Remember the Lenny Kravitz song, “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”
Fortunately, the song is in English.
Otherwise, if poor Lenny were singing in Russian, he would have asked more than a dozen different variations of that one question.
Despite there being lots of high-quality Russian textbooks out there, many Russian language learners find verbs of motion a significant challenge. The primary reason for this is because in English, we use the same verb along with different supporting details to convey various meanings. For instance:
I am going to school (right now).
I go to school every day.
Today I am going to school by train, but I normally go to school by car.
However, in Russian, different verbs are used to express those specific details. Here are the Russian versions of the above sentences. Take special note of the verbs used:
Я иду в школу (сейчас).
Я хожу в школу каждый день.
Сегодня я еду в школу на метро, но обычно я езжу в школу на машине.
As you can see, in the three English sentences, the verb “go” or “going” is used each time. However, in the Russian sentences, there are four different verbs used to convey the action “to go”: иду, хожу, еду, езжу.
Don’t let this get you down. Yes, Russian verbs of motion are challenging, but they aren’t as scary as you think. This blog will introduce you to the 13 pairs of unprefixed verbs of motion you need to grasp to properly communicate and sound more sophisticated as a Russian speaker.
3 Things to Keep in Mind About Russian Verbs of Motion
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, there are three things to keep in mind when dealing with Russian verbs of motion:
- Direction of movement
- Verbal aspect
- Method of movement
Direction of Movement: Where Are You Going?
Direction is critical when it comes to determining which verb form to use. Each Russian verb of motion has a unidirectional and multidirectional form.
Unidirectional verbs are used for actions that occur one time, movement in only one direction or movement that’s happening in the present moment. By contrast, multidirectional verbs are repeated or habitual actions, movement in multiple directions or movement in general, including describing an individual’s ability to move.
Here are some examples of unidirectional sentences:
Я иду в университет. (I am going to the university.)
Мы едем на работу сейчас. (We’re going to work now.)
Дети едут на велосипедах в парк. (The children are going to the park on their bicycles.)
Unidirectional verbs are also used to discuss figurative or idiomatic topics:
Вчера шёл снег. (It snowed yesterday.)
Фильм идёт. (The film is playing.)
Этот цвет идёт вам. (That color suits you.)
As shown above, since unidirectional verbs may be used to indicate an action is happening at the present moment, сейчас (now) is often used to clarify that detail. In a similar way, adverbs may be used to showcase frequency or repeated actions with multidirectional verbs, such as Иногда (sometimes), Всегда (always), Часто (often), Каждый март (every March), Каждую среду (every Wednesday), Каждое воскресенье (every Sunday):
Каждый день я хожу в институт. (Every day, I go to the institute.)
Мы часто ездим за границу. (We often go abroad.)
Ребёнок ещё не ходит. (The child cannot walk yet.)
Verbal Aspect: The Grammar Form of the Action
As you may remember from previous FluentU blogs, Russian verbs are categorized into one of two aspects: perfective or imperfective. The two most important things to remember regarding verbs of motion and aspect are that only unidirectional verbs have a perfective aspect and perfective verbs have only two tenses: past and future.
Perfective verbs of motion are used to mark the start of an action, to show a change of action in progress or with the future perfective of another verb. For instance:
Она пошла в магазин купить новое платье. (She has gone to the store to buy a new dress.)
На прошлой неделе он поехал в Японию. (Last week he went to Japan).
Мы гуляли по городу, но побежали, потому что опаздывали на урок. (We were walking around town, but began jogging because we were late for class.)
Я пойду пообедаю. (I’ll go have some lunch.)
Both unidirectional and multidirectional verbs utilize the imperfective aspect. The imperfective aspect is used to showcase ongoing, repeatable and incomplete actions, as well as actions that indicate length of time.
Каждый день я хожу в спортзал. (Every day I go to the gym.)
Я иду домой. (I am going home.)
Мы плавали в океане весь день. (We swam in the ocean all day.)
Method of Movement: How Are You Getting There?
The method of movement will determine both which verb you use and which preposition accompanies it. We go into more detail about this below with each verb, so read on to learn more!
