Russian Verbs of Motion
Some people think learning about the verbs of motion is one of the hardest concepts in the Russian language. The truth is, it is not so difficult if you just try to understand them one step at a time. However it is quite an important concept, as motion verbs are among the most used in any language. We have broken this into several parts, so just learn one part at a time if there is too much information in this lesson.
A verb of motion, as the name suggests, is simply a verb that will take you from one place to another. For example verbs like “go”, “walk”, “run”, “swim” or “fly”. The reason they are special in Russian is that Russian uses special prefixes or different forms to explain even more with one word.
We will first discuss these verbs without the use of prefixes, then we will discuss the prefixes later. (A ‘prefix’ is the couple of letters you put at the front of a word to add to it’s meaning).
Part 1 - Motion verbs without prefixes. - To Go
Let’s start by looking at the words that could correspond to the English word “go”.
Essentially there is no word in Russian that is like the English “go”. Instead Russians always indicate how they are going somewhere. Here are the two most important words.
Ходить / Идти - To go by foot (walk). (View Conjugations)
Ездить / Ехать - To go by transport (drive, train, bus, etc.). (View Conjugations)
The first thing you will notice is that there are two similar Russian words corresponding to one English word. This is because Russians also indicate whether they are going in one direction or making a return trip. As it is often the case in Russian, you are able to say a lot with few words. Each verb conjugates in the normal way, click on the link next to the verbs to view the fully conjugated forms.
The verb on the left (Ходить, Ездить) is the multidirectional (return trip) verb. (Technically known as the 'indefinite'). The verb on the right (Идти, Ехать ) is the unidirectional (one-way) verb. (Technically known as the 'definite'). Here is how you use each form:
Unidirectional (One-Way) (Идти, Ехать )
Use the unidirectional form when you are going in 1 direction, or talking specifically about going in 1 direction. This form often corresponds to the continuous tenses in English, ie when you say 'I am' or 'we are'.
Я иду на работу. - I am going to work. (by foot)
Мы едем в Москву. - We are going to Moscow. (by transport)
Завтра мы едем в Лондон. - Tomorrow we are going to London. (by transport)
Куда вы идёте? - Where are you going? (by foot)
Multidirectional (Return trips, in general.) (Ходить, Ездить)
Use the mutildirectional form when are talking about actions in more than one direction, for example a return trip. Also use this form when you are talking in general about going to somewhere, or when there is no motion, or the number of directions is irrelevant.
Каждый день я хожу в кино - Everyday I go to the cinema. (Talking in general)
Мы ходили по городу. - We walked around the town. (moving in a number of different directions)
Вчера мы ездили в Лондон. - Yesterday we went to London. (by transport) (the return trip is implied)
You should now be comfortable using these motion verbs in the present tense. These are to two most important verbs of motion, and you will find them very useful even as a beginner-intermediate Russian speaker.
Part 2 - Other unprefixed verbs of motion
Now that you are comfortable with the concept learnt in part 1, you can easily apply this same concept to the other verbs of motion. With these verbs the action is more specific than with the first two verbs you have learnt. There are no new concepts to learn in this part.Here are the verbs, click the link to see how they are congugated.
Бегать / Бежать - To Run. (View Conjugations)
Бродить / Брести - To Stroll. (View Conjugations)
Гонять / Гнать - To Drive.** (View Conjugations)
Лазить / Лезть - To Climb. (View Conjugations)
Летать / Лететь - To Fly. (View Conjugations)
Плавать / Плыть - To Swim, To Sail. (View Conjugations)
Ползать / Ползти - To Crawl. (View Conjugations)
**Rarely used: Гонять / Гнать does not mean 'to drive by car'. (see Водить / Вести). It means 'to force to move'. As in: 'To drive someone into a corner', 'to drive cattle to market'.
