Category: "Most generic verbs of motion"


by Don  

There is a subset of verbs in Russian that in the US are sometimes taught as verb triplets instead of pairs. You can find a list of those verbs here, and a rough summary of how those verbs are used here. Among them is the multidirectional verb водить, which conjugates like this:

Infinitive водить
Past водил
Present вожу
Future буду водить
будешь водить
будет водить
будем водить
будете водить
будут водить
Imperative води(те)

We can say that the verb means ‘to lead [someone somewhere by your own power].’ But to be honest we normally translate it as ‘to take’ in English. For instance...

Я вожу дочку в школу каждое утро. I take my daughter to school every day.
Каждый вечер папа водит соседа в кафе. Там играют в шахматы. Every evening dad takes the our neighbor to a cafe where they play chess.

Generally speaking the verb means that you are taking someone somewhere but not using a vehicle to get there. It can also be used if a vehicle is involved but the vehicle is not germane to the discussion. For instance, in the following sentence, the person speaking may live near the Kremlin Armory (so they can walk there with their guests), or they may just live somewhere within the city limits, but the fact that they will take the subway to get to the armory is simply not relevant to the story.

Мы часто водим гостей в Оружейную палату. We often take guests to the Kremlin Armory.

Водить can also mean to lead people around a place (random motion inside a prescribed area). In this meaning the preposition по + the dative case is used. For instance:

Моя сестра — доцент. Она водит посетителей на эксурсии по Третьяковской галерее. My sister is a docent. She takes visitors on excursions around the Tretyakovsky Galery.
Мой брат был эксурсоводом. Он водил туристов по городу. My brother was a tour guide. He used to show people around the city.

In the past tense the verb can also mean to take someone somewhere, and the implication is that they are no longer located at the location you mentioned.

Я вчера водил бабшуку на почту. Yesterday I took grandma to the post office
Я вчера водил своих девушек на престижную дискотеку. Вау, как им там понравилось! Я произвёл на них неизгладимое впечатление. Yesterday I took my ladies to a classy club. Wow, they really liked it! I made a huge impression on them.


by Don  

The next generic verb of motion is пойти. Note especially its irregular past tense forms.

to go
Infinitive пойти
Past пошёл
Present No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future пойду
Imperative пойди(те)

Пойти is more specialized than ходить in that it always talks about motion in one particular direction; since it is perfective it also focuses on some result of the action:

Я пошёл в аптеку и купил аспирин. I went to the pharmacy and bought aspirin.

In that sentence, the result is that I arrived at the pharmacy and thus could make my purchase.

Пойти can also be used to describe each leg of a multileg journey:

Я пошёл в аптеку, потом я пошёл на рынок, и потом я пошёл домой. I went to the pharmacy, then I went to the market, and then I went home.

Of course you can do the same thing in the future tense:

Я пойду в аптеку, потом я пойду на рынок, и потом я пойду домой. I'll go to the pharmacy, then I'll go to the market, and then I'll go home.

Now here's something amusing... let's think about this English dialog:

“Where's Mom?”
“She went to the store.” ¹

Does the second sentence imply that Mom got to the store? No, it doesn't. Here it emphasizes absence from the point of departure while mentioning her intended destination. Likewise in Russian a perfective verb of motion can be used with meaning of “absence from point of departure”:

— Где мама?
— Она пошла в магазин.

The sentence does not say whether Mom has necessarily reached the store, just that she is no longer here.

¹ In terms of the classical description of English grammar, this sentence should be, “She has gone to the store.” For some English speakers that is still the best version of the sentence, but the English present perfect is slowly being replaced by the simple past, so “She went to the store” sounds perfectly normal for many speakers of American English.


by Don  

The next generic verb of motion is идти. Note especially its irregular past tense forms.

to go
Infinitive идти
Past шёл
Present иду
Future буду идти
будешь идти
будет идти
будем идти
будете идти
будут идти
Imperative иди(те)

Идти is more specialized than ходить in that it always talks about motion in progress toward a particular place. Because of that “in progress” bit, we can often translate it as “heading to” or “on the way to”:

— Куда ты идёшь? “Where are you going?
— Иду в библиотеку. “I'm going to the library.”
“I'm on my way to the library.”
“I'm heading to the library.”

