I've always thought that the formal rules for declining decimals in Russian seem a little...unwieldy. For example, I gather that the correct way to say "pi is approximately equal to 3.14159" -- which isn't an uncommon thing to say, at least in some circles -- would require one to say something like

пи примерно равно трём целым, четырнадцати тысячам ста пятидесяти девяти стотысячным

Of course, an English speaker would just say "3-point-one-four-one-five-nine".

My question is -- do native Russian speakers actually take the correct approach in colloquial speech? Is there no easier way?

  • 6
    "...at least in some circles" — good pun.
    – KCd
    Dec 7 '12 at 4:45
  • 2
    I would not say that this is the correct way to pronounce numbers. Rather it is the standard way to pronounce numbers with a few digits after the decimal separator.
    – Yury
    Dec 7 '12 at 15:39
  • Thanks to all -- I understand now that native speakers take "short cuts" in colloquial speech. But just to test my understanding -- how, in practice, would one say something like "от 1,4% до 5,3%"? Would you say "ot odnoj [pause] chetyrekh procenta do pjati [pause] trekh procenta"?
    – DET
    Dec 14 '12 at 21:12

No, we do not use the "correct" way of pronouncing with сто тысячными. In colloquial speech we would pronounce it as "Три запятая четырнадцать сто пятьдесят девять" или "Три запятая сто сорок один пятьсот девяносто два".

Interesting fact is that Russians tend to group digits by 2 or 3 (f.e. сто сорок один) when pronounce while English usually pronounce by single digits (one four one). It is applicable to phone numbers as well.

EDIT: Answering DET's question of how to decline that simplified pronunciation of fractions. We bend the rules here and say "пи равно три [pause] сто сорок один пятьсот девяносто два..." because the other possibility "пи равно трем [pause] ста сорока двум пятистам девяноста двум..." or "трем четырнадцати пятнадцати девяноста двум" sounds completely ugly.

EDIT1: Answering KCd's question about pronouncing groups of digits that start with zeros. First of all, I must say that pronouncing long decimal fractions does not differ from pronouncing any long sequences of digits. I tried to find on internet any standards that regulate this. I found only these:

  1. Федеральные авиационные правила. Item 2.3 refers to "usual spoken language" and gives no more details.

    При ведении радиообмена на русском языке при передаче цифровых значений используется простой разговорный язык.

  2. Правила радиосвязи на внутренних водных путях Item 131 gives more details (note, that there is "typo" there: "пятизначные группы 25, 46" should be read as "двузначные группы 25, 46"). This indirectly confirms that in Russian we prefer 2- and 3-digit groups. This standard, though, does not say anything about zeros.

So, now I'm free to formulate "usual spoken language" rules for pronouncing zeros. :-)

  1. In groups starting from one or more zeros the zeros are never omitted. They are always pronounced. For example 4203 - сорок два [pause] ноль три. This is because the rule of pronouncing the digits in groups of the same size - is a weak rule and can be broken in the middle of the number for convenience of pronouncing or remembering. See my example of pronouncing "e" (2 7 1828 1828). In 99% of cases though the rule is respected: if you started to pronounce in groups of 3, you continue by groups of 3 till the end.
  2. If there are group of subsequent zeros (like 000 in 1230003), you often do not pronounce each of them separately but instead pronounce два ноля, три ноля ... десять нолей, and then continue possibly with the same size of group as you started. So, i.e. 4,200032 can be pronounced as четыре и два три нуля тридцать два. It still also can be pronounced as четыре, двести ровно, ноль тридцать два.
  3. If the group is ending with zeros (as 200 or 20) it may create ambiguity. I.e. if you say двести, тридцать два, it may mean 200 32 (here you voluntary switched from 3-digit groups to 2-digit, or involuntary because it was the end of the sequence), or 232. In this case, to eliminate the ambiguity we say "двести ровно, тридцать два" (two hundred sharp, thirty two), or make an enormously long pause between 200 and 32.
  • When someone in Russian "shows off" by pronouncing the first 100 digits of pi from memory, one person might pronounce the numbers in strings of length 2 and the other might do it in strings of length 3?
    – KCd
    Dec 7 '12 at 4:50
  • 1
    @KCd: I would pronounce (not to say that I can show off like that :-) in groups of 3 without thinking. Три сто сорок один пятьсот девяносто два шестьсот пятьдесят четыре... I would need to do some effort to pronounce digit-by-digit. Arbitrariness comes when there is 5 digits to pronounce like in OP. To say 3 14 159 or 3 141 59. Both are equally possible.
    – farfareast
    Dec 7 '12 at 14:41
  • Sorry - I don't know how to ask a follow-up question (as opposed to an answer). @farfareast: using the "abbreviated" approach ("tri zapjataja chetyrnadcat'...") how would you decline the expression? Would you say "...Rovno trem zapjataja chetyrnadcati..."?
    – DET
    Dec 7 '12 at 15:08
  • I've only heard digits of π pronounced as “три [запятая] четырнадцать пятнадцать ...”; never heard digits of π pronounced in groups of 3. With e, it is “два запятая семь (pause) восемнадцать (pause) двадцать восемь (pause) восемнадцать (pause) двадцать восемь ...”.
    – Yury
    Dec 7 '12 at 15:25
  • 1
    @Yuri I guess it is also personal. Depends on how somebody remembered the number. For example, I would pronounce "e" as 2 7 1828 1828 and then in groups by 3 (1828 is Tolstoy's year of birth). I think most Russians pronounce in groups of 3 in generic case (when where is no natural groups of 2 which is easy to remember) but we need to do a poll to prove it :-). In Russian the numerals for hundreds are much easier to pronounce than in English - single words ending with -сот instead of separate word "hundred". I think we all at least agree that normally Russians do not pronounce by single digit.
    – farfareast
    Dec 7 '12 at 17:24

Use of тысячных, миллионных etc., belongs only to the 5th year of the middle school.

I would say: три, четырнадцать, сто пятьдесят девять. Pronouncing "запятая" is excessive and won't be used really.

Correct about grouping. Also I would add, that the choose of how many digits are in the groups, decides the speaker, according to his own reasons.

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