Learn Russian: Russian Made Easy Ep. 25

Russian Past Tense

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Привет! And welcome to episode 25 of Russian Made Easy. Как у тебя дела? Всё нормально? Это очень хорошо!

Did you understand what I said? Let’s look at it all word by word:

Как у тебя дела?

Literally: How at you things?

In normal English we’d say, “How’re things with you?”

Всё нормально?

Means: Is everything fine?

Это очень хорошо!

Means: This is very good!

Alright, that’s enough review for now. Repeat these two new Russian words.



They’re the same word, actually. The second one just has an “a” at the end. Listen and repeat one more time:



Before getting to the meaning, let’s add a name before each one. We’ll use Mark and then Dasha. Again, repeat after the speaker:

Марк говорил

Даша говорила

Let’s try one more name: Sarah. And I’d like you to guess: Which will Sarah get…govoril or govorila? Listen…

Сара говорила

Gosh, what a surprise! Rhyming in Russian! Anyway, let’s see if we can get the meaning.

Here’s the set-up. You’ve arrive to your friends place…the home of Natasha and Vlad. Natasha greets you and you ask her, “What’s Vlad doing?”

Now, since Vlad is on the phone in the other room talking with John, she says…

Он сейчас говорит с Джоном.

We’ve learned almost all that. She said, “He is now talking “s” Johnom.

Он сейчас говорит с Джоном.

That must mean, He is now talking WITH John. But here’s the key part. When Vlad gets off the phone and enters the room to greet you, he apologizes and then explains:

Я говорил с Джоном.

Let me toss that word into an English sentence. So, if I were Vlad, I’d come into the room and say…

“Sorry about that. I govoril with John. He said he can’t make it today.”

So, говорил is the past tense form of “to talk” or “to speak”.

Again, imagine a guy on the phone, talking to someone named Greg. We’d say…

He is now talking with Greg.

Он сейчас говорит с Грегом.

But after he hangs up the phone, we’d say..

He was talking with Greg.

Он говорил с Грегом.

Imagine that mom is on the phone with Brad. Try saying:

Mom is now talking with Brad.

Мама сейчас говорит с Брэдом.

Now try saying:

Mom was talking with Brad.

Мама говорила с Брэдом.

Did you say “govorila” with that “a” sound at the end, to rhyme with Mama? If so, you get the gold star. Because here’s the weird thing: In Russian, past tense verbs reflect the sex of the person who did the action.

With just two words, say:

Mark was talking.

Марк говорил.

Now say: Dasha was talking.

Даша говорила.

So far so good? Now, what about that whole “s Johnom” thing? Well, the Russian word “s” (spelled “C” in Russian) usually translates as “with”. And as you remember, these little words have a big effect on the words that follow. So, that little word “s” forces the name John to become “Johnom.” It forces John to add the ending “om”. So, how would you say:

With Mark

С Марком

With Vlad

С Владом

Makes sense?

So try saying:

Mom was talking with Robert.

Мама говорила с Робертом.

How would a girl say:

I was talking with Anton.

Я говорила с Антоном.

But how would a guy say:

I was talking with Anton.

Я говорил с Антоном.

Now, the name “Pat” in English is uni-sex. That is, there are guys named Pat and girls named Pat. So if I tell you, “Pat was talking with Frank,” you don’t know if Pat is a man or woman. But if I tell you in Russian…

Пэт говорила с Франком.

…now you know. Pat must be a woman because the verb “govorila” was in its feminine form.

V.O. And now, here’s your Tip of the Day from Russian Made Easy…

Today’s tip is in response to an email I got from Lucy, in Naperville, Illinois. She wanted to know when we’d be learning Russian numbers. That’s a great question, Lucy, and perfect for today’s tip.

Here’s the thing: Numbers in Russian are extremely complex. As you know, there are many, many ways to say virtually every word in Russian, and that goes for numbers, too. So, when someone asks me, “How do you say “one” in Russian?” I always ask, “In what sentence? What’s the context?” Because there are, I don’t know, a dozen or so ways to say just the number “one” in Russian. Listen: The following all mean “one” in Russian….











I basically had this discussion with a guy. He was like, “Just say one in Russian.”

And I said, “One what?”

He’s like, “I don’t know. One cat.”

So I asked him, “Is the cat male or female?”

He’s like, “I dunno….Female.”

“Mmm-hmm. And is the cat the one doing the action, or…?”