Although adverbs of frequency and phrases of frequency (like часто and каждый день) usually trigger an indeterminate verb, if the situation describes something that happens regularly on the way to a place, then you use the determinate verb идти:

Каждое утро, когда я шёл мимо газетного киоска, Нина Петровна здоровалась со мной. Every morning, when I passed by the newspaper stand, Nina Petrovna said ‘hello’ to me.
Когда я иду в библиотеку, по пути я всегда покупаю мороженое у Лены. Whenеver I go to the library, I always by ice cream from Lena on the way.
Когда ты будешь идти по улице Плеханова, ты увидишь справа электростанцию. When you walk down Plekhanov street, you will spot a power plant on the right.

One of the curious uses of determinate verbs is that they can be used to say how long it takes to get to a place. From the English-speaking point of view, that is rather odd. After all, getting to the place implies a completed action, so we should use a perfective verb, right? But from the Russian point of view in these sentences they are indicating how long the process takes, so the imperfective works:

Я шёл до института двадцать минут. It took me twenty minutes to get to the institute.
Как долго будем идти от дома до почты? How long will it take us to get to the post office from home?
— Долго идти от школы до парка?
— Нет, недолго, всего минут десять.
“Does it take long to get from the school from the park?”
“No, not too long, only about ten minutes.”


by Don  

Ходить is the most generic word in Russian that means “to go.”

to go
Infinitive ходить
Past ходил
Present хожу
Future буду ходить
будешь ходить
будет ходить
будем ходить
будете ходить
будут ходить
Imperative ходи(те)

Because it implies travelling under one's own power (that is, not using some device or animal for transportation), we often translate it “to walk”:

Моей дочке лишь восемь месяцев, а она уже ходит! My daughter is only eight months old, and she is already walking!
Я начал ходить в три года. Это было очень поздно. I started walking when I was three. That was pretty late.
Люди ходят, змеи ползают, а птицы летают. Я хочу быть птицей! People walk. Snakes slither. Birds fly. I want to be a bird!

The verb is also used in sentences where someone regularly goes somewhere.

Дима набожный парень. Он ходит в церковь каждый день. Dima is a pious guy. He goes to church every day.
Два раза в неделю я хожу на рынок за овощами. Twice a week I go to the farmers market for vegetables.

The verb is also used to describe the motion of someone walking around a place with no set goal or direction, e.g. walking around a park for pleasure, walking around the city, or going here and there among shops:

Мы два часа ходили по парку. Воздух был так чист, и солнце так красиво светило, и на душе у нас было легко. We walked around the park for two hours. The air was clean and the sunshine was so pretty that everything in the world seemed right.
— Что вы делали вчера?
— Мы ходили по магазинам на Арбате.
“What did you do yesterday?”
“We shopped on the Arbat.”

Last but not least, the verb is used to indicate a single round-trip in the past. In this usage it implies that the person is no longer at the place mentioned.

Папа ходил в аптеку. Dad went to the pharmacy (and then came back).
— Ты был в библиотеке?
— Нет, я ходил к бабушке.
“Were you at the library?”
“No, I went to Grandma's.”
— Что вы делали вчера?
— Мы ходили в кино.
“What did you do yesterday?”
“We went to the movies.”
— Ты вчера ходила в мавзолей Ленина?
— Ходила.
“Did you go to Lenin's Tomb yesterday?”
“I did.”

Russian verbs of motion have the reputation of being quite difficult. Certainly they take some practice, but if you just calmly, slowly, and methodically work on them, particularly identifying what contexts they are used in as we did here, then you can certainly master them.

Here is a list of the fifteen verbs of motion. They are usually taught in verb triplets, not pairs. If you want to work on these verbs, I suggest Muravyova's “Verbs of Motion in Russian” if you can still get it, and also William Mahota's “Russian Motion Verbs for Intermediate Students.”