Part 3 - Other unprefixed verbs of motion -To Carry
The last set of unprefixed verbs of motion are verbs that indicate the concept of ‘carrying’. These verbs are a little different because there is an object that is transported or carried. For example “the train transports passengers to Moscow”. You will normally see these words translated as ‘to carry’, but there meaning is more general and they could mean ‘to transport’ or ‘to take’. You should translate them back to English depending on the context. Let’s have a look at these verbs:
Возить / Везти - To Carry (by vehicle). (View Conjugations)
Носить / Нести - To Carry, To Wear (View Conjugations)
Водить / Вести - To Lead, To Accompany, To Drive (a car) (View Conjugations)
Таскать / Тащить - To Drag, To Pull. (View Conjugations)
Let's have a quick look at how each one is used:
Возить / Везти - Generally this word corresponds 'to transport'. Or 'to take' by some means of vehicle. For example in a sentences like “The train transports passengers to Moscow” or “Ivan takes his daughter to school”.
Носить / Нести - Generally this word corresponds to 'to carry' when the person is carrying the object by walking. It's used in sentences like "The driver carried our bags to the taxi". This verb can also mean 'to wear', but it isn't really used like a verb of motion in this sense.
Водить / Вести - This word generally means 'to lead', or 'to take on foot' where the object itself is also walking. For example "The dog leads the blind man to the shop". It also means 'to drive a car'. The verb has a number of other uses, where it is not considered to be a verb of motion.
These verbs work the same was as those above, either multidirectional or unidirectional. Initially don’t worry too much if you are not sure exactly when to use each of these verbs, this is something that is best learnt naturally as you read or hear them in real situations. As long as you are aware of the different concepts involved. In simple conversation it is less likely you will use these words compared to the verbs in part 1.
Part 4 - Prefixed verbs of motion
This brings us to one of the most hated parts of Russian for learners. However it is not so difficult at all. To all of the verbs above it is possible to add different prefixes. By placing a few extra letters at the front of these verbs, you can increase its meaning. This normally adds a direction to its meaning. For example you could change the meaning of “walk” to “walk in”.
As you can see in the above example we normally achieve this in English by adding an adverb after the verb. Words like “in”, “down”, “through” or “across”. Often it is also possible to do this by using a different verb, “walk in” could be replaced by “enter”. Now that we know what we are trying to do in English lets have a look our how we can do it in Russian...
If you find the concept of ‘prefixes’ difficult you could just remember each of these verbs. Treating each verb as it’s own word, rather than a set of related verbs. This would be good for learners with a good memory for words. Other learners, who may be more conceptually minded, may choose to remember how all the pre-fixes work. We think it’s best to do a little of both. Once you understand this concept, you might find that you can suddenly decipher a whole lot of Russian verbs, and the language may really open up to you.
Let’s take a look at these prefixes.
в- - in
вы- - out
до- - as far as, reach
за- - drop in, stop by
об- - around
от- - away
пере- - across
под- - approach
при- - arrival
про- - through, pass
с- - down from
у- - from
Now let's see some examples of the prefixes in use. This is how you can use them with the promary motion verb: Ходить / Идти. (Note that Идти becomes йти when used with pre-fixes.)
входить / войти - to go in, to enter
выходить / выйти - to go out, to leave, to exit
всходить / взoйти - to go up, to ascend
доходить / дойти - to get to, to get as far as, to reach
заходить / зайти - to drop in, to stop by
обходить / обойти - to walk around, to bypass
отходить / отойти - to walk away
переходить / перейти - to go across, to turn
подходить / подойти - to approach
приходить / прийти - to arrive, to come
проходить / пройти - to go by, to go past
сходить / сойти - to go down, decend
уходить / уйти - to go from, to leave, depart
OK, now here is the interesting bit: As these new verbs already indicate direction, they loose the concept of unidirectional or multi-directional that we learnt above. Instead the first word above is the imperfective aspect, and the 2nd is the perfective. (refer to the section on aspects for more info.). So in the present tense you will always use the first of these verbs above.
This part is difficult. It is a good idea to have an understanding of how the pre-fixes work. If you hate grammar you could simply remember each word, for example входить = enter. However, if you do understand some of the concepts and you came accross a word like "влетать" you could work out that it meant "to fly in".
Here are a couple of examples of how you could use the prefixes with different verbs:
Самолёт прилетает в Москву. - The plane arrives (arrives by flying) in Moscow
Самолёт улетает из Москвы. - The plane departs (fly from) Moscow