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How would these tenses and aspects translate into Russian? I realize that the two languages use a different system, but it seems to me that if I knew how each of these aspects translated than I would have a much easier time with picking aspects of Russian verbs. And English–Russian translators deal with this reality every day, so there must be some answer to the question.

(or no?)—anyway, i didn't see a post like this, so i thought it might be useful.

Aspect and Tense

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    As someone who deals with this reality: any table of correspondences would state the obvious half the time and be useless otherwise. The things that matter when it comes to verb form selection in English simply aren't, at least half the time, the things that matter in Russian. You can't go without deconstructing the English meaning and reconstructing it in Russian — from ideas and not words. – Nikolay Ershov Apr 23 '15 at 6:04
  • I'd say there are certain patterns of use but no table with one to one correspondence. Past and Future Simple (sometimes Present Perfect) will give you most pain. Present Perfect Continuous is either substituted with the present of with a past form (depending on whether you are still doing that). However, you can break down different usage cases, and then there is indeed some correspondence. – Shady_arc Apr 25 '15 at 13:15
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    To give you an example, "I have eaten all of the pizza" is no different from "I ate all of the pizza" in its core meaning. You just use them in different situations, i.e. it is your goal that matters. And that's why non-native Enlgish speakers have trouble mastering their use: both sentences are correct, but it's important WHY you mentioned the fact of eating pizza. Oftentimes that's what happens with aspects. Half of the time there are formal reasons to choose, say, imperfective. At other times it is the big picture that drives your choice, and not the context inside the sentence. – Shady_arc Apr 25 '15 at 13:20
  • Please, care to accept answer after some time passed by and you find it was helpful. – shabunc Aug 3 '15 at 23:20
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Well, that's quite an interesting question. But to say how the tenses correspond to each other we must first know what they really mean in both languages. And this is where we may fail as everyone knows well at most only one language. But let's try anyway.

English Continuous tense means: "I'd like to point out that some action is still in progress". It is always to be translated into Russian Imperfective... but not vice versa! Because Russian Imperfective really means: "Action is not completed". Sure, if something "is in progress" it is not completed, but it may be uncompleted and no progressing at all. (And even worse, English speakers use Continuous tense only when they wish to say that the action is in progress, so Continuous tense is used relatively rare compared to Indefinite one).

Thus we have so far

I was eating pizza when you arrived ---> Когда ты пришёл, я ел пиццу

I am eating pizza right now ---> Прямо сейчас я ем пиццу

I will be eating pizza when you arrive ---> Когда ты придёшь, я буду есть пиццу.

Note that I put "when" and "right now" in the start of Russian sentences as these words are now the only "containers" of that "continuous" meaning, so usually it's a good idea to say them early.

Now to Perfect tense. It's like a "mirror" for Continuous tense: "I'd like to point out that some action is completed". It nicely fits into Russian Perfective, yet, again, not vice versa as there's no "I'd like to" in Russian Perfective: it means "simply finished" and nothing more. (Now you should understand why Russians use English Present Perfect tense so often: they think in terms of Russian Perfective, and everything which is "simply finished" sadly becomes "has been finished" in that "Russian" English).

So

I had eaten all of the pizza when you arrived ---> Когда ты пришёл, я уже съел всю пиццу (or maybe Я съел всю пиццу, пока ты шёл)

I have eaten all of the pizza ---> Я съел всю пиццу

I will have eaten all of the pizza by the time you arrive ---> Я съем всю пиццу, пока ты придёшь

A couple of notes again. Translating English Perfect into Russian Perfective is a pain. The sentence "Я съел всю пиццу, когда ты пришёл" has no sense as it may mean both(!) "before" and "together". That's quite natural because both "съел" and "пришёл" are Perfective and there's no magic default rule of the verb agreement. So we desperately need some extra mark such as "уже" (already) or "пока" (while).

Next, Perfect Continuous tense. For my Russian mind it looks like "помесь ежа и ужа" (the hybrid of hedgehog and natrix). It means "the action is partially completed yet still in progress". What's more important here? Of course, the progress is (and thence the fact the action is not yet completed). So Russians use Imperfective.

