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When listing things in Russian language using commatas, do you use an и before the last thing (e.g. столы, стулья и полки or just столы, стулья, полки)? I've seen some internet pages omitting the и but it's not explained anywhere so I don't know.

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Both cases

столы, стулья, полки

and

столы, стулья и полки

are appropriate. The и conjunction (in russian - союз) before the last element points the last element and logically completes the sentence.

Another option is logical pairing/binding, f.e.:

столы и стулья, полки и шкафы, серванты и лавки

this could be used to logically group item pairs, or to subscribe the long enumeration (plenty of elements).

  • "союз" is "conjunction", not "union" . – Abakan Nov 1 '16 at 20:22
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    Additionally... In the second case, one can write in English "desks, chairs, and shelves" using comma before "and". However, in Russian comma and conjunction "и" are mutually exclusive. One uses either comma, or "и", but never both at the same time. – Vitaly Nov 3 '16 at 23:24
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    @Vitaly "и столы, и стулья" – Pavel Mayorov Nov 13 '16 at 17:35
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It's up to you to decide whether to use и or not. In colloquial speech, the rules are not strict. But in written speech, especially in scientific works they do exist.

If the last word in enumeration is added without the conjunction и, the chain is meant and perceived as unfinished and open for possible addition (in some cases the words и так далее, и тому подобное, и прочее can be used). An example from a scientific text:

Инфекции могут подразделяться на антропонозы (полиомиелит, менинго- кокковая инфекция, вирусный гепатит и др.) и зоонозы (бешенство, бруцеллез, лептоспироз, туляремия и пр.).

Enumeration is considered finished when the last word is linked with the conjunction и. The conjunction shows that the list is complete , exhaustive and doesn't require additional information.

Музыкальные звуки различаются по силе, высоте и тембру.

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There is another one type of enumeration (not listed in previous answers). It is used when you want to emphasize that all items in the list have certain property:

В этой комнате и столы, и стулья, и полки, и шкафы были выкрашены в белый цвет.

Here you put conjunction и before each word and comma between words in the list.

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The last и isn't required, but its usage is pretty natural in the most cases.

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In addition to other answers, it's worth pointing out that when conjunction и is used, the implied meaning is that the list is full, i.e. you listed everything that's relevant:

Столы, стулья и полки [and nothing else]

When the conjunction is omitted, the implied meaning is that there may be other relevant items, but you don't really want/need to list them all, so you only list a few:

Столы, стулья, полки [and maybe other items of furniture]

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