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Thread: The Problem with Verbal Aspects

  1. #1
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    The Problem with Verbal Aspects

    As I've now got to a point where I believe I have "some" knowledge on verbal aspect but I keep getting stung by conferring my ideas with Russians. Now believe me, I've read more forum topics, more online lessons, and more pages of the same russian grammar book about verbal aspects and EVERY SINGLE TIME I think/know I've got it, someone destroys me world.

    Okay my understand in example;

    Ты купила рыбу для ужина сегодня вечером (now I'm using perfective to suggest that this was PRE-DISCUSSED fish, a one time completed action as it is for tonight's dinner, and god knows I want some fish tonight).

    Then I might say "So is that the correct aspect, I couldn't use покупал could I?" And several natives Russians answer, "Yes you can use the imperfective". But here lies the problem. As English doesn't have Imperf/Perf there is no real way to translate them, although attempts have been made by some books using "bought/was buying". So both aspects equal the same thing in English, but the backstory is I guess what dictates which you should use, and by doing one sentence examples and asking if both could be used, i guess russians would say yes, both WORK, but do they convey what I am actually trying to express.

    Another example I wanted to say "I have never ate solyanka so I will eat it tomorrow"... I used я поем завтра... as in my head, I want to say, I´m going to eat solyanka tomorrow, that is my plan. Then I am told again that буду есть could be used. Now i don´t doubt the native Russian obviously, but it must imply something different, and have some different backstory to what I am trying to say.. IT MUST? Right? I assumed it to be, I will be eating like Когда я в России, я буду есть много супов. But no matter how much I learn, I am constantly told both can be used but... without knowing what led to that moment, I don't ACTUALLY know the subtle differences. Maybe someone could give me a short story/conversation which use есть and поесть excessively.

    </endBrain>

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    Властелин Deborski's Avatar
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    I feel your pain, Shakey!

    Verbs and verb aspects are the hardest thing about Russian, по-моему. Будет интересно читать ответи
    Вот потому, что вы говорите то, что не думаете, и думаете то, что не думаете, вот в клетках и сидите. И вообще, весь этот горький катаклизм, который я здесь наблюдаю, и Владимир Николаевич тоже…

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    Ты купила рыбу для ужина сегодня вечером (now I'm using perfective to suggest that this was PRE-DISCUSSED fish, a one time completed action as it is for tonight's dinner, and god knows I want some fish tonight).
    I would rather say "Ты купила рыбу (сегодня) на ужин?"
    You can use imperfective "покупала" for "Did you happen to buy the fish for today's dinner", but I'd say that's not the most neutral way. I.e. it's as if you already suspect nobody bought the fish. One more concern is the context. The sentence is much too long for actual speech. If the fish was pre-discussed, why not ask "Have you bought the fish" ("Ты купила рыбу")?

    Another example I wanted to say "I have never ate solyanka so I will eat it tomorrow"... I used я поем завтра...
    Here "поем" may sound as if you are just going to satisfy your hunger and move on ("поесть" has a shade of "limited amout" of action: "eat a certain amout/for a while"). For important prolonged activities you can use imperfective (after all, you are going to have an experience rather than check in after the plate is empty). I think both can be used. You can also say "I'll try it tomorrow" ("Завтра попробую").

  4. #4
    Paul G.
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    A perfective verb means:
    - A one-time action
    - a pre-discussed question/deal/action etc
    - some specific action for you or someone, and this action is connected with something previous (maybe in the same sentence)

    - Ты ел когда-нибудь солянку?
    - Я никогда не ел солянку, я поем ее завтра.

    - Ты ел когда-нибудь солянку?
    - Я никогда не ел солянку, я буду есть ее завтра.

    Why do these variants mean the same thing?

    The answer lies in meaning of the verb "поем". "Поесть" means an one-time action, but the result can be incomplete. "Я поем солянку" means you will eat part of the солянка or all of that, but no one is sure, and it doesn't matter.
    But an imperfective construction "буду есть" means exactly the same, because an imperfective form implies incomplete action.