Now we have

I had been eating pizza for two hours when you arrived ---> Я уже два часа ел пиццу, когда ты пришёл

I have been eating pizza for two hours ---> Я ем пиццу уже два часа

I will have been eating pizza for two hours when you arrive -> Я уже два часа буду есть пиццу, когда ты придёшь

To emphasize that "Perfect tense" I have to use the word "уже" (already). The "Continuous" tense is expressed by Imperfective itself.

And now we finally got to Simple tense. What does it mean in English? There are two main cases when people use Simple tense: either it's the gap between Continuous and Perfect, i.e. the action is neither completed nor is progressing, or simply they don't care to have all the setup with words "after", "before", "as", "while" etc. etc. Yet those cases may be totally different! Consider "Yesterday I ate some pizza at McDonald's" vs the following dramatic dialogue: "Hey, man! Where's my pizza?" - "Sorry, dude. I ate the pizza yesterday". In the first example you can't use either Continuous or Perfect as you're not eating the pizza right now nor you mean you've finished all that big yummy pizza a whole. That's a job for Russian Imperfective as it doesn't require the actual progress in eating pizzas. Only the uncompleteness is enough for it (but if you really mean you finished your pizza you may use Perfective, and probably along with the word "piece", unless you're a true gourmand: "Вчера я съел кусок пиццы"). Yet in the second example, surely, that terrible crime was fully committed and the poor pizza now is in your inside. And there's nothing left in the refrigerator for the hungry friend of yours. Just you're too lazy to explain to him whether you'd finished it by yesterday breakfast or by yesterday lunch. And that's a job for Russian Perfective as it's not interested in the fine timings but only in the final results.

So we have

I ate pizza yesterday ---> either "Я ел пиццу вчера" (just to inform of my menu) or "Я съел пиццу вчера" (and nothing left of it)

I eat pizza everyday ---> Я ем пиццу каждый день

I will eat pizza tomorrow ---> either "Завтра я буду есть пиццу" (just planning my menu) or "Я съем пиццу завтра" (gonna finish this pizza tomorrow)

Note that unlike Past or Future the Simple Present tense translates only into Imperfective as there can't be a completed result in the Present tense.

Although this correspondence is no way complete, I hope even in this state it could be of some use.

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  • "why Russians use English Present Perfect tense so often" - actually I believe it is hypercorrection. For me the perfect tense simply has no sense, so I make effort to insert it here and there so not to sound awkward. – Anixx Dec 9 '16 at 16:15
  • "Simple Present tense translates only into Imperfective as there can't be a completed result in the Present tense." - what about "я съедаю пиццу каждый день"? – Anixx Dec 9 '16 at 16:26
  • @Anixx, 'Съедаю' in your example is repetitive imperfective. There's a more curious case when imperfective present is used in narration about past events: "И знаешь, что случилось дальше? Я съедаю кусок пиццы, выпиваю квасу, и вот тут у меня живот как разболится!" Note that all four verbs here refer to actions that were perfected: "случилось", "съедаю/выпиваю", "разболится". However, "съедаю/выпиваю" is formally imperfective because the narrator used present tense here. – ach Dec 9 '16 at 17:12
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Let us consider only one single cell:

For the unique top-left cell of the table, the cell are further subdivided into header and data cells in Russian.

                         +-------+
                         | I ate |
                         |       |
                         +-------+
                             |
                             |

               Imperfective  &   Perfective       
                       \  partners  /     
                    +--------+--------+        
                    |  есть  | съесть |    infinitive 
                    +-----------------+      
   -- Singular --   |        |        |     
                    |        |        |     
  Masculine Past    |  ел    | съел   |    I, you, he
                    |        |        |        
  Feminine  Past    |  ела   | съела  |    I, you, she
                    |        |        |        
  Neuter    Past    |  ело   | съело  |    I, you, it
  - - - - - - - - - + - - -  + - - -  +    - - - - - - -   
                    |        |        |
  Plural & Polite   |  ели   | съели  |    we, you, they    
                    |        |        |        
  - - - - - - - - - +--------+--------+        

This lets us to say more by writing less in Russian. Compare:

