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  Home > TEFL Clinic > Teaching Knowledge > Problems for Russian Learners

Time, Tense and Aspect


Past time: Russian has not perfect or past progressive tenses. One simple past form is used to refer to actions and events denoted by perfect and progressive tenses in English. Typical mistakes are:

I read when he came.
He said he already finished work.
I still didn’t read the book.

Present time: In Russian there are no present perfect or present progressive forms. There is only one simple present tense. This leads to mistakes like:

Where you go now?
Your article is typed now. Please wait.
How long you be/ are here? (for ‘. . . have you been here?’)

In reported speech, Russian speakers often do not observe the sequence of tenses rule:

He said he live here long.
I knew she (is) in town.

In the third person singular, Russians often omit the suffix –(e)s:

He very like her. (for ‘He likes her very much.)

Future time: A simple present tense may be used to refer to the future:

I promise I come tomorrow.

There are no future perfect or future progressive tenses:

She will work here ten years by Thursday. 
This time tomorrow, I will lie on the beach.

In subordinate clauses of time, the future tense is used in Russian where a present tense would be used in English:

When she will ring you, tell her I called.

Mistakes are made with sequence of tenses:

She said she go tomorrow. 
They said they no come. 
He said he will come.
They said they will do the work by five.

To summarise, mistakes in using English tenses generally occur because the Russian verb system has only two aspects (perfective and imperfective) expressed mostly through fixation, whereas the English verb is viewed from three perspectives which can be combined, i.e. as expressing simple, continuous and perfect actions or events. Russian basically has three action verbs categories, whereas English has 16 if one counts future-in-the-past forms. Hence the difficulties that learners experience in sorting them out.







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