Category: "Motion by air"


by Don  

The most generic perfective verb for travelling by air in Russian is полететь “to fly”:

Infinitive полететь
Past полетел
Present No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future полечу
Imperative полети(те)

Perfective verbs like полететь have several different uses. The nature of the perfective verb is to put focus on the result of an action, so полететь can mean “to head off somewhere by air and actually arrive there.” Thus it can be used to describe a series of flights, each one complete:

Какая у меня была сумасшедшая неделя! В понедельник я полетел в Киев. Во вторник я полетел в Самару, и потом в четверг я полетел в Новосибирск. What a crazy week I had! On Monday I flew to Kiev. On Tuesday I flew to Samara, and then on Thursday I flew to Novosibirsk.

The verb can also mean “to go and arrive” on a single trip; we see it in that meaning in a headline from Guy Laliberté's recent flight into space. (He is the founder of Cirque du Soleil).

Клоун-миллионер полетел в космос. The millionaire-clown has flown into space.

One last use is a colloquial one. It can also mean “I'm gone,” just as побежал and пошёл can.

— Пашенька, не уходи! Останься ещё хоть на полчаса.
— Нет, Юлeчка, я полетел. Ты же знаешь, что мама не любит, когда я опаздываю.
— Господи, почему я хожу с таким маменькиным сынком, понятия не имею.
“Pavel, don't leave! Just stay another half hour.”
“No, Yuliya, I'm out of here. You know that Mama doesn't like it when I'm late.”
“Lord, why I'm going out with such a Mama's boy I'll never know.”


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!”