July 5th, 2012 — posted by Don

One of the most fascinating things about Russian is its ability to add prefixes to verbs and nouns to give new meanings. For instance, the suffix до- can add the idea of ‘all the way to the end.’ If you add it to читать ‘to read,’ it forms a new verb дочитать ‘to read all the way to the end.’ Normally when you add a prefix to a simple, unprefixed imperfective verb, the new verb is perfective. Then to get an imperfective from the new verb, you add a suffix. In this case the suffix is -ыв-, which gives us the imperfective verb дочитывать. We call this type of verb a derived imperfective. Here is how it is conjugated.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive дочитывать дочитать
Past дочитывал
Present дочитываю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду дочитывать
будешь дочитывать
будет дочитывать
будем дочитывать
будете дочитывать
будут дочитывать
Imperative дочитывай(те) дочитай(те)

This verb pair is used when you want to specify that you have completed reading something.

Я целую неделю читаю «Мёртвых душ», а только сегодня утром дочитал. I have been reading “Dead Souls” all week long and only finished it this morning.
Ко вторнику дочитаю «Братьев Карамазовых». I'll finish “The Brothers Karamazov” by Tuesday.

Sometimes the phrase «до конца» ‘to the end’ is added to the sentence. That may seem superfluous to the reader, but where is there a rule that says we can't say something more than one way or find another way to say it?

Я наконец-то до конца дочитал «Войну и мир». I finally finished reading ‘War and Peace’ all the way to the end.

The verb doesn't have to mean that you get all the way to the end of the item, though. It can mean you get all the through to a certain point.

Паша дочитал книгу до пятой главы. Pasha read the book all the way to chapter five.

Be careful on that last one. It means that Pasha read chapter four but hasn't yet read chapter five.

The careful reader will remember that прочитать means ‘to read through.’ So what's the difference between прочитать and дочитать? Sometimes not much.

Я прочитал статью. I read through the article.
Я дочитал статью. I read the article to the end.

Before we leave this topic, I just want to mention how amazingly common this use of the prefix is. Here are some other examples.

дойти to go all the way to
доехать to go all the way to (by vehicle)
дослушать to listen to the end
допеть to sing to the end
докурить to smoke to the end
допить to drink to the end
донести to carry to the end

Pretty neat, huh?

Читать (часть третья)

July 4th, 2012 — posted by Don

Today let's discuss читать/прочитать.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive читать прочитать
Past читал
Present читаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те) прочитай(те)

The prefix про- adds the idea of ‘all the way through’ here.

Витя прочитал инструкцию и собрал шкаф. Vitya read through the instructions and assembled the shelves.
Я прочитаю статью и напишу доклад. I will read the article and write the report.

Now here is a subtle bit of grammar. If you want to find out if someone has read a particular book or author, you usually ask the question in the imperfective.

— Вы читали «Войну и мир»?
— Читал.
“Have you read ‘War and Peace’?”
“I have.”
— Вы когда-нибудь читали Достоевского?
— К моему стыду, не читал.
“Have you ever read Dostoevski?”
“Shamefully, I have not.”

This is called the general-factual meaning of the imperfective (общефактическое значение несовершенного вида). When you are interested in the fact itself, not focusing on the completion of the fact, then you ask in the imperfective.

It is possible to ask the question also in the perfective, but it means something different.

— Вы до конца прочитали «Войну и мир»?
— Да, прочитал.
— Даже этот скучный эпилог о философии истории?
— Да, я прочитал всё.
“Have you read all the way through ‘War and Peace’?”
“I have.”
“Even that boring epilogue on the philosophy of history?”
“Yes, I read it completely through.”
— Вы прочитали все произведения Достоевского?
— Нет, ещё не прочитал.
“Have you read through all of Dostoevski's works?”
“No, I haven't yet.”

Читать (часть вторая)

July 3rd, 2012 — posted by Don

Often when you learn a verb in Russian, it's helpful to learn the verb as a verb pair. One such pair is читать/почитать.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive читать почитать
Past читал
Present читаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те) почитай(те)

When по- is prefixed to many imperfective verbs, it adds the meaning of ‘for a while,’ as it does with читать. So the verb pair читать/почитать is good for indicating how long one reads.

Моя мама раньше читала четыре часа каждый день. My mother used to read for four hours every day.
— Что ты завтра будешь делать?
— Я буду читать весь день.
“What are you going to do tomorrow?”
“I'm going to read all day long.”
— Не хочешь пойти со мной на дискотеку?
— Нет, я устала. Я просто почитаю и лягу спать.
“Do you want to go to the disco with me?”
“No, I'm tired. I'll just read for a while and go to bed.”

For the most part one can't use bare accusative duration phrases with perfective verbs, but one exception is perfective verbs when по- means ‘for a while.’ ¹

Я час почитал и лёг спать. I read for an hour and went to bed.
Я два часа почитаю и пойду на фильм. I will read for two hours and then go to a movie.

Читать/почитать can also take a direct object, usually the thing you are reading or the author you are reading.

Я читаю Библию каждое утро. I read the Bible every morning.
Я почитал журнал и потом пошёл на работу. I read a magazine for a bit and then went to work.
Мама читала детям Корнея Чуковского. Mother was reading Kornei Chukovski to the children.
В этом семестре будем читать Анну Ахматову. We will be reading Anna Akhmatova this semester.

¹ Another exception is verbs prefixed with про- when it means ‘through a specific period of time.’

Читать (часть первая)

July 2nd, 2012 — posted by Don

I have just realized that I have never blogged before about the word читать. Hm. Seems pretty basic, eh? Still, we can probably come up with something. Let's start with the basic imperfective verb.

Infinitive читать
Past читал
Present читаю
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те)

The verb has several meanings, one of which is ‘to know how to read.’ In this sense it only has an imperfective, no perfective.

Ксюша такая умница! В пять лет она уже читала. Ksyusha is such a smart girl! At five years of age she could already read.
— Почему твой сын не читает?
— Потому что ему всего три года.
“Why can't your son read?”
“Because he's only three years old.”

If you want to specify the ability to read a language, then add the language in the по- adverbial form.

— Ты читаешь по-английски?
— Читаю.
“Can you read English?”
“I can.”
Я читаю по-английски, по-русски и чуточку по-татарски. I can read English, Russian, and a bit of Tatar.
— Ты читаешь по-китайски? Где ты научился?
— Нигде. Я маг третьего уровня. Читаю на всех языках.
“You know how to read Chinese? Where did you learn that?”
“Nowhere. I'm a third-level magician. I can read every language.”

Ah, that last little dialog is a cultural puzzle for the reader. In what well known series of novels can supernaturally gifted beings understand foreign languages without training? You may show off your knowledge in the comments.

Корова (часть вторая)

March 8th, 2012 — posted by Don

The word for cow in Russian is корова. It declines like this:


Here are a few sentences...

Корова больше собаки. A cow is bigger than a dog.
—Сколько у вас коров на даче?
— У нас три коровы. Продаём их молоко.
“How many cows do you have at your dacha?”
“We have three cows. We sell their milk.”
Я не люблю коров. Они не слушаются, как собаки. I don't like cows. They aren't as obedient as dogs.
В Европе коров едят, а в Индии их почитают. In Europe they eat cows, and in India they revere them.*

* Okay, I admit to some plagiarism here. I was having a flashback to Herodotus, who wrote, “How crocodiles are worshipped by some, killed and eaten by by others.”