Let’s Go: 13 Russian Verbs of Motion to Move Your Learning Forward
When you first start learning Russian verbs of motion, there are two verb pairs you need to master before trying to progress any further:
The 2 Main Russian Verbs of Motion
These two verbs are the unidirectional and multidirectional verbs used to express movement by foot and transportation, and they’re the main verbs of motion you need to know:
1. Идти / Ходить (To go by foot)
2. Ехать / Ездить (To go by transportation)
Since ехать and ездить verb forms involve transportation, you should also make it a point to become familiar with different types of transportation and how to express them correctly. Quite simply, use HA + the type of transport in the prepositional case. For instance:
- на машине (by car)
- на метро (by metro)
- на велосипеде (by bicycle)
- на мотоцикле (by motorcycle)
- на лодке (by boat)
- на корабле (by ship)
- на автобусе (by bus)
- на трамвае (by tram)
Also, keep in mind that if you’re going to somewhere, you typically use B or HA + the accusative case:
- в школу (to school)
- во Францию (to France)
- в театр (to the theatre)
- на Кубу (to Cuba)
- на почту (to the post office)
- на станцию (to the station)
Helpful hint: When you’re first starting out, it may be useful to take a formulaic approach to using verbs of motion to remember and implement the above-mentioned rules. Here’s one basic formula you can use:
- Frequency word/phrase to clarify whether the action is uni- or multi-directional
- Subject + verb
- HA + transport method in prepositional case (if necessary)
- B/HA + destination in accusative case
Many of the sentences presented here use variations of this formula. Here’s an example sentence using the full formula:
Каждый день дети ездят на велосипедах в школу. (Every day the kids ride their bikes to school.)
Let’s break that down:
- Frequency word/phrase to clarify whether the action is uni- or multi-directional: Каждый день (every day)
- Subject + verb: дети ездят (the kids ride)
- HA + transport method in prepositional case (if necessary): на велосипедах (their bikes)
- B/HA + destination in accusative case: в школу (to school)
“Going” by Other Methods of Movement
Once you’ve mastered идти / ходить and ехать / ездить, it’s time to move on to expand your Russian verbs of motion repertoire. Here are some more specific verbs used to convey motion. Again, these are listed in unidirectional-multidirectional pairs:
3. Бежать / Бегать (To run)
4. Брести / Бродить (To stroll)
5. Лезть / Лазить (To climb)
6. Лететь / Летать (To fly)
7. Плыть / Плавать (To swim, to sail)
8. Ползти / Ползать (To crawl)
9. Гнать / Гонять (To drive, to chase)
Note: Гнать / Гонять isn’t used for “driving a car.” (Вести / Водить is used for “driving a vehicle,” as you’ll see below.) Instead, this verb pair means to force someone to move, as in the case of “driving a herd.”
Фермеры гоняли скот на рынок. (The farmers drove the livestock to market.)
However, you can use it as an informal expression for driving fast:
Куда ты так гонишь? (Where are you driving so fast?)
“Carrying,” “Leading” and “Taking’” Russian Verbs of Motion
Finally, there are four verbs of motion pairs that fall into the “carrying” category. The carrying verb pairs are sometimes difficult for learners to get their heads around because the idea is that an object or a person is being moved. Each of these pairs is described in more detail below:
10. Нести / Носить (To carry by foot/walking)
Она несёт чемодан домой. (She’s taking the suitcase home.)
11. Везти / Возить: (To carry by transportation)
Метро возит 10 миллионов людей каждый день. (The metro carries 10 million people every day).
12. Вести / Водить (To lead or take on foot [people or animals])
Она водит детей в школу. (She takes the children to school.)
This word pair also means to drive a vehicle:
Мой брат учится водить мотоцикл. (My brother is learning to drive a motorcycle.)
13. Тащить / Таскать (To drag, pull)
Она тащила мужа на балет. (She dragged her husband to the ballet.)
Do you think you’ve mastered these 13 Russian verbs of motion pairs? If so, check your skills using this online proficiency test. There are many resources that can help you with that, but we recommend this handbook from Yale that focuses specifically on this tricky subject.
With these verbs of motion in your Russian vocabulary, your language skills can keep on moving forward!