In the following sentence:

Зачем богатые и уважаемые корпорации продолжают использовать материал, который уже загрязнил окружающую среду до такой степени, что каждый житель планеты употребляет вместе с едой и питьем 5 граммов микропластика — целую кредитную карточку — в неделю?

Source: https://www.facebook.com/GlobalSearchKG/posts/4677654905608160

I didn't understand what целую кредитную карточку means. Based on the Google translate, it seems that the phrase is used to emphasize the severity of the use of microplastics, meaning that the amount of microplastics each person consumes in a week is equivalent to the amount of microplastics used in a credit card.

But I also don't understand why the accusative is used in the phrase and also how the two dashes work in these sentences. Is it fine to use the accusative without any prepositions such as за, в or на, and can I replace the dashes with just a comma?

  • 2
    Both answers here are good, I'd just add that I'd write this text with double dashes too because that makes that explanatory construction stand out better -- the text is easier to read quicker. I see this more and more being the case in the the modern language. Otherwise, if you use commas, the reader needs to read the sentence up to the end to understand that it's not an enumeration -- that's confusing. And using parenthesis is in general to be avoided as much as possible because that introduces a second "layer" to the text which is usually unnecessary. I was taught so, and I think so too.
    – noncom
    Nov 24, 2021 at 0:08

2 Answers 2


Let's have a look at the last clause:

каждый житель планеты употребляет вместе с едой и питьем 5 граммов микропластика — целую кредитную карточку — в неделю

• The subject is каждый житель планеты with житель being the head of the noun phrase, in the Nominative case.
• The predicate is употребляет “consumes” which is a transitive verb. ‘Transitive’ means it can have a direct object, and in Russian a typical direct object is a noun phrase in the Accusative case and without any preposition, e.g. in Я тебя люблю the direct object is тебя and it is in the Accusative case and without any preposition.
• The direct object is 5 граммов микропластика with 5 (пять) being the head of the phrase, in the Accusative = Nominative case without any preposition. It is followed by a so-called пояснительная конструкция “explanatory construction”, a phrase explaining what precedes it. Typically, such constructions are singled out with commas, long dashes, or a colon, in your sentence the first long dash was chosen because the construction is introduced without any conjunctions, and there is the second long dash at the end of the construction since the sentence is not yet over, an adjunct of time follows (в неделю “every week”).

Since that explanatory construction just explains the direct object, mirrors it, paraphrases it in terms of a 5-gram piece of plastic everybody can imagine, it is also in the Accusative case without any preposition, just like the direct object itself.

The best way to get rid of the long dashes is to introduce that explanatory construction with a conjunction, for example, with то есть “that is”, in this case the construction will be framed with commas:

каждый житель планеты употребляет вместе с едой и питьем 5 граммов микропластика, то есть целую кредитную карточку, в неделю

  • 1
    Thank you for the detailed explanation. So in Russian is it grammatically not correct to just use a comma for the "explanatory construction"? (e.g. Каждый житель планеты употребляет вместе с едой и питьем 5 граммов микропластика, целую кредитную карточку, в неделю.)
    – Blaszard
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:21
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    @Blaszard - I'd probably use commas or even brackets (), still, as you can see, the Russian grammar rules are prescriptive, I gave the link. If your text is for publication, the corrector and/or editor is going to correct that to follow the rules. However, punctuation in such complicated cases allows alternative solutions, and there's such thing as “the author's usage” which can be unpredictable and rule-breaking. If you move в неделю from the end to the middle, e.g. before употребляет, even without a conjunction the comma before целую would be OK, nobody would mind it there.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:52
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    @Blaszard: Rosenthal (the author of one of the most authoritative Russian grammar guides) actually advices against using the double em dash in favor of two commas, or a colon and a comma, where appropriate. It's right in the chapter behind the link in the answer.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 23, 2021 at 19:54

Let's rephrase it by restoring the repetition denoted by the first dash:

Каждый житель планеты употребляет целую кредитную карточку в неделю is a valid phrase with understandable accusative use, since subject is житель.

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