Russian: Going Places

Movement is a broad and deep topic in Russian – indeed, Russian verbs of motion are one of the things that trouble students most. But prepositions are another very important component of expressing ideas of movement, especially because their often differs from English. This article will deal with some of the most common verbs of motion along with how to use them with prepositions, as well as a little about expressing where you are.

The two most common prepositions used with both location and direction are в and на. If you’re talking about where you live, you use в with what kind of house you live in or the city and country you reside in – logical, since в mostly means ‘in’ as far as locations go. You use на if you live on an island or a mountain, or if you want to say that something is located on a river or on the coast. You also use на with street names:

Я живу в двухэтажном доме.
I live in a two-story house.

Я живу в Нью-Йорке, в США.
I live in New York, in the US.

Я живу на Гавайях.
I live in Hawaii.

Казань расположена на Волге.
Kazan is located on the Volga.

Я живу на улице Ленина, 15.
I live on 15 Lenin Street.

These prepositions are used similarly when used directionally, except that they govern the accusative. Any building or place that you’re heading to will be used with в, and islands, mountains and seashores will be used with на:

Мы едем в магазин.
We’re going to the store [by vehicle].

Я лечу в Сиэтл.
I’m flying to Seattle.

Я лечу на Багамы.
I’m flying to the Bahamas.

Я еду на Лазурный берег.
I’m going to the Azure Coast [by vehicle].

However, на will also be used when talking about going to events rather than places:

Я иду на вечеринку.
I’m going to a party.

Я лечу на конференцию.
I’m going [flying] to a conference.

The word дом in the meaning of ‘home’ and not ‘house’ as in building is a notable exception – the form до́ма is used to express location and домо́й is used to express direction.

Actual verbs of motion (VOMs) that are used with these prepositions are many, but there are a few common recipes that are often enough for simple conversation. We’ll be looking at the three principal VOMs used in day-to-day life: идти/ходить (to go generally or by foot), ехать/ездить (to go by land vehicle) and лететь/летать (to go by air vehicle).

You may have noticed that already there are two forms of them given. They are not, however, imperfective and perfective, as is tradition – they are imperfective unidirectional and multidirectional versions of the same verb, respectively. Unidirectional VOMs are used when there is a direction given – when you’re going somewhere specific. Unprefixed unidirectional VOMs roughly correspond to the present continuous (I’m going) or past continuous (I was going):

Я иду домой.
I’m going home.

Я еду в город.
I’m going [by vehicle] to the city [usually means downtown/to the big city from a suburb or village].

Я лечу за границу.
I’m going [flying] abroad [lit. beyond the border].

To express the future simple (I will go), these VOMs are prefixed with по-:

Я скоро пойду домой.
I will go home soon.

Завтра я поеду в город.
I will go to the city tomorrow.

В следующем году я полечу за границу.
Next year I will go abroad.

Prefixing them with у- yields verbs with the meaning of not having got back, or leaving. Using it in the past yields the present perfect (I’ve gone) or past simple, whereas using them in the future yields the future simple. These are used with the prepositions из or c (genitive) instead of в and на respectively:

Я ушёл из дома.
I left my home [lit. I went out of home].

Я уехал из США два года назад.
I left the US two years ago.

Я улетел с Багам ещё вчера.
I [already] left the Bahamas yesterday.

Скоро я уеду из Москвы навсегда.
Soon I will leave Moscow forever.

Multidirectional VOMs are usually used when there is no specific goal in mind, and the movement is idle, or if the movement is occurring between multiple points. For instance, in the examples above only unidirectional verbs have been used, since all of them were used with a specific destination. Multidirectional VOMs may also be used with a specific destination if movement there is reoccurring, e.g. if you go somewhere on a regular basis. Common prepositions used with roaming are по (dative) to mean ‘around’ and вокруг to mean ‘around’ in the meaning of more or less in a circle.

Я хожу на занятия по русскому.
I go to Russian classes.

Каждый день я езжу на работу на машине.
Every day I go to work by car.

Я ходил по городу два часа.
I was walking around the city for two hours.

Мы ездили по Африке два года.
We went around Africa for two years.

Мы летали вокруг аэропорта пятнадцать минут.
We were flying around the airport for fifteen minutes.

Unprefixed multidirectional VOMs are also used in the meaning of past simple (I went) with travel destinations:

Мы летали в отпуск в Турцию.
We went to Turkey on vacation.

Prefixing multidirectional VOMs with с- yields verbs roughly corresponding to the past simple with a more pronounced meaning of having returned:

Мы сходили в театр.
We went to the theatre.

Мы съездили в город.
We went to the city.

Я слетал в Бангкок.
I went to Bangkok.

Additionally, prefixing them with у- yields the present continuous with the meaning of future action (I’m leaving [soon]) when used in the present:

Завтра я улетаю в Техас.
I’m leaving for Texas tomorrow.

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Developer, linguistics enthusiast, amateur teacher. All opinions are my own.

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