This peculiar note I came upon on the wall of the restroom at the university today and couldn’t help but to share it with you, first and foremost because it is packed with information necessary for today’s grammatical note: «повелительное наклонение единственного числа» [imperative in singular]. «Если не сможешь сделать это аккуратно - лучше не начинай!!! Оглянись, возьми щётку и убери за собой!!! Спасибо!!!» [If you can't do this carefully - it's better not to start!!! Turn around, take the brush and clean up after yourself!!! Thank you!!!]
Sometimes you’re faced with the challenging task of having to ask a Russian to do something. How do you make a Russian do as you say? Luckily for us the Russian language has thought about this long before we realized it would be a problem for us and thus it has invented the practical «повелительное наклонение» [imperative, imperative mood] for this purpose. The adjective «повелительный» comes from the verb «велеть» meaning ‘order; say; will’ and the noun «наклонение» means ‘inclination; declination; nutation; mood’, which makes this «словосочетание» [collocation; combination of words] translate into English literally as ‘the ordering declination’. Knowing this we can easily figure out that this form of the Russian verb is used for a special purpose - to give orders to Russians (and other «русскоговорящие» [Russian speakers] for that matter). Knowing that doesn’t, however, make it any easier to give an order to a Russian. In order to do that (ha! word play!) we must learn what exactly happens to the Russian verb in imperative. And that’s what we’re going to do today!
Before giving an order to a Russian there are TWO (2) important things you must first find out about the situation in which you are about to do this:
1) Are you «на ты» with this particular Russian, i.e. you’re close friends, or close in age, or just enjoy an informal relationship with each other? Or are you two «на Вы», i.e. the other person is much older than you, or a stranger, or someone with whom you have a formal relationship?
a) If you’re «на ты» with this person, then you should use the «единственное число» [singular] form of the verb in imperative, meaning that the verb form you use should end on «й» or «и» (most likely, though there are verbs that end on «ь» [the soft sign] in imperative, like, for example «режь!» [cut!]). For example:
«слушай!» [listen!], «смотри!» [look!], «читай!» [read!], and «подожди!» [pf. wait!]
б) But if you’re «на Вы» with this person, you must use the «множественное число» [plural] form of the verb in imperative, which means that the verb form you use ends on «ТЕ». Here are some examples to illustrate this - a little more formal - way of ordering people around in Russian (note: this form is also used when you’re asking MORE THAN ONE Russian to do something):
«слушайТЕ!» [listen!], «смотриТЕ!» [look!], «читайТЕ!» [read!], and «подождиТЕ!» [pf. wait!]
(Did you see how the verb forms in plural are different from the ones in singular in Russian, while the verb remains the same in English translation no matter if it’s plural or singular? Good! Now noticing this might be easy, remembering it is the tricky part!)
2) As always when faced with Russian verbs, one must pick one out of the two possible «вида глагола» [verb aspects]. Also when using imperative we must make the hard choice between «несовершенный вид» [imperfective aspect] and «совершенный вид» [perfective aspect]. Deciding between the two is much harder than deciding whether or not you’re close friends with someone, and that’s why I’m not going to get into this on a detailed level today. Let’s start out «потихоньку, помаленьку» [silently, little by little], as the Russians themselves would say!
a) «Несовершенный вид» [imperfective aspect] is the neutral way to command someone to do something. You should use this aspect when it is the action itself, and not its result, that you’re after:
«Сидите тихо!» - [sit quietly! (plural)]
The imperfective aspect also the aspect used when you’re not commanding through imperative, but actually expressing a polite invitation:
«Заходи!» (sing.), or «Заходите!» (plural) - [Come in!]
«Бери печенье, наливай сам (сама) кофе!» (sing.), or «Берите печенье, наливайте сами кофе!» (plural) - [Take some cookies, pour yourself some coffee!]
When you DON’T want someone to do something, imperfective aspect is also the one used:
«Не закрывай/не закрывайте окно!» - [Don't close the window!]
«Не говори/не говорите плохо про людей, которых не знаешь/не знаете!» - [Don't talk bad about people you don't know!]
«Сиди/сидите, не вставай/вставайте!» - [Sit, don't stand up!]
«Не звони/звоните мне больше!» - [Don't call me anymore!]
б) «Совершенный вид» [perfective aspect] is the most frequent form used when hoping for a positive reply as you’re commanding someone to do something in Russian language. When using the perfective aspect you’re most concerned with the result of the action, and the action as a whole:
«Пожалуйста, открой/откройте дверь!» - [Please open the door!]
«Скажи/скажите как проехать на улицу Маяковского!» - [Tell me how to get to Mayakovsky street!]
«Прочитайте/прочитай дома первую и вторую главы!» - [Read (through) the first and the second chapters at home!]
The perfective aspect is also used when you’re asking to be brought something in a restaurant or in a shop:
«Передайте/передай мне, пожалуйста, соль» - [Please pass me the salt!]
«Принесите/принеси мне, пожалуйста, воды» - [Please give me (a glass of) water!]
«Покажите/покажи мне, пожалуйста, янтарные изделия» - [Please show me the amber products!]
And so it is time to sum up today’s lesson and try our best to apply what we’ve learnt to make Russians do what we want. Let’s say you have a Russian pen pal that hasn’t written to you in a while and you really want them to write you a letter. Which form of imperative should you use? Well, let’s have a look!
«Пиши мне!» - [Write me!]: using this kind of phrase means you consider yourself a) a close friend of your pen pal, and б) that you just want them to ‘write’, i.e. you’re not really being that specific, not after any particular ‘result’.
«Напиши мне!» - [Write me!]: with this command you’re still a) close with your pen pal, but б) you want to see a result, and this result that you’re asking them is - most likely - a real letter and not just a simple «привет, как делишки?» ['hey, how you doing?'].
I hope this was «полезно» for everyone, and that you understand that just because you’re using the right imperative form doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll actually get Russians to do as you say! But it is always worth a try…Post from: Russian Blog