perfective/imperfective infinitive with verbs of perception

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by Icetrance, Nov 17, 2010.

  1. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English

    How do you explain the difference between this two sentences:

    Я (не) могу видеть его.

    Я (не) могу увидеть его.

    The difference seems quite subtle to me (unless I'm wrong): In sentence 1, they seem to be saying "I am not able 'to be seeing' him" (which we'd never say in English), whereas in sentence 2, they're saying "I cannot 'spot' him" (can't go from not seeing him to seeing him). So, in other words, it's really about a state vs. achievement.

    Am I way off?

    I'd appreciate any input. :)
  2. morzh

    morzh Banned


    Sometimes these statements are the same.
    Sometimes they re not.



    Can I see Mr. Smith? - it can be both 1) Могу я видеть м-ра Смита, and 2) Могу я увидеть м-ра Смита?

    However, in the following sentences they are not interchangeable:

    When you see the target, pull the trigger - Когда увидишь цель, нажми спуск. (here it is important to emphasize completing of action at the exact moment, so it is the perfect verb that is needed).

    When you see you parents every Thanksgiving, they seem to get older every time - когда ты видишь родителей на дни Благодарения, они стареют с каждым разом. (repeated action)

    When you are watching an interlaced TV picture you cannot see the every half-picture by itself - Когда ты смотришь на экран ТВ с чересстрочной разверткой, ты не видишь каждую половину картинки отдельно. (continuous action)

    Every time you see Raphael's paintings, they grab you anew - каждый раз ,когда ты видишь полотна Рафаэля, они тебя поражают заново. (repeated action - every time)


    When you see Raphael's paintings, they will grab you - когда ты увидишь полотна Рафаэля, они тебя поразят. (future one time action)


    SO, when the sentence clearly requires completed / one time action, hence perfect form - "увидеть".
    Otherwise - "видеть".

    And, sometimes, both can be used.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2010
  3. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English
    Yes!!! That makes perfect sense. I forgot all about the "when-clauses", etc.

    And in my example, the difference is really so subtle (the way I explained it) to the point they are interchangeable (my point about "imperfective vs. perfective infinitives with verbs of perception).

    I really appreciate it that!:thumbsup::)
  4. Ptak Senior Member

    I'd say in this case everything is much easier:

    Я не могу видеть его (the more natural word order would be "Я не могу его видеть"). - I can't stand the sight of him.

    Я не могу увидеть его (the more natural word order would be "Я не могу его увидеть"). - I'm trying, but don't manage to meet him / I can't seize an opportunity to see him / I can't find him in / I have no possibility of meeting [and talking to] him.

    I would never say that these statements are the same.
  5. morzh

    morzh Banned


    Yes, but one small detail - you are talking about negative statements, and in them the difference is important. In positive - it is not.
  6. Ptak Senior Member

    Give me an example from live spoken language when one would say "Я могу его видеть". It can be only a question (like "Can I see Mr. Smith?") and anyway sounds very, very formal. As a statement, it looks impossible, that is absolutely unnatural to me.
  7. morzh

    morzh Banned

    Well, this was exactly the example I was talking about, "Могу я видеть м-ра Смита?".

    I was not talking strictly of statements vs. questions. I was talking of particular instance where they are interchangeable.

    When you objected, quoting negated usage, I was not sure what you were objecting to exactly.
    You can only refute a statement that is made - I made no statement that these two are fully interchangeable anywhere.

    If you tell me exactly what you object to in what I said, I will try to answer then.
  8. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English
    No, they are not that same, I suppose, when you consider the examples you've given. The first is an idiomatic expression, and it more about a "generality"; hence, the use of the imperfect infinitive.

    I get the general difference, but there is still times where the difference seems quite subtle, making them almost interchangeable. That said, I could be completely wrong, as Russian is not my mother tongue.


    Мне жаль, что я не могу его видеть лично! (just a state of not being able to see him in person)

    Мне жаль, что я не могу его увидеть лично! (can't get the chance to see him in person)

    I don't see much of a difference? But, I'm no native speaker, so...

    Also, the "less natural" word order I had above can be used, no? But wouldn't it be more if I wanted to stress the verbs more than the direct object?
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2010
  9. morzh

    morzh Banned

    In this example I personally do not see the difference. Some little voice in my head tells me the one with "видеть" is just a bit more formal, but even that I'm not really sure of.

    Again, this is one example I could think of where they are the same; otherwise, generally they are not, and the differences have been listed.

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