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?


Comment from: Richard [Visitor]

The use of the suffix “-то” seems to be ambiguous. I found this discussion which hopefully will prove helpful:


07/21/12 @ 12:11
Comment from: Richard [Visitor]

Thanks for the answer Don. If we could pursue this a bit further, can you add “-то” to any word to give that word more emphasis? For example, I came across a sentence recently that used “денег-то". Are there any hard and fast rules for the use of “-то"? Rules regarding which part of speech it can be appended to, etc.?

Don responds: I’m afraid I have to claim ignorance here; I’ve never done a proper study of when -то is used and when not. I have heard it quite a bit in «Я-то?» when a speaker is clarifying whether the preceding statement applied to him/her. My general impression is that it is used for mild emphasis.

07/09/12 @ 14:53
Comment from: Richard [Visitor]

Very neat and very helpful! The building blocks aspect of Russian is really cool!

Question: you used “наконец-то” rather than just “наконец", what purpose does the suffix “-то” serve in this context?

All in all, good summer reading! ;-)

Don responds: In this context the -то just makes the наконец slightly more emphatic.

07/05/12 @ 10:19

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