8 Simple Rules for Russian Verb Conjugation

Russian verbs change according to their tense, person, and number. This guide to Russian verb conjugation provides basic rules for conjugating regular verbs in the present tense.

The Russian present tense is simpler than the English present tense, as there is only one present tense verb form. To illustrate this point, consider the sentence "я читаю." This statement can mean "I read," "I have been reading," or "I am reading."

Thanks to this simplified present tense, basic verb conjugation in Russian is easier than you might expect. Follow these eight steps to begin conjugating Russian verbs.

Rule 1: Russian Verb Forms

Russian verbs have six forms in the present tense: 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person, all of which can be singular or plural. The verb ending tells us the point of view (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and the number (singular/plural) of the verb.

Rule 2: Verb Conjugation Groups

There are two groups of verb conjugation in Russian: first conjugation and second conjugation.

First conjugation verbs have the endings -у (-ю), -ешь (-ёшь), -ет (-ёт), -ем (-ём), -ете (-ёте), and -ут (-ют).

Second conjugation verbs have the endings -у (-ю), -ишь, -ит, -им, -ите, -ат (-ят). 

Rule 3: How to Check a Conjugation Group

There are two ways to determine a verb's conjugation group.

First, look at the personal ending if it is under stress:

  • петь – поёшь, поёт, поют (first conjugation)
  • греметь – гремишь, гремит (second conjugation)

Second, if the personal ending is not stressed, look at the suffix before the ending -ть in the infinitive form of the verb and follow these steps.

  • Put the verb in its infinitive, e.g. гуляет - гулять
  • Check which vowel comes before the ending -ть. For example: in гулять, it is я.
  • Use these rules to determine whether the verb is first or second conjugation.

Rule 4: Endings in Second Conjugation Verbs

Second conjugation verbs are:

  • All verbs ending in -ить in their infinitive form (exceptions: брить, стелить)
  • 7 verbs ending with -еть: смотреть, видеть, ненавидеть, зависеть, терпеть, обидеть, вертеть
  • 4 verbs ending with -ать: слышать, дышать, гнать, держать
  • All derivatives of these verbs, e.g. перегнать, просмотреть

Rule 5: Endings in First Conjugation Verbs

First Conjugation verbs are those that in their infinitive form end in -еть, -ать, -ять, -оть, -уть, -ыть.

Rule 6: How to Remember The Correct Conjugation Group

Here's a helpful poem to remember which verbs are in the second conjugation group.

Ко второму же спряженью
Отнесем мы без сомненья
Все глаголы, что на –ить,
Исключая брить, стелить,
А еще: смотреть, обидеть,
слышать, видеть, ненавидеть,
гнать, дышать, держать, терпеть,
и зависеть, и вертеть.

Rule 7: Finding The Stem

To find the stem of a verb, take away the last letter from the first person singular form of the verb (я). For example, я гуляю becomes гуля.

Next, take off the last three letters the ending from the second person singular form of the verb (ты). For example, ты гуляешь becomes гуля.

Finally, compare the two results. If they are the same, either result is the stem. If they are not the same, then the second result is the stem.

Rule 8: Attaching The Ending

Take the stem of your verb (гуля) and find the correct ending based on the verb's conjugation group.

If it is a first conjugation verb, use the endings -у (-ю), -ешь (-ёшь), -ет (-ёт), -ем (-ём), -ете (-ёте), and -ут (-ют).

If it is a second conjugation verb, use the endings -у (-ю), -ишь, -ит, -им, -ите, -ат (-ят).

Exceptions

Some verbs are conjugated with endings from both the first and the second conjugation forms. For example:

я хочу (ya khaCHOO) - I want
ты хочешь (ty KHOchysh) - you want
он / она хочет (on / aNA KHOchyt) - he / she wants
мы хотим (my khaTEEM) - we want
вы хотите (vy khaTEEty) - you want
они хотят (aNEE khaTYAT) - they want

я бегу (ya byeGOO) - I am running / I run
ты бежишь (ty byeZHYSH) - you (singular / familiar) are running / you run
он / она бежит (on / aNA byZHYT) - he / she is running / he / she runs
мы бежим (my byZHYM) - we are running / we run
вы бежите (vy byZHYty) - you (plural) are running / you run
они бегут (aNEE byGOOT) - they are running / they run

First Conjugation Example

гулять (gooLYAT') - to walk, to stroll
гуля - the verb's stem

я гуляю (ya gooLYAyu) - I am walking / I walk
ты гуляешь (ty gooLYAysh) - you (singular / familiar) are walking / you walk
он/она гуляет (on/aNA gooLYAyt) - he / she is walking / he/ she walks
мы гуляем (my gooLYAyim) - we are walking / we walk
вы гуляете (vy gooLYAytye) - you (plural) are walking / you walk
они гуляют (aNEE gooLYAyut) - they are walking / they walk

Second Conjugation Examples

дышать (dySHAT') - to breathe
дыш - the verb's stem

я дышу (ya dySHOO) - I am breathing / I breathe
ты дышишь (ty DYshysh) - you (singular / familiar) are breathing / you breathe
он/она дышит (on / aNA DYshyt) - he / she is breathing / he / she breathes
мы дышим (my DYshym) - we are breathing / we breathe
вы дышите (vy DYshytye) - you (plural) are breathing / you breathe
они дышат (aNEE DYshut) - they are breathing / they breathe

видеть (VEEdyt') - to see
вид - the verb's stem

я вижу (ya VEEzhoo) - I am seeing / I see*
ты видишь - you (singular / familiar) are seeing/ you see
он / она видит - he / she is seeing / he / she sees
мы видим - we are seeing / we see
вы видите - you (plural) are seeing / you see
они видят - they are seeing / they see

(*Please note that in some verbs, consonants positioned before the personal endings can change. Here, 'д' changes to 'ж' in first person singular.)