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Self study guide for elementary level learners of Russian
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Grammar Lesson 10

What is a Verb. Verb Infinitive. The Past Tense

Russian grammar and vocabulary. Unit 3
Grammar Lesson 9
Location. Prepositions в (во) and на. В доме vs. дома
Grammar Lesson 10
What is a Verb. Verb Infinitive. The Past Tense
Phrasebook Topic 9
Learn numbers 21-199 in Russian
Phrasebook Topic 10
Learn numbers 200-1000 in Russian
Quiz 8 (Week 6)
Check what you have learned from Grammar Lessons 9-10 and Phrasebook Topics 9-10 with this 10 minute quiz.
Grammar Lesson 11
Present Tense of Verbs. Verb Conjugation. Conjugation of verbs жить, писать. Stress in Verbs
Grammar Lesson 12
About what vs about who. The preposition о (об). Prepositional Case of Personal Pronouns. Verbs говорить, рассказывать, спрашивать
Quiz 9
Check what you have learned from Grammar Lessons 11-12 with this 10 minute quiz.
Test 3
Check what you have learned from Grammar Lessons 9-12 and Phrasebook Topics 9-10.

 Грамматика                                               Russian Verb: Past Tense 



What is a Verb
  A verb is a part of speech that expresses an action that can be physical (он читает - he is reading) or mental (он верит - he believes); state or condition (он стоит - he is staying, он был дома - he was at home).
Russian verbs contain information about:
  • tense, that is, the time (past, present or future);
  • gender / number (in the past tense);
  • person and number (in the present / future tense);
  • aspect, that is, an attitude towards time.


Infinitive forms
In dictionaries verbs are listed in the infinitive form. In a sentence the infinitive is used in specific contexts, for example:

1. Я хочу спать.

1. I want to sleep.

2. Я люблю читать.

2. I like to read.



  • Most Russian infinitives end in -ть: читать - to read, верить - to believe , быть - to be.
  • A few verbs have the infinitive ending -ти or -чь. Examples: идти - to go, мочь - to be able.
  • The past, present and future tenses are formed from the infinitive.


The Past Tense

Verbs in the past tense are used for actions that took place before now.

The past tense indicates the gender of the subject in the singular. In the plural the gender is not indicated. 

The past tense of verbs is formed from the Infinitive. Study the formation of the past tense:

Infinitive -> Past Tense



   читать ->     он читал 

he was reading


читать -> она читала

she was reading


читать -> они читали

they were reading

 Past Tense endings:      -л, -ла, -ли  


  • To form the past tense of most Russian verbs remove the ending -ть from infinitive and add (for masculine), -ла (for feminine), -ло (for neuter) and -ли (for all plural).
  • Neuter subjects are not as common as masculine, feminine or plural ones. Here are some examples: Письмо было в сумке - The letter was in the bag; Платье лежало на столе - The dress was lying on the table.

  • When the pronoun я is the subject, the verb agrees with the gender of the person, so a boy/man will say: я читал; a girl/woman will say: я читала.
  • When the pronoun ты is the subject, the verb agrees with the gender of the person addressed as ты.
  • When the pronoun мы or вы is the subject, the verb must be plural, even if вы is used to address a single person on polite terms.
Study the following examples. Click each dialogue to listen, then read it aloud. Pay particular attention to the usage of past tense verbs and personal pronouns.

1. - Игорь, что ты делал вчера вечером?

    - Я читал.

1. - Igor, what were you doing last night?

    - I was reading.

2. - Таня, что ты делала вчера вечером?

    - Я читала.

2. - Tanya, what were you doing last night?

    - I was reading.

3. - Ребята, вы были в России?

    - Да, мы были в Москве.

3. - Guys, have you been to Russia?

    - Yes, we've been to Moscow.

4. - Анна Петровна, Вы были во Франции?

    - Да, я была в Париже.

4. - Anna Petrovna, have you been to France?

    - Yes, I've been to Paris.

  • One Russian past tense corresponds to several English past tenses. Compare:

 In Russian

 In English

 он работал

 he worked

 he was working

 he have worked

 he had been working

 he used to work

Reading  Чтение


Read the text and answer the questions. Analyze verbs endings.  


1. Что делали Ира и Андрей днём?

2. Где Ира и Андрей были вечером?

3. Что делала Ира?

4. Что делал Андрей?

5. Где были их дети?

6. Что делали дети?



Вчера днём Андрей и Ира работали, а вечером они были дома. 

Ира смотрела телевизор, Андрей читал газеты и журналы.

Их дети тоже были дома. Они делали уроки и играли.


Exercises  Упражнения
Practice using verbs in the past tense.
Form the infinitive from the past tense.

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