verbs of motion

Russian Verbs of Motion have a reputation of the biggest challenge for Russian language learners. And more than that, there are people who would say that you cannot master them completely.

However, if we face the truth, we’ll need to admit that other languages have verbs of motion as well. People go, fly, run, scroll, swim, climb etc in all the countries, and each language has its own way to express motion. What makes Russian Verbs of Motion so different? Is there really anything which makes them impossible to grasp?

I’m sure you can learn how to use them painlessly enough – if you understand the system. And this is the system what makes our verbs of motion so special.

At first sight, this system may seem to be complicated. But as soon as you understand its logic, you’ll start to enjoy mastering Russian verbs of motion. In fact, understanding the system of Russian verbs of motion will help you to understand the logic of the Russian language.

You need to start by learning 14 verb pairs. Only 14! 14 is not a big number, isn’t it? Actually, you can master the eight most common of them, and this will be enough. These verbs form the basis of the system, and you need to perfectly understand how they work.

We have 14 pairs of them because we specify how movement is carried out.

8 Most Common Verbs of Motion

идтиходитьto go on foot
ехатьездитьto go by ground vehicle
лететьлетатьto flyflying
плытьплаватьto swim; to sail; to floatswimming
бежатьбегатьto run runnng
нести + objectносить + objectto carry (an object is not going)carrying
вести + objectводить + objectto lead; to take (an object is going on foot)leading
везти + objectвозить + objectto carry; to transport (by vehicle)carrying-by-vehicle

6 Verbs of Motion for those who want to learn more

лезтьлазатьto climb; to crawl; to get into (with arms)
ползтиползатьto crawl; to climb (without using legs or for animals with very short legs)
брестибродить to wander (slowly and often without a purpose)
+ object
+ object
to make somebody move
+ object
+ object
to pull; to drag
катить + objectкатать + objectto roll

Why are they in pairs?

The second of the two criteria of how we Russians characterize motion is whether the motion is one-directional or multidirectional. We use multidirectional verbs not only when motion is really not unidirectional but also when it’s not specified whether it’s one- or multidirectional. This video can help you to see the difference (using ИДТИ – ХОДИТЬ as an example):

The other 13 basic verbs of motion work in the same way.

For instance,

Сейчас я еду домой. (ЕХАТЬ)I’m driving home. (on my way home – one-direction)
Я каждый день езжу на работу. (ЕЗДИТЬ)I drive/go to work every day. (there and back – multidirectional)
Рыбы плавают, птицы летают. (ПЛАВАТЬ, ЛЕТАТЬ)Fish swim, birds fly. (not necessarily one-direction)
Осенью птицы летят на юг. (ЛЕТЕТЬ)In autumn birds fly south (in Russia, not in Brazil). (one-way)
Папа везёт сына из школы. (ВЕЗТИ)Dad is driving his son from school. (on their way home – one-direction)
Я не умею плавать. I cannot swim. (any direction)


You can check how you’ve understood the grammar with exercises HERE, HERE and HERE.

Verbs of Motion with Prefixes

Russian verbs of motion without prefixes (unidirectional and multidirectional) are imperfective. Unidirectional verbs usually denote a process, while multidirectional ones denote a repeated action. Although unidirectional verbs can also denote a repeated action sometimes (for example, каждое утро я иду на работу. На работу – one direction).

We can increase the meaning of each basic verb of motion by adding a prefix. Each prefix has its meaning, and adding a prefix increases the meaning of the verb. For instance, if we add ПРИ- to the verb ИДТИ, we’ll get ПРИЙТИ = to come; to arrive.

If we add a prefix to an unidirectional verb, we’ll get perfective which can express a resultive or momentary action.

(Just in case: Imperfective – Perfective HERE)

For instance, он наконец приехал к нам в гости. Он приехал в 10 часов.

Adding a prefix to a multidirectional verb makes an imperfective verb. For example, ПРИХОДИТЬ (ПРИ- + ходить) is imperfective and ПРИЙТИ (ПРИ- + идти) is perfective.

Он каждый день приходил к нам в гости.

The same prefix adds the same meaning to the two verbs of a pair (unidirectional and multidirectional). For instance, both ПРИЙТИ and ПРИХОДИТЬ have the meaning “to arrive”. (There are only two exceptions, which are prefixes ПО- and С-: they form perfective verbs and can add different meanings.)

This video will help you understand the prefixation system:

HERE you can watch other video lessons about Russian verbs of motion without and with prefixes.

And now you can practiceHERE and HERE.