Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why can't you just 'go' like everyone else? OR Goddamn you Russian verbs of motion

Like going to the dentist or cleaning under the bed, I’ve been putting off learning Russian verbs of motion for quite some time. You see, for a long time I was under the mistaken impression that there were just a couple of verbs for ‘going’ and ‘coming’ and I liberally used them for anything vaguely related to movement. So ‘I go’ I thought was ‘Ja idoo’ and whenever I wanted to say I was going somewhere I would use that. However, my wife would constantly correct me, saying ‘no, that should be ‘jedoo’ or ‘pajedoo’ or ‘hozhoo’ in this context, and I dutifully changed it but had no idea why.

Well, according to ‘The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course For Beginners’, Russian verbs of motion are a right little nest of vipers. Alright, it never actually says that, but it’s certainly something to infer when you read passages like this:

‘You will see from these examples that the unidirectional verbs always have the specific meaning of one direction, while the multidirectional verbs are vaguer – so the ‘m’ verbs are used when there is no motion or the number of directions doesn’t matter (rules 2 and 3 above). So, as a ‘rule of thumb’ use the ‘m’ verbs in contexts involving repeated motion’

Are you following this? Really? Ok, well try this:

‘Imperfective future forms of the verbs of motion are rare. As you might expect, the imperfective future of multidirectional (‘chodit’-type) verbs is used for unfinished multidirectional motion and repeated round trips, while the imperfective future of ‘idti’-type verbs (very rare) denotes uncompleted motion in one direction.’

Followed by endless lists of verbs, variations, inflections and examples that are supposed to make some kind of sense. I particularly like the author’s optimistic ‘as you might expect’, as if I’d understood perfectly the previous five pages of this nonsense. So, apparently for every verb of motion (go, fly, walk etc) there is a different form depending on whether it’s in one direction or two, it’s a single trip or a repeated one, it’s on foot or by some form of transport, it’s in the future or the present, it’s a little trip (or kind of trip) or has some kind of preposition after it (go out/in etc). Goodness, why should something such as travel have to be so complicated? Maybe there’s some connection here with the Soviet Union’s reluctance to let any of their citizens go outside of the country – they were worried that the easier unidirectional verbs would discourage any kind of desire to come back.

I started trying to learn these verbs about an hour ago, and like any good procrastinator, decided to write this blog to explain why they are so difficult and to avoid having to go back and look at them again. And if I can’t be bothered, well I’ll have to stick to the one ‘go’ verb I know and spend my whole time here never returning (or going repeatedly, or in the future, or on foot etc etc).

2 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

You said it. Perfect and imperfect verbs will always boggle my mind. I could recomend that you do what I did and switch to Romanian.

7:20 pm  
Blogger Something Wicked said...

I was surprised at how early your blog came in a google search for "russian verbs go" as I was trying to review for class tomorrow the conjugations of the different verbs of motion. Anyway, about your post- nicely put. :)

12:14 pm  

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