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As far as I know, when conjugating the verb for the I pronoun you will use ю or у. I was wondering if there was a trick to knowing when to use which one.

Examples:

я читаю — I read
я живу — I live

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  • Don't you need to learn by heart the 1st p. singular present tense form of the Russian verbs so as to know the present tense stem of each verb?
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 18 '15 at 18:27
  • I'm sorry, I didn't understand your question very well.
    – Fry
    Feb 20 '15 at 0:04
  • I mean the question is not whether it is ю or у, but what the present stem of the verb is. If you know the present stem, you just add the sound [y] to it, and you get the 1st person present tense form, the one which goes after the pronoun я. In writing you do an elementary adjustment as for choosing the letter ю or у, but phonetically it always ends in [y], except for 2 verbs in which it ends in [m]. But it takes time and effort to learn how to make the present stems, they are usually different from the infinitive stems, which are called past stems, because the past tense is formed from them.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 20 '15 at 0:44
  • In learning Russian, it's easier to learn by heart the present form for each verb, because there are many irregular verbs, and they are used very often.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 20 '15 at 0:46
  • 1
    No. The dictionary form is the infinitive, it can end in -ть. If you drop that ending, you get the infinitive stem: чита-ть, the Inf. stem is чита-, you make the past tense from it, я чита-л. But the present stem is читай-, so ‘I read’ is я читай-у, and й+у=ю, so я читаю. Хотеть—to want: Inf. stem хоте-, past tense я хотел—I wanted, but the Pres. stem is хоч-, я хочу—I want. Давать—to give, Inf. stem дава-, past tense я давал—I gave, but the Pres. stem is дай-, я дай-у > даю—I give. Брать—to take, Inf. stem бра-, past tense я брал - I took, but the Pres. stem is бер-, я беру - I take, etc.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 20 '15 at 1:44
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Another way to know is to first identify if the verb is 1st or 2nd conjugation. 1st conj verbs have -ешь, ет, -ем, etc. 2nd conj verbs have -ишь, -ит, -им, etc.

For most 1st conj verbs remove the -ть -ти of the infinitive. If the resulting (present tense) stem ends in a vowel add -ю -ют: читаю, делают, теряю, теряют, старею, стареют. There are some high frequency 1st conj verbs that require altering the present tense stem, but once the alteration is made the same rule applies: советовать - советую, жевать - жую, петь - пою.

If the present tense stem (of 1st conj verbs) ends in a consonant, then add -у, -ут: иду, пишу, беру. There are a handful of mostly low frequency exceptions.

For all 2nd conj verbs remove the ть of the infinitive and whatever vowel precedes to find the present tense stem. For 2nd conj verbs the endings are -ю, -ят (говорю, стою, говорят, стоят unless the stem ends in a husher, then the spelling rule applies: получить - получу, получат, спешить - спешу, спешат

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  • Also note that verbs cannot end with -сю, -тю, -зю, or -дю. If the above rule would produce such a form, replace -сю_↠ _-шу, -стю_↠ _-щу, -тю_↠-чу_, and -дю,зю_↠_жу. For example, просить - прошу, простить - прощу, шутить - шучу, сидеть - сижу, грузить - гружу.
    – J-mster
    Feb 19 '15 at 21:15
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-ю normally indicates a verb stem ending with a soft consonant (in case of читаю it is читаj-). -у indicates a verb stem ending with a hard consonant.

However, it not always works this way. Zaliznyak grammatical dictionary (online version) identifies some regular patterns that may help you to figure out how to form 1st person singular:

  1. Verbs ending with -ать, -ять, -еть, similar to читать, гулять, жалеть - end with -ю (читаю, гуляю, жалею)
  2. Verbs ending with -овать/-евать, like требовать, танцевать - end with -ю (требую, танцую)
  3. Verbs ending with -нуть - end with -у (тонуть - тону)
  4. Verbs ending with -ить - if a stem ends with a sibilant (ж, ш, с, з, ч, щ) or т/д, then the first person, singular would end with -у; otherwise -ю. Please note consonants in a stem may change.
  5. If verbs ending with -ать and the stem ending with a sibilant - 1st singular ends with -у; some verbs with a stem ending with т/д and the ending -еть, like вертеть, change the stem to ч/ж and -у (верчу)
  6. Verbs ending with -сть, -зть, -сти, -зти, -чь - end with -у in 1st singular

Also, there are some irregular verbs and small groups of verbs that follow some specific conjugation patterns, so the best way is to check all personal verbal forms for each particular verb at Wiktionary.

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  • 2
    A strange rule. What about они стоят - я стою, они возят - я вожу, любят - люблю, едят - ем, etc.?
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 18 '15 at 23:17
  • Well-deserved criticism. My bad, I confused the rules, sorry. I have edited my answer and add more information. Feb 19 '15 at 3:11
  • Офигеть трудно учить все эти правила. Не представляю себе, как иностранцам удаётся выучить русский. Я бы точно не смог.
    – user31264
    May 28 '15 at 8:13
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Verbs with infinitive forms which are similar can have non-past endings for 1st person singular and 3rd person plural forms which are not the same; note verbs such as бросать (бросают), сосать (сосут), писать (пишут). Most grammars approach this difference by explaining that many Russian verbs have two underlying stems, a past stem and a non-past (which includes the perfective future forms) stem which must be learned for each verb. This disparity results from underlying historical processes. Another approach is to postulate that verbs have a single underlying stem (single-stem approach introduced by Roman Jacobson) whereby the final form is produced using a series of rules which alter the initial state of the stem and ending. Structurally, the latter approach is the most interesting with respect to understanding better the nature of the Russian verb system; however, there are pedagogical issues associated with this approach. (http://www.lesbaileyev.com/Project/cssRFindex.html)

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