чихать никому не возбраняется

So you are not afraid of Russian nouns anymore. Even less should you be scared of Russian verbs. There are only three tenses: past, present, and future. None of this imperfect or pluperfect nonsense. Easy!

Nevertheless, there are complications. To quote Wikipedia,

Most verbs come in pairs, one with imperfective (несоверше́нный вид) or continuous, the other with perfective (соверше́нный вид) or completed aspect, usually formed with a (prepositional) prefix, but occasionally using a different root.

But why “pairs”? I wrote before about Russian verb formation using prefixes. In that post, I used three imperfective verbs: бежать (“to run”), делать “to do, to make” and резать “to cut”, and their numerous (prefixed) perfective derivatives. That means, one imperfective verb gives rise to many perfective verbs, so we should really talk about a tree or a graph rather than a pair.

Another way of “perfecting” is a root modification. Cf. чихать (imperfective) and чихнуть (perfective). Both verbs mean “to sneeze”, but чихать refers to the process in general and чихнуть to the completed action (to sneeze once or a definite number of times):

Апчхи!!! Чихнул, как видите. Чихать никому и нигде не возбраняется. Чихают и мужики, и полицеймейстеры, и иногда даже и тайные советники. Все чихают.

“Aptchee!!” he sneezed as you perceive. It is not reprehensible for anyone to sneeze anywhere. Peasants sneeze and so do police superintendents, and sometimes even privy councillors. All men sneeze.

Likewise, махать and махнуть (to wave, flap, swing, brandish), толкать and толкнуть (to push), кидать and кинуть (to throw), бросать and бросить (to throw, to abandon, to give up), шагать and шагнуть (to step) and so on — here we can indeed say that imperfective and perfective verbs come in pairs.

Quite often, both ways of verb formation combine, as could be seen with aforementioned махать and махнуть.

imperfective perfective
махать махнуть
махаться махнуться
взмахивать взмахнуть
вымахивать вымахать
замахиваться замахнуться
отмахивать отмахать
отмахиваться отмахнуться
перемахивать перемахнуть
помахивать помахать
промахиваться промахнуться
размахиваться размахнуться
смахивать смахнуть

Back to my old example of резать and its perfective children. Well, it turns out that many of these perfective verbs could be changed to imperfective just by shifting the stress to the last syllable: вре́затьвреза́ть, вы́резатьвыреза́ть, наре́затьнареза́ть, отре́затьотреза́ть, перере́затьперереза́ть and so on. Many, but not all: one can say заре́зать but not зареза́ть, поре́зать but not пореза́ть.

Am I splitting hairs here? Is it important to know the difference? Imperfective verbs have three tenses: past, present and compound future. This latter is formed with simple future form of the verb быть (to be) and the infinitive of the imperfective verb. Perfective verbs have only two tenses: past and simple future, but no present! Let’s see how it works with sneezing — for simplicity (and hygiene), only in first-person singular:

imperfective perfective
infinitive чихать чихнуть to sneeze
past я чихал я чихнул I sneezed
present (я) чихаю I sneeze
future (я) буду чихать (я) чихну I will sneeze

Do I hear you telling me “Будь здоров”?


    1. In the 1886 version of this story, instead of чихать, Chekhov used its more colourful demotic form чхать:

Чхнулъ, какъ видите. Чхать никому и нигдѣ не возбраняется. Чхаютъ и мужики, и полицеймейстеры, и иногда даже и тайные совѣтники. Всѣ чхаютъ.

  1. Tamara drew my attention to the fact that the simple future forms of prefixed perfective verbs (which do not have present) look exactly like the corresponding present forms of their “parent” imperfective verbs, minus the prefix of course. Cf. imperfective бегу “I am running” (present) and perfective побегу “I will run” (future), делаешь “you are making” vs perfective сделаешь “you will make” and so on. I don’t remember my Russian teachers ever mentioning this.

2 Responses to чихать никому не возбраняется

  1. Pingback: no beer, no subject | sólo algunas palabras

  2. Pingback: outstanding programme, astounding success | sólo algunas palabras

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