I’ve done a little homework; I have looked through the most popular textbooks and gathered the verbs that every beginner should be familiar with. They will gradually expand the possibilities of your self-expression in Russian at your very first steps.
What’s more, I will give you an overall understanding of how Russian verbs work and share the most helpful tips that I have tested to help you master your first one hundred in the shortest possible time.
For your convenience, I divided all the verbs into categories:
- The most frequently asked verbs
- To talk about yourself
- To talk about a hobby
- Cognition verbs
- To talk about learning
- Verbs of communication
- For a vocation
- For having a meal
- For shopping
- Other verbs
Before you move straight to the list, make sure to read about 5 verbs that most language starters use incorrectly.
5 Verbs That are Not Used as You Expect
To be (быть)
“To be” or bit’ in Russian is not used as it is in English. In the present tense, it doesn’t play the role of an auxiliary verb (though it does in future). For example, in Russian, the phrase “I am a doctor” will sound like “I doctor” and the question “Where is the bag?” will sound like “Where bag?”
English speakers are usually very surprised by the absence of the verb “to be”, especially in questions. Here are two example sentences.
- Это моя сумка. (This is my bag)
- Это моя сумка? (Is this my bag?)
In writing, the question mark and the dot clearly show us which is a question and which is a statement. But what about speaking? If we have no “to be” and word order, how do we define what is what? It’s quite easy; the lack of these elements is replaced by intonation.
To have (иметь)
The direct translation of the phrase “I have” —Ja imeju —would sound very unnatural if you wanted to say that you have something. It belongs to a more official type of speech. This word is suitable when you want to say that you have a Medal of Merit or something of that sort.
So, unless this context applies, don’t use the verb imet’ (to have) to express the idea of possession in daily routine. Say instead: U menja jest’. If you want to know how to build more “have”-phrases, this link is a must-follow.
- У меня есть деньги – I have money
- U mi-nja jest’ den-gi
- У меня есть друзья – I have friends
- U mi-nja jest’ druz-ja
To like (нравиться)
Russian learners often use the phrase Ja lublu as the closest equivalent to “I like”. But actually, this means “I love”. The best way to say “I like” is Mne nravitsa. If I were asked to make a literal translation, it would be something like “To me likable…”. After Mne nravitsa ,name what you like.
- Мне нравится говорить по-русски – I like to speak Russian
- Mne nra-vit-sa ga-va-rit’ pa-rus-ki
- Мне нравится русская кухня – I like Russian cuisine
- Mne nra-vit-sa rus-ka-ja kuh-nja
To need (нужно, adv.)
Russian starters often need to express their need. They regularly say Ja hachu (I want), but it’s not always suitable. A much better option would be: Mne nuzhno…
There are some fluctuations in endings when you talk about nouns (nuzhna and nuzhen), but you can use Mne nuzhno with no worries when you talk about any actions you need to make:
- Мне нужно учить русский – I need to study Russian
- Mne nuzh-na u-chit’ Rus-kij
- Мне нужно купить билет в Москву – I need to buy a ticket to Moscow
- Mne nuzh-na ku-pit bi-le-ti v Mask-vu
To go (идти, ходить, ехать, ездить)
In English, the verb “to go” is multifunctional. You can apply it to walking on foot, going by train, by car, etc. In Russian, things are more complicated and have a common name: “Verbs of motion”.
First of all, it’s important how exactly you are going: do you use transport? The second is what sort of a journey you are taking: are you moving to an exact place or is it your daily routine? Depending on the emphasis you make, you should use one of four major versions of “to go”.
All this is better understood from an example. Imagine that you’re driving a car. Your friend calls and asks “Where are you?” In Russian, you reply Ja (I) jedu (go) v (to) ofis (office). With this special verb jedu, you stress that you are going to work and not to a party. You emphasize your destination point.
What if someone asks what you usually do at 7:00 a.m. in the morning? You will certainly reply Ja (I) jezju (go) v (to) ofis (office). This jezju verb-form means that this is your daily routine, your final destination is not emphasized.
In the examples above, both versions of the verb “to go”: jedu and jezju also mean that you go by transport and not on foot.
The same choice you need to make when you’re talking about walking or going on foot, on a plane, or on a ferry. This is quite tricky.
The Most Common Verbs
The following words are picked up on the basis of Russian student books and “Lexical minimum of Russian as a foreign language” for the first level.
The Most Frequently Asked Verbs
- Видеть – to see
- Идти – to go, to walk
- Быть – to be
- Помогать – to help
- Есть – to eat
- Пить – to drink
- Писать – to write
- Давать – to give
- Хотеть – to want
- Знать – to know
To Talk About Yourself
- Любить – to love
- Родиться – to born
- Жить – to live
- Хотеть – to want
- Мочь – can, to be able to
- Предпочитать – to prefer
- Работать – to work
- Учиться – to study (where?)
- Делать – to do, to make
- Получать – to get
- Заниматься – to be engaged in
- Изучать – to study (what?)