    So, if you use the perfect verb "съесть", it implies that you will eat totally all that you mean. For example:

    - Я приготовила солянку, ты ел её?
    - Я не ел солянку, но я съем ее завтра. ("съем ее" implies that you will eat all the солянка you have)
    - Не ешь всё, оставь мне немного!
    - Хорошо, я съем только одну тарелку. (here you specify exactly how much of the soup you will eat)

  5. #5
    Почтенный гражданин bitpicker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    Then I might say "So is that the correct aspect, I couldn't use покупал could I?" And several natives Russians answer, "Yes you can use the imperfective". But here lies the problem. As English doesn't have Imperf/Perf there is no real way to translate them, although attempts have been made by some books using "bought/was buying". So both aspects equal the same thing in English, but the backstory is I guess what dictates which you should use, and by doing one sentence examples and asking if both could be used, i guess russians would say yes, both WORK, but do they convey what I am actually trying to express.
    Well, at least English has the distinction of simple vs. progressive, which isn't entirely the same thing but similar enough... "Yesterday I bought fish" conveys the idea of a complete activity resulting in the possession of fish. That's купить, perfective. "Yesterday I was buying fish" describes how you spent your time. You may have ended up in the possession of fish or even failed to obtain any fish, the result is not important. That's покупать, imperfective.

    The main distinction between English and Russian in this case, as far as I see it, is that there is no present tense perfective in Russian, whereas there is a simple present tense in English. I get the impression that if you choose the perfective verb when you would express the idea in English using a simple tense and you are talking about a specific event in past or future, then you will be right more often than wrong.
    Спасибо за исправления!

    Вам нравится этот форум, и вы изучаете немецкий язык? Вот похожий форум о немецком языке.

  6. #6
    Старший оракул
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    As to the verbal aspects, I like the other people's explanations.

    But I would advise you something. You are trying to learn all formal rules for the aspects. I am not going to say it is a bad idea, but:
    Try asking any Russian "Why do you prefer perfective here and imperfective there?" In 90% of cases they would say: "I do not know why. I just feel it suits here." It is really hard to formalize all the possible nuances of the aspect choice. There is nothing bad in knowing the rules, but you should not think about the rules while speaking!

    Read more books in Russian, listen to Russian speech more, and you will gradually start "feeling intuitively" how the aspects are used. Yes, it requires practice, but there's nothing dangerous if you would confuse aspects for some time.

    When I started to learn English, it was very hard to me to understand when I should use "a" and "the". Now I know the rules, but I do not think of them when speaking. In many cases, I "feel" which one I have to put.

    As to your sentences, I would like to explain some of your logical and grammar mistakes. Hope it would be useful.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    Ты купила рыбу для ужина сегодня вечером (now I'm using perfective to suggest that this was PRE-DISCUSSED fish, a one time completed action as it is for tonight's dinner, and god knows I want some fish tonight).
    Although "рыба для ужина" is grammatically correct, it sounds awkward. Your choice is "рыба на ужин":
    - Что у нас сегодня на завтрак? - What do we have for breakfast today?
    - Вчера на обед были пельмени. - Yesterday there were pelmeni for lunch.
    Compare: "рыба на ужин" (fish for dinner), but "комната для ужина" (a room for dinner) or "скатерть для ужина" (a table-cloth for dinner). Do you feel the difference between "на" and "для"?

    "Ты купила рыбу для ужина сегодня вечером?" - "сегодня вечером" is strange.

    First, for me it sounds as if you were asking "Did you buy fish for dinner tonight?" i.e. "Did you buy it tonight?". But it implies that "tonight" (сегодняшний вечер) has already passed. Then, it is not clear WHEN this question is asked: "сегодня" has not passed (otherwise, you would use "вчера"), but "сегодняшний вечер" (today's evening) has passed, but it is the last part of the day!
    A possible option is "Ты сегодня купила рыбу на ужин?" (if you want to specify "Have you bought it today?"), e.g. she buys a fish for dinner almost everyday, but sometimes she does not. Then this question is logical.

    Second, in English you are accustomed to put an adverbial modifier of time to the end of a sentence. In Russian, most often we put it to the begining of a sentence or straight after a subject. As I proposed: "Ты сегодня купила рыбу на ужин?" or "А сегодня ты купила рыбу на ужин?" ("And today, have you bought ...") sounds much more natural than "Ты купила рыбу на ужин сегодня?"

    Third, if it was already agreed that she would buy fish, I see no reason to specify "today":
    "Ты купила рыбу на ужин?"

