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Five Major Differences Between English and Russian Punctuation

The importance of punctuation in a language can’t be overstated. The placement of something as simple as a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence: “Let’s eat, Grandma” is far less sinister than “Let’s eat Grandma,” for example. In this post, we compare five major differences between English and Russian punctuation rules. If you want to make sure that you never accidentally suggest doing terrible things to loved ones, your grandma included, because of punctuation errors, learn Russian online with a tutor.

Marking Adverbial Clauses

In English, the adverbial clause is singled out when it precedes the main clause. In Russian, adverbial clauses are not marked by a comma unless they contain a subject and a predicate.

  • By then, we should have already finished.

  • К тому времени мы должны были уже закончить. (K tomu vremeni my dolzhny byli uzhe zakonchit’.)

Separating Items on a List

In English, sentences listing three and more items can take a comma before the coordinating conjunction “and.” This is known as a serial or Oxford comma, and it is widely used in, for example, academic writing. In Russian, the serial comma does not exist, and there is no comma before the conjunction “и” (i).

  • I would like to eat a salad, soup, and a dessert.

  • Я хочу салат, суп и десерт. (Ya khochu salat, sup i desert.)

Showing Interruption in Dialogue

When speech is interrupted in English, we use an em dash to show the interruption. In Russian, we use ellipses.

  • Well, you see, I – I’ve – I’m just not sure.

  • Ну, видите ли, я… я… я просто не уверен. (Nu, vidite li, ya…ya…ya prosto ne uveren.)

Quotation Marks Versus Dashes to Introduce Dialogue

In Russian, we also use dashes to introduce dialogue, while in English quotation marks enclose dialogue.

  • “Excuse me, could you help me, please?”

  • “Sure. How can I help you?”

  • - Извините, не могли бы вы мне помочь? (Izvinite, ne mogli by vy mne pomoch’?)

  • - Конечно. Чем я могу вам помочь?(Konechno. Chem ya mogu vam pomoch’?)

Punctuating Dialogue and Direct Quotations

Similarly, in English a dash does not preceded the author’s words in direct quotations, while Russian punctuation rules require the use of a dash.

  • “I’ll be home at five,” he said.

  • “Я буду дома в пять”, - сказал он. (“Ya budu doma v pyat’“,-skazal on.)

These are just five punctuation rules that are different in Russian and English. To learn about the many other Russian punctuation rules, study Russian punctuation with a teacher.

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