- Интересоваться – to be interested in
- Стать – to become
To Talk About a Hobby
- Смотреть – to watch
- Показывать – to show
- Увлекаться – to keen on
- Рисовать – to draw
- Фотографировать – to make photos
- Плавать – to swim
- Петь – to sing
- Танцевать – to dance
- Играть – to play
- Путешествовать – to travel
- Отдыхать – to have rest
- Гулять – to walk
- Думать – to think
- Понимать – to understand
- Знать – to know
- Задавать (вопрос) – to ask a question
- Za-da-vat’ vap-ros
- Запоминать – to memorize
- Забывать – to forget
- Предполагать – to assume
To Talk About Learning
- Учить – to learn
- Читать – to read
- Писать – to write
- Решать – to resolve
- Делать – to make, to do
Verbs of Communication
- Говорить – to talk
- Рассказывать – to tell
- Спрашивать – to ask a question
- Отвечать – to reply
- Повторять – to repeat
- Просить – to ask for smth
- Звонить – to call
- Переписываться – to correspond, to text
- Смеяться – to laugh
- Шутить – to joke
- Удивлять – to surprise
- Слушать – to listen
- Благодарить – to thank
For a Vocation
- Путешествовать – to travel
- Посещать – to visit
- Ехать – to go somewhere (by transport)
- Лететь – to go by plane
- Бронировать – to book
- Ждать – to wait
- Встречать – to meet
- Уезжать – to leave
- Приезжать – to come
- Остаться – to stay
- Остановиться – to stop
- Носить – to carry
- Торопиться – to hurry
- Опоздать – to be late
- Успевать – to be on time
For Having a Meal
- Есть – to eat
- Пить – to drink
- Обедать – to have supper
- Завтракать – to have breakfast
- Ужинать – to have dinner
- Готовить – to cook
- Пробовать – to try
- Заказывать – to order
- Приглашать – to invite
- Покупать – to buy
- Продавать – to sell
- Брать – to take
- Платить – to pay
- Менять – to change
- Смотреть – to look
- Искать – to look for
- Находить – to find
- Выбирать – to choose, to pick up
- Мерить – to try on
- Разрешать – to decide
- Строить – to build
- Отправлять – to send
- Открывать – to open
- Болеть – to be seak
- Дарить – to present
Tips to Memorize Verbs
In one of the recent articles, I’ve shared tips for learning words but memorizing verbs have special features. So, here are some verb-oriented tips.
Spell While Writing
Russian verbs are very long in comparison to English. So, if you can’t pronounce the whole word, write it down syllable by syllable, put a stress mark, and say the word aloud. This technique helps to connect sounds with syllables.
Extract Meaningful Units
Long Russian verbs often contain parts that have a separate meaning. For instance,
- подарить means to make a present, and дар means a gift;
- возвращаться means to come back, and its part вращать means to spin.
Finding out such units will expand your vocabulary and improve your spelling. Cut off the first few letters or the ending and you may come up with an unexpected result. You can easily conduct such experiments with GoogleTranslate.
Different teaching professionals argue about the effectiveness of flashcards, but my experience shows that it definitely works. The possibility to practice the pronunciation of the words is especially valuable (luckily different apps offer very good audio along with pictures).
Remember, your learning will become even more effective if you do not limit yourself to the infinitive form, but rather use verbs in context, such as a phrase or a short sentence. For instance, Я люблю тебя (I love you) is much better for learning than the separate любить (to love).
Here are some apps where you can make your own flashcards and train with them on the go.
How to Use the Verbs Properly
Now, you have a big list of verbs and I’m sure you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and produce new awesome sentences.
Not so fast! You can’t use the infinitive (or vocabulary) forms given above. You need to make some changes. There are three basic things that you’ll need to consider. So, let’s discuss what changes should be made to a verb so that it represents exactly what you want to say.
I won’t dive into the nitty-gritty here; instead, I’ll describe the common sense of things that influence what a verb looks like.
In the English language “I” makes a perfect couple with “am” (not to be) and “she” always goes with “does” (not to do); we also can’t say “we goes”. The same applies to Russian verbs. We need to modify them so that they make a perfect match with the subject, or, as linguists say – to conjugate a verb.
Secondly, the form of the verb depends on what time we are talking about: past, present, or future. The general idea is the same as in English: we express different tenses with different “outfits” of a verb. This is what happens with verbs in Russian:
- In the past, a verb gets special “past” endings with the letter “л”
- Я любил пельмени – I loved pel’meni (a Russian dish)
- In the present, we add a special “present” ending
- Я люблю пельмени – I loved pel’meni
- In the future, we use the infinitive (vocabulary form) of a verb together with the verb bit’ (to be)
- Я буду любить пельмени – I will love pel’meni
Finally, we have this “aspect” ordeal. But don’t worry, the general concept of a verb aspect can easily be understood with English examples.
Compare these two sentences:
- I’m writing a post
- I’ve written a post
They are different: the first emphasizes the process and another – the outcome. In Russian, the idea is the same, but the way to express this idea is slightly different.
In Russian, we have two or more versions for each verb: perfective, that emphasizes the result, and imperfective, that emphasizes the process.
To express that something is done, we add special prefixes to our verb. This is how it works:
- Я смотрела кино – I was watching a movie – imperfective
- Я посмотрела кино – I had watched a movie – perfective
Another big difference is that in English we have this fixed formula: “have + verb in the third form”, but in Russian, there is a large number of prefixes. They reflect different shadows of meanings. Compare this:
- Я пришла – I’ve come
- Я ушла – I’ve left
- Я зашла – I’ve come for a moment
- Я перешла – I’ve crossed
Share with me which verbs you would include in your personal top 100 list, and which of them you find the most difficult. What techniques work best for you when learning them? Remember, your tips will help your fellow learners master Russian faster and easier!
And, as usual, if you have any further questions, I will answer them with great pleasure in the comments below.