    Fourth, if you mean "tonight's dinner" rather that "did you buy it tonight", I would rephrase it:
    "Ты купила рыбу на сегодняшний ужин?" (Did you buy fish for today's dinner?) Note: "сегодня" includes the whole 24-hour period, Russian does not have an opposition between "today and tonight". Technically, "tonight" is "сегодняшний вечер" (as a noun) or "сегодня вечером" (as an adverb), but you do not need to specify "вечер" when talking about "ужин": everyone knows that "ужин" always assumes "вечером".
    But this question (Ты купила рыбу на сегодняшний ужин?) can be logical in some very specific context (cannot think of it right now). Normally, there is no reason to specify that it is "tonight's dinner". It sounds like you oppose "tonight's dinner" (something very special, probably) and all other dinners.

    Fifth, the most natural way to ask: "Ты купила рыбу на ужин?" (without specifying time), or even "Ты купила рыбу?" (In real life, we even do not need to mention "dinner").

    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    Когда я в России, я буду есть много супов.
    This sentence is grammatically incorrect. You are trying to translate "When I am in Russia, I will eat a lot of soups" literally.

    Note: In English you use the present tense in a subordiante clause (When I am in Russia, ...), but you mean future.
    In Russian, you need future if you mean future: "Когда я буду в России, я буду есть много супов".

    BTW, "много супов" normally means "a lot of different kinds of soup". And a more natural way to convey this idea is to say:
    "Когдя я буду в России, я буду есть много разных супов" (since "много супов" is a bit unusual for colloquial speech).
    If you simply mean "I will eat soup a lot" (not different kinds of it), I would say:
    "Когдя я буду в России, я буду часто есть суп."

    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    Maybe someone could give me a short story/conversation which use есть and поесть excessively.
    The verb "поесть" implies a limited amount within limited time. Same as "попить" (to drink a little), "почитать" (to read for a while), "погулять" (to have a walk), "посмотреть" (to have a look) etc.
    The verb "съесть" means "to eat the whole amount of something specified before".
    And "есть" is just "to eat" in general.

    Perfective verbal prefixes sometimes modify the meaning of imperfective verbs.

  7. #7
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Did you ... vs Have you ...
    'Have you eaten?' and 'Did you eat?'
    And from Chaika;
    Quote Originally Posted by chaika View Post
    Perfective focuses on the RESULT of the action, imp. focuses on the action itself.

  8. #8
    Властелин
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    Perfective is used when the action reaches its logical limit, while imperfective can be used in any situation.

  9. #9
    Подающий надежды оратор
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    I want to add about the word's position in this sentence about this stupid fish.
    Did you buy fish for tonight dinner? - better to say "Ты купила рыбу сегодня на ужин?" - doesn't matter when the bought this fish, may be yesterday, but we plan to eat it tonight.
    While "Ты купила сегодня рыбу на ужин?" or "Ты сегодня купила рыбу на ужин?" means that the fish should have been bought today. "Сегодняшний ужин" for my ear sounds awkward. The better equivalent would be "сегодня на ужин".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Боб Уайтман View Post
    A
    And "есть" is just "to eat" in general.
    был, есть и будет есть
    There is a possible confusion for foreigners with the verb "to be" (быть) in Russian. Because the present tense of that verb - "есть" is exactly the same word for the present tense of the verb "to eat" - "есть"
    However "to eat" have another word for it: "кушать"(past:кушал, future: буду кушать), which is more polite, generally

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    Старший оракул
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doomer View Post
    However "to eat" have another word for it: "кушать"(past:кушал, future: буду кушать), which is more polite, generally
    Some people think "есть" (to eat) sounds a bit rude, and when speaking to someone of a higher social rank they substitute it with "кушать" for that reason. However, it is more like a "speech hypocrisy" as linguistically "есть" is a neutral word without any impolite connotation. "Кушать" is more emotionally colored, it implies a shade of endearment.

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    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    Some people think "есть" (to eat) sounds a bit rude
    Not me
    Another month ends. All targets met. All systems working. All customers satisfied. All staff eagerly enthusiastic. All pigs fed and ready to fly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Боб Уайтман View Post
    Some people think "есть" (to eat) sounds a bit rude, and when speaking to someone of a higher social rank they substitute it with "кушать" for that reason. However, it is more like a "speech hypocrisy" as linguistically "есть" is a neutral word without any impolite connotation. "Кушать" is more emotionally colored, it implies a shade of endearment.
    sure, and "вы" is just a "speech hypocrisy" of "ты" because linguistically it might have the same meaning
    It is a cultural thing and different people may have different opinions, it would be better to know that some people consider it more polite. Also using of this word doesn't hurt

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