone shopping together and the mother had bought these trousers despite her son not liking them (both before and after she bought them), it could be phrased as:

Мама купила сыну брюки, хотя они ему не нравились.

Another subtle hint from the native speaker is that понравились can go before ему but нравились can not. "Они не нравились ему" sounds unnatural. "Они ему не (по)нравились" can be used with both words.

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  • Does "Они не нравились ему" seem okay in a context like "Они не нравились ему, хотя матери нравились", where there is a clear contrast? Jan 19 at 15:02
  • As I have said it is a subtle thing, having to do with semantic word ordering and emotion. In some context it would be perfectly natural or even mandatory to order words like this. Не нравились ему очки, наотрез отказывался надевать их в школу.
    – alamar
    Jan 19 at 15:24
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"Понравиться" is a perfective verb, i.e., one describing a process that was or has been completed.
"Нравиться" is an imperfective verb, оne describing a process in progress.

In your example, I would therefore use "понравились" — assuming that first the pants were bought and then the son didn't like them, and his expression of dislike was a completed action.

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