What is the difference in meaning between the various ways to say 'stop?' Namely, 'стой,' 'хватит,' 'перестань,' and 'прекрати?' Also, can they be used interchangeably and in all cases when one wants to say 'stop?'
Стой means stay still, stop going. It could be either an order like "Stop! Don't move" or just asking similar to "Hey, stop! Wait for me" or even "Hey, stop. Let me think". The latter two especially in soft forms like "постой", "постой-ка". But you cannot translate, say, "Stop kidding me" with "Стой".
Хватит = enough. It could be an order similar to stop just the way Enough! in English is.
Перестань, прекрати are essentially the same in imperative. You may think that перестать = leave off, and прекратить = cease, put an end.
When asking somebody to cease some activity, those do have slightly different meanings.
"Стой" is an imperative (a command) to [temporarily] halt any advancement, supposedly to evaluate the situation and decide whether it's worth continuing.
"Хватит" is not an imperative, it's an advice, a statement of fact, "what you've done up until now should suffice, you'd be wise to cease at this point". It is softer than "стой". Of course, it can be said with much force to sound like a command, yet grammatically it's indicative mood.
Both "перестань" and "прекрати" are imperatives. Both are commands, both mean "put an end to it", "cease". Between those two, "прекрати" is stronger, to my ear.
It literally means you should stop. Examples:
- Freeze! Freeze or I'll shoot! -- Стой! Стой, стрелять буду!
- Hold on, we need to get back and lock the door. -- Стой, нам надо вернуться и запереть дверь.
It is closest in meaning to "that's enough":
- -Would you like more whisky? - No, thanks, that's enough for me. -- Не хотите ли еще виски? - Нет, спасибо, мне хватит.
- That's enough fooling around! -- Хватит дурачиться!
- That's enough lies! -- Хватит лгать!
Перестань и Прекрати
These two are interchangeable, in my opinion. Moreover, these are sometimes interchangeable with "хватит", but not always:
- Stop fooling around! -- Перестань (прекрати) дурачиться!
- Stop lying! -- Перестань (прекрати) лгать!
I couldn't come up with a situation when you cannot substitute "перестань" or "прекрати" with "хватит" (looks like you always can). However, like with the whisky example, you can't always substitute "хватит" with "перестань" or "прекрати".
Also note that I am translating "перестань" and "прекрати" with an actual verb "stop", while "хватит" with a full sentence "that's enough".