Semantic Profiles of Five Russian Prefixes: po-, s-, za-, na-, pro-


  • Laura A. Janda UiT The Arctic University of Norway image/svg+xml
  • Olga Lyashevskaya National Research University Higher School of Economics image/svg+xml


Aspect, Verbal Prefixes


We test the hypothesis that Russian verbal prefixes express meaning even when they are used to create a "purely aspectual pair" (čistovidovaja para). This is contrary to traditional assumptions that prefixes in this function are semantically "empty." We analyze the semantic tags independently established in the Russian National Corpus ( for 382 perfective partner verbs with five of the most common verbal prefixes in Russian: po-, s-, za-, na-, and pro-. Statistical tests show that the relationship between prefixes and semantic tags is significant and robust, and further identify which relationships constitute attractions, repulsions, and neutral relationships. It is possible to specify a unique meaning for each prefix in terms of the semantic tags it attracts or repulses. A detailed analysis of all the verbs in the study shows that the meanings of the prefixed perfective partners yield consistent patterns. Even verbs in repulsed semantic classes are consistent with these patterns. The meaning patterns of verbs with "purely aspectual" prefixes can be compared with the meanings of the prefixes as established on the basis of previous scholarship, which was primarily focused on the meanings of prefixes in their "non-empty" uses. This comparison shows that the verb meanings that appear with "purely perfectivizing" prefixes are the same as those found for "non-empty" uses of prefixes. We conclude that verbs select the prefix that is most compatible with their meanings when forming "purely aspectual" perfective partners, confirming our hypothesis.




How to Cite

Janda, L. A., and O. Lyashevskaya. “Semantic Profiles of Five Russian Prefixes: Po-, S-, Za-, Na-, Pro-”. Journal of Slavic Linguistics, vol. 21, no. 2, July 2013, pp. 211-58,