Grammar

Unprefixed Russian Verbs of Motion

The verbs of motion are a special class of Russian verbs that are difficult for many beginners of Russian. They include much more information than English verbs. When we say “I’m going to the movies” and “I often go to the movies” we use the same verb “to go.” Russians use two different verbs: идти́ and ходи́ть.

Я иду́ в кино́. I’m going to the movies.

Я ча́сто хожу́ в кино́. I often go to the movies.

The first sentence uses a unidirectional verb, meaning that we are only talking about the trip there. The second sentence uses a multidirectional verb, meaning that we are talking about multiple directions. You will learn about both of these types of verbs in this post.

It is important for me to note that we are only going to be covering unprefixed verbs of motion (Глаго́лы движе́ния без приста́вок) in this post. The verbs you are going to encounter may also add prefixes to increase its meaning. We will save those verbs for another post!

Also, you should know that Russian has two different verbs for “to go”….Well, I guess you could say four, if you count the unidirectional multidirectional pairs…and six if you count the imperfective-perfective pairs. Anyways, “to go by foot” (i.e. walk) is идти́/ходи́ть and “to go by transport” is е́хать/е́здить.

So let’s get started, shall we? First off, the difference between unidirectional and multidirectional.

Unidirectional V.S. Multidirectional

Unidirectional and multidirectional verbs are also known as “definite” and “indefinite”, respectively.

You use the unidirectional form when you are going in one direction or talking about going in one direction. So, if you’re on your way to see a movie, you would say: Я иду в кино.This is why this form is also known as the “definite” form.

You use the multidirectional form when you are going in more than one direction, like a round trip. If you go to the movies and come back, you have traveled in more than one direction. So, if you want to say that you often go to the movies, you would say: Я часто хожу в кино.

The multidirectional form is also used when there is no motion, or when the number of directions is irrelevant.

There are 4 basic notes that you should take:

1. If the motion is in one direction, use a unidirectional verb.

Я иду́ в кино́. I am going to the movies. (right now, on foot)

Мы е́дем в Москву́. We are going to Moscow. (right now, by transport)

2. If the motion is in more than one direction, use a multidirectional verb.

Я ча́сто хожу́ в кино́. I often go to the movies. (on foot, return trip)

Вчера́ мы е́здили в Москву́. Yesterday we went to Moscow. (by transport, return trip)

Они́ ходи́ли по го́роду. They walked around the town. (multiple directions)

3. If there is no motion, use a multidirectional verb.

Вчера́ мы не ходи́ли в кино. We didn’t go to the movies yesterday.

Я никогда́ не лета́ю. I never fly.

4. If the number of directions is irrelevant, use a multidirectional verb.

Ты когда́-нибу́дь ходи́л в кино́ в одино́честве? Have you ever gone to the movies by yourself?

Я люблю́ пла́вать I love swimming.

A List of Verbs

There are fourteen verbs in Russian that have pairs to express a distinction between unidirectional and multidirectional. They are listed below.

Unidirectional Multidirectional
бежа́ть бе́гать to run
брести́ броди́ть to stroll; to take a walk
вести́ води́ть to lead; to drive
везти́ вози́ть to carry (by transport)
гнать гоня́ть to drive
е́хать е́здить to go (by transport)
кати́ть ката́ть to ride
лезть ла́зить to climb
лете́ть лета́ть to fly
нести́ носи́ть to carry; to wear
плыть пла́вать to swim
ползти́ полза́ть to crawl
тащи́ть таска́ть to pull
идти́ ходи́ть to go (on foot); to walk

Aspect

If you didn’t know, the verbs above are imperfective. If you have yet to learn about aspect in Russian, read this blog post about it.

The verbs above may be made perfective by adding the prefix по-. However, идти́ becomes пойти́ when it is made perfective.

Perfective multidirectional verbs convey the meaning “a little” or a “limited amount.” Therefore, походи́ть means “to walk around for a little while.”

Perfective unidirectional verbs convey the meaning “to complete a trip in one direction” or “to start/set off.”

Multidirectional Дава́й похо́дим по го́роду!
Let’s go for a little walk around town!
Unidirectional Пойдём!
Let’s go!

Conclusion

Verbs of motion are an important aspect of the Russian language. Sure, they’re kind of difficult for an English speaker to grasp, because we have nothing like this in our own language. But practice and try not to make it more difficult than it actually is. All you really have to remember is that unidirectional verbs are used when you are talking about going in one direction. Use the multidirectional verbs for everything else!

If you want the conjugations for these verbs, remember Wiktionary!

6 thoughts on “Unprefixed Russian Verbs of Motion

  1. Nice post! Do you happen to know the Russian words for “definite” and “indefinite” as relates to grammar? I can’t seem to find it anywhere, and I don’t think I see it even when using in ru.wiktionary.org. How is this grammatical concept referred to in Russian?

      1. Actually, I’m wondering if it should be “направленный” and “ненаправленный”. The more I study, it seems like определённый/неопределённый (while they directly translate to definite/indefinite), are used more in the sense of, for example, где-то (see here: https://ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%8F:%D0%A0%D1%83%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B5_%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BE%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BB%D1%91%D0%BD%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5_%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%B8%D1%8F).

        Here’s an example of someone referring to направленный/ненаправленный (нести = направленный от носить): http://www.lingvo-online.ru/en/Translate/ru-en/%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%8C

        I know I’m being very pedantic, so sorry about that! And maybe both are correct. Thanks again!

  2. I seem to have humiliated myself. Ouch.
    Definite/indefinite = определённый/неопределённый for nouns and pronouns, I didn’t realize you meant verbs.
    I’ve found an article, however, where the author explaines how messy and contradictory is classification of Russian verbs of motion. I guess, that’s why you were having this trouble.
    And nothing wrong with being pedantic. Thanks for sharing results of your research!

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