I'm learning Russian and I wonder whether there is a list of verbs that are proven to be essential for learning a new language.

I mean "to maintain" is probably less important than verbs like "to run", "to play", "to draw", "to eat", ... and so on.

I know that I could just think about a hundred verbs and translate and learn them. But I wondered whether there has been some research on that specific topic.


2 Answers 2


I have not heard of standardized lists of verbs in any language, except for word lists that you need to learn for specific language tests (especially HSK for Standard Chinese). The type of resource that comes closest to what you need is probably a frequency dictionary. This type of dictionary contains words ordered by frequency instead of alphabetically. From this list, you can then pick out the verbs. I will mention two examples of frequency dictionaries for Russian:

  • A Frequency Dictionary of Russian: Core Vocabulary for Learners by Serge Sharoff, Elena Umanskaya and James Wilson (Routledge, 2013). This frequency dictionary is based on a 150-million-word internet corpus. (Modern dictionaries are often based on corpora; this one possible output of a branch of linguistics known as corpus linguistics.)
  • Russian Learners' Dictionary: 10,000 Russian Words in Frequency Order by Nicholas Brown (Routledge, 1996). This is an older dictionary that is not based on corpus linguistics but on the author's teaching experience and a number of other sources. For each word, the dictionary gives the Russian spelling, an English translation, a short phrase or sentence that uses the word, and an English translation of the phrase or sentence.
  • Thanks a lot! I also thought that this would come closest to what I was looking for. I think I'll go through your suggested lists and think of how often I use that word in my daily language. I feel like verbs might be the key to learn a language faster. Can be wrong though..
    – Philip
    Feb 24, 2018 at 20:50

This is an addition to Chistophe's answer. I have not seen the formal list of such verbs. However, from learning through Pimsleur audio classes I noticed that some verbs and words are usable in a wider variety of situations than others. For example:

  1. "understand" is more useful than "speak".

  2. "can" and "want" can be used in multiple situations, e.g. I can. I want. Can you? Do you want?

Pimsleur is using almost the same order of learning words when teaching different languages. This supports your assumption that some words are "more important" than others.

Frequency dictionaries are probably the best existing source of such information. However, I suspect that frequency of words in learner's speech is different from frequency of words in native speaker's speech. As an example, Pimsleur teaches numbers early enough in the course, because they are necessary to converse about time and money and family members. However, specific numbers: seven and eight may not be high on frequency lists of native speakers.

As a beginner learner and a tourist you will likely need to speak about a flight number, passport number, time of the flight and a gate number. But will not need to discuss yesterday TV show, or a hockey game, or your recent favorite book. Native speakers are likely to spend majority of time discussing other/different things.

  • The question is specifically about verbs, and numbers aren't verbs.
    – Tsundoku
    Feb 24, 2018 at 18:05
  • thank you! didn't quite adress the question but was helpful still.
    – Philip
    Feb 24, 2018 at 20:49

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