Categories: "Unprefixed verbs of motion"


by Don  

Another verb for travelling by air in Russian is лететь “to fly”:

Infinitive лететь
Past летел
Present лечу
Future буду лететь
будешь лететь
будет лететь
будем лететь
будете лететь
будут лететь
Imperative лети(те)

This is a determinate (unidirectional) verb of motion, which means it is normally used to indicate a flight currently in progress. Thus if you glance at the sky and spot an airplane, you might say:

Смотри, вон летит самолёт! Look! There goes an airplane!

If you are a friendly type of person, chatting with your fellow passenger on an aircraft, you might have the following dialog:

— Я лечу в Финикс. А вы?
— А я подальше. Я лечу в Лос-Анжелес.
“I'm flying to Phoenix. What about you?”
“I'm going a bit farther. I'm flying to Los Angeles.”

Time for a pop quiz: what verb should you use when you see birds in flight? The multidirectional летать or the unidirectional лететь? Come up with an answer, then scroll down to see my response.

The answer is: it depends. Let's say you are sitting on a bench, and you see a bunch of swallows darting hither and thither. In that context you will use the multidirectional form:

Я очень люблю смотреть, как летают ласточки! I really love watching the swallows fly!

But if a mother spots geese going in a particular direction, she will use the unidirectional verb to test her son's knowledge:

— Юрочка, ты знаешь куда летят гуси?
— Мама, я же не ребёнок. Они летят на юг на зиму.
— Какой ты умница! Дай я тебя расцелую!
“Yuri, do you know where the geese are going?”
“Mama, I'm not a little boy. They are heading south for the winter.”
“You are so smart! Let me give you a big, fat kiss!”


by Don  

The most generic verb for travelling by air in Russian is летать “to fly.” It is a perfectly regular imperfective verb and conjugates exactly like читать:

Infinitive летать
Past летал
Present летаю
Future буду летать
будешь летать
будет летать
будем летать
будете летать
будут летать
Imperative летай(те)

This is an indeterminate (multidirectional) verb of motion, which means it has several uses. First of all, in the past tense it can mean a completed trip to and from a place:

В августе мама летала в Москву. In August Mom flew to Moscow.

By using a unidirectional verb in that context, Russian clearly states that Mom is no longer in Moscow. She went there and then departed. Another example:

— Что ты вчера делал?
— Я летал в Мосвку.
— Ты туда и обратно слетал за один день? Какая у тебя сумасшедшая жизнь!
“What did you do yesterday?”
“I flew to Moscow.”
“You flew there and back in a single day? What a crazy life you lead!”

The verb can also be used of flying generically or of the ability to fly:

Змеи ползают, люди ходят, а птицы летают. Я хочу быть птицей! Snakes crawl, people walk, and birds fly. I want to be a bird!
— Как я люблю летать!
— А я нет. Вдруг в мотор влетит гусь? Тогда ты пропал!
“I really love to fly!”
“I don't. What if a goose flies into the engine? Then you are done for!”


by Don  

Побежать is the perfective form of the verb бегать “to run.” It incorporates one of the four most irregular verb stems in the Russian language:

to run
Infinitive побежать
Past побежал
Present No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future побегу
Imperative побеги(те)

Побежать literally means “to run”:

Ваня побежал по дороге. Ivan ran down the road.

Although the verb does mean “to run,” it's actually used in conversation more often to mean “to take a quick trip” or “to be moving quickly” instead of literally running. The same is true for the English verb “to run” as well, of course.

— Где мама?
— Она побежала в магазин.
“Where is Mom?”
“She ran to the store.”

On the colloquial level the verb can almost mean the equivalent of the English “I'm out of here/I'm gone”:

— Серёжа, не уходи. Останься, пока не напишем доклад.
— Нет, я побежал. Моя девушка ждёт меня.
“Sergei, don't leave. Stay until we finish writing the report.”
“No, I'm out of here. My girlfriend is waiting for me.”
Я не могу здесь остаться. Я побежал. I can't stay here any more. I'm gone.


by Don  

Бежать is the determinate (unidirectional) form of the verb бегать “to run.” It is one of the four most irregular verb stems in the Russian language:

to run
Infinitive бежать
Past бежал
Present бегу
Future буду бежать
будешь бежать
будет бежать
будем бежать
будете бежать
будут бежать
Imperative беги(те)

Бежать is more specialized than бегать in that it usually talks about motion in progress at a particular time:

— Сынок, почему ты бежишь?
— Борька сказал, что изобьёт меня!
— Подойди к папе. Я тебя защищу.
“Son, why are you running away?”
“Boris said he was going to beat me up.”
“Come to Daddy. I'll protect you.”
Когда я увидел Таню, она бежала через двор. When I spotted Tanya, she was running across the courtyard.

Although the verb does mean “to run,” it's actually used in conversation more often to mean “to take a quick trip” or “to be moving quickly” instead of literally running. The same is true for the English verb “to run” as well, of course.

— Где мама?
— Она бежит в магазин.
“Where is Mom?”
“She is taking a quick trip to the store.”
Как быстро бежит время! How quickly time flies!

The verb is also used in the sense of “to precede prematurely”:

Русская зима бежит впереди прогноза. The Russian winter is running ahead of forecast.
Паника бежит впереди фактов. (source) Panic is setting in before the facts.

And of course the verb is also used in the sense of “to flee”. Although in English the thing you flee from can be a direct object (“We fled Cuba in 1965”) or the object of the preposition ‘from’ (“We fled from Cuba in 1965”), in Russian the thing you flee from cannot be a direct object; it must be the object of the prepositions из/с/от followed by the genitive case:

Население бежит с Дальнего Востока. (source) The population is fleeing from the Far East.
Капитал бежит из доллара в золото. (source) Investors are abandoning dollars for gold.
(Lit., Capital is running from the dollar to gold.
Жена Лужкова бежит с рынка недвижимости Москвы. (source) Luzhkov's wife is abandoning Moscow's real estate market.
Олигарх мобильной телефонии бежит из России. (source) Mobile phone oligarch flees Russia. (newspaper headline)


by Don  

Бегать is the most generic word in Russian that means “to run.”

to run
Infinitive бегать
Past бегал
Present бегаю
Future буду бегать
будешь бегать
будет бегать
будем бегать
будете бегать
будут бегать
Imperative бегай(те)

Running… nowadays in the lazy West we often run in order to lose weight. That actually makes sense:

Бегай каждый день, не ешь хлебных изделий, и обязательно похудеешь. Go running every day. Don't eat bread or pastry, and you'll lose weight for sure.
В 1996-ом я каждое утро бегал, и я отлично чувствовал себя. In 1996 I ran every morning, and I felt great.
Если ты будешь каждое утро бегать, я с удовольствием буду бегать с тобою. If you are going to run every morning, I'll be happy to join you.

It's not usual for a person to regularly run from one place to another, but in such atypical circumstances it is possible to conceive of someone doing such a thing:

Так как Федя готовился к Олимпиаде, он каждый день бегал на работу. Since Fyodor was getting ready for the Olympics, everyday he ran to work [and back].

The verb is also used to describe the motion of someone running around a place with no set goal or direction, e.g. walking around a neighborhood for pleasure:

Каждый день я бегаю по району не потому, что так рекомендуют врачи, а потому, что таким образом мне становится лучше на душе. I go running around the neighborhood every morning not because doctors tell us to, but because I feel better that way.

Last but not least, the verb is used to indicate a single round-trip in the past. It's not typical in this usage, but still grammatically possible:

Папа бегал в аптеку. Dad ran to the pharmacy (and then came back).

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