I think he gave up at that point. But as I said, the word you use — the number that you use — will depend on context. If I say, I have one female cat, it’d be:

У меня есть ОДНА кошка.


But if I say I want one female cat, the number one is going to be different.

Я хочу ОДНУ кошку.



odna….odnu…odnom….odnovo…You need to know the whole sentence before you think of which version you need for each number…or for any word in Russian.

To be honest, numbers are mind-bogglingly complex in Russian. I really can’t imagine being a Russian mathmetician, and having to work with large numbers in various contexts all day long.

But here’s the tip: Don’t let it scare you. You can master numbers just the way you’ve been mastering all the other material in this podcast. That is, gradually, and always in context.

But I don’t plan on teaching numbers in this podcast because an all-audio format is not a good way to do it. You really need video for numbers, so that I can just show you something and ask: How many objects do you see? Using video, you can avoid having to think in English first.

Anyway, let’s get back to today’s lesson. How would you say:

Dad was taling with Erik.

Папа говорил с Эриком.

Remember, your dad is male, so he gets the masculine ending on his verb: govoril…not govorila.

But how do we say:

He was talking with Mom.


Он говорил с Мамой.

Listen to just this part…”with Mom”

С мамой

That’s kind’ve a weird sound for us to make, as English speakers: С мамой…that “uh-ee” sound.

Let’s look at a few more. Imagine you’re on the phone talking with Olga. Your friend wants to know who you’re talking with. Say…

I’m talking with Olga.

Я говорю с Ольгой.

Say: He is talking with Polina.

Он говорит с Полиной.

Female names that end with a “sha” sound, like Dasha or Natasha, get more of an “ay” sound instead of “uh-ee”. Listen….

With Dasha

С Дашей

With Natasha

С Hаташей

Try to say…

Dad was talking with Nina.

Папа говорил с Ниной.

Now, not only does the verb have to reflect the sex of the person doing the action, it also has to reflect formal speech. Imagine I’m talking with my boss. I of course need to speak respectfully with him, so I ask…

Were you talking with Tolik?

Вы говорили с Толиком?

Do you hear the rhyme, by the way?


If you were asking the same question to your friend, you’d ask him:

Were you talking with Tolik?

Ты говорил с Толиком.

Of course, if your friend was a girl you’d ask her:

Ты говорила с Толиком?

Let’s work in some older vocabulary now. Do you remember the Russian word for “milk”? Say,

I want milk, please.

Я хочу молоко, пожалуйста.

Now imagine your friend is in a cafe and the waitress is taking his order. What do you think he’s ordering. Listen…

Я буду кофе с молоком.

He said: I’ll have coffee…with milk.

Did you hear how the little word “s” forced the word “moloko” to take that “om” ending?

Try it. Try saying…

I want coffee with milk.

Я хочу кофе с молоком.

…s molokom…

How would you say:

I work with Anton.

Я работаю с Антоном.

Ask a friend:

You work with Marina?

Ты работаешь с Мариной?

Ok. Last two phrases. Listen to this…

Влад работал с Вадимом.

That means, Vlad WAS WORKING with Vadim. So, rabotal means “was working.”

For ten thousand imaginary rubles, how would you say:

Mom was working with Mark.

Мама работала с Марком.

Did you say “rabotala” with an “a” sound at the end? If you did, give yourself an A+ for this lesson, and I’ll see you next time.

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Episode 25 – Full Program

Episode 25 – Exercises Only


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2 responses to “Learn Russian: Russian Made Easy Ep. 25”

  1. Danielle Stanley Avatar
    Danielle Stanley

    Why doesn’t the word for coffee change its ending when it is “acted upon” by the verb want?

    1. Mark Thomson Avatar
      Mark Thomson

      Hi Danielle,

      Only feminine nouns (like пицца машина книга) get an “uu” sound at the end when acted upon.
      кофе isn’t feminine. In fact, though you might think it’s neuter, it’s actually (oddly) masculine, according to Russian grammar.
      And as an imported word, it never changes its ending.

      But again, the main takeaway: Only feminine nouns change.
      Это суп. Я хочу суп. <--- soup is masc. Doesnt change when acted upon Это пиво. Я хочу пиво. <---- pivo is neuter. Doesnt change when acted upon Это пицца. Я хочу пиццу. <---- Ahh..Pizza is feminine. It gets an "uu" sound when acted upon. Make sense?

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