by Don  

Let's think about the verb делать/сделать. The nice thing about this verb is that it is completely regular: it has no irregular endings whatsoever.

to do; to make
Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive делать сделать
Past делал
Present делаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду делать
будешь делать
будет делать
будем делать
будете делать
будут делать
Imperative делай(те) сделай(те)

The first meaning of the verb is “to do.” It can bear this meaning in any tense:

Что ты делаешь? What are you doing?
Что ты вчера делала? What did you do yesterday?
Что ты завтра будешь делать? What are you going to do tomorrow?

Actually, the question in the past tense can be said either in the perfective or the imperfective, although they don't mean quite the same thing. Remember that the perfective is used when the focus of the question is on the result of an action, and the imperfective is used if result is not particulary in focus. So, for instance, let's say you walk into a room and see your beloved for the first time in two days and you want to know what s/he did the day before. That context does not focus particularly on result, so you use the imperfective verb and ask «Что ты вчера делал(а)?» “What did you do yesterday?” In response you will hear some vapid comment about window shopping and visiting relatives. But if, for instance, you walk into a room bespattered with blood and there is a corpse lying on the floor with a grimace on its face and a knife protruding from its chest, then the result of your beloved's actions are in the forethoughts of your mind and you use the perfective verb and say, «Что ты сделал(а)!?» “What have you done!?” If you deduce from that contrast in translation that the English present perfect tense has something to do with a past action with current relevance, then you have made a linguistically astute observation.

Less dramatic situations work as well. At the end of a typical school day you may say to your son «Что ты сегодня делал в школе?» “What did you do at school today?” But if you walk into the kitchen and see that he has covered all the walls with mustard, then you say, «Что ты сделал?» “What have you done?”

The verb also means “to make.” The thing that is made appears in the accusative case, and the thing or substance of which it is made shows up in the genitive case after the preposition из:

Дима любил бывать на даче, так как дедушка ему делал лодочки из дерева. Дима их населял воображаемыми пиратами и моряками и так проводил всё лето, не думая о школе и наступающем первом сентября. Dima loved spending time at the dacha since his grandfather made him little boats out of wood. Dima populated them with imaginary pirates and sailors, and that's how he spent the whole summer, not thinking about school and the approach of the first day of class.
Утренний кофе делает из меня человека. Morning coffee makes me human.
Путин делает из Ющенко козла отпущения. Putin is making a scapegoat out of Yushenko.
Правительство делает из Владивостока центр Азиатско-Тихоокеанского сотрудничества. (source) The government is turning Vladivostok into a center of Asian and Pacific collaboration.
Каждая проходящая мимо девушка делает из Бори дурака. А скорее он из себя делает дурака по её поводу. Every girl that passes by makes a fool out of Boris. Or rather, he makes a fool out of himself on her account.

1 comment

Comment from: it-ogo [Visitor]

Situations with corpse and mustard actually require a sentence “Что ты НАделал!”

Don responds: It-ogo is of course right that наделал is the much more common verb to hear in that situation, but my native informants tell me that they can say сделал in that situation as well, so my interpretation is that наделал is not required, per se, just much more common.

06/19/09 @ 03:21

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