  еcт     it eats           съест     it will eat
  едим    we eat            съедим    we shall eat
  едят    they eat          съедят    they will eat

What the aspect actually is

                                           A dog greedily ate her meat.
                                                           .
                                                           .
                             NO · · · · · ·  Собака жадно ела мясо.
  are you sure she          /                              .
  swallowed it whole? _____/                               .
                           \                               .
                            \YES · · · · · · Собака жадно съела мясо.
                                                          =====
                                                            |
                         She has already eaten her meat ____|



      She ate in quick gulps, and never got enough. 
          ===
           |
   Imperf ?|? Perf
           |
       (ела/съела) торопливо, и никогда не бывала сыта.

Does it look so simple? In my opinion, for beginning Russian, think of that no more. Before we can quickly and easily applying those aspects, we must first improve our knowledge of the process on compound words — the graphic first-level elements in Russian.

We shall consider an application how to combining a prefix (or sometimes two prefixes) with the root and suffix.

       Two points coincide.

English:    co-in-cid-e
            |   |   |
           with |  fall   ·········  unfamiliar Latin form -cide (fall)
            |  into |
            со  |  пад    ·········  everyday Russian stem, ex: in падать 
            |   в   |     
            |   |   |     .········  they, unknown as long and now continues
            |   |   |    /
Russian:    со- в- пад -ают

       Две точки совпадают. 

In Russian the process on compound words is used very wide and extensively:


                push to the limit,               
                    finally                      
                  (и наконец)                    
 Imperfective          |             Perfective       
         \             |              /          
      переписывал   (---->)     переписал        | недописывал, недописавший, недописывая, недописаться, недонадписывал ...+ -ший, -ся ..., пописывал  ...+ -ший, -ся ...,  записывал ..., записывался, недозаписывал, расписывал, расписывался, отписывал, вписывал, надписывал, пописывал,  
      читал         (---->)     прочитал         | дочитал, дочитался, дочитавшись, дочитывая, недочитал, ...+ -ший, -ся ..., считал, вчитался, почитал, начитал, отчитался, дочитал, ...
      делил         (---->)     разделил         | разделил, недоразделил, переделил, недопеределил, обделил, выделил, уделил, наделил, отделил, поделил, + ... + -ший, -ся ...,
      таял          (---->)     растаял          | растаял, дотаял, утаял, оттаял, стаял, протаял, потаял, надтаял, недорастаял, ...
      белил         (---->)     побелил          | ...
      пахал         (---->)     вспахал          | ... 

In Russian the process on compound words remain much more clearly visible than in English, so focus on it.

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By the way, I came across this not too long ago—

enter image description here

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1

Actually, there is no such a sophisticated tense system in Russian. Basically, there are only three tenses - Past, Present and Future. In Russian it doesn't matter whether an action is being committed at the moment of speech or has been committed just before this moment. So, you should usually pay attention to the time of action and translate your statements to Russian according to this. The only exception is the Present Perfect Tense - it can be translated into Russian both as a past or present form, depending on context. If an action has been done by the moment of speech, it's considered to happen in the Past. If an action started some time ago and is lasting in the moment of speech, it's expressed using the Present tense.

One more thing is that in Perfect tenses, unlike others, verbs can be translated into Russian in perfective forms. For example, the sentense from your tenses table "I have eaten all the pizza" is translated as Я съел всю пиццу. However, the example given by @Nikolay Ershov "I've worked here for five years" is translated as Я работаю здесь [уже] пять лет.

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  • The present perfect is just as often translated with the Russian present as with the past. I've worked here for five years is Я работаю здесь [уже] пять лет. – Nikolay Ershov Apr 23 '15 at 6:09
  • @NikolayErshov, agree. I'll update the answer. – Ivan Apr 23 '15 at 6:28
  • "Продолженное время" часто может быть выражено деепричастным оборотом. – Matt Apr 23 '15 at 6:29
  • @NikolayErshov That would be present perfect continuous. – jwalker Apr 23 '15 at 9:42
  • @jwalker More commonly, yes. But there do seem to be authentic enough examples of simple PP in this usage too. – Nikolay Ershov Apr 23 '15 at 10:46

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