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What are the cases and possibly rules for using semicolon (;) in Russian?

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I can say that there are 3 major cases when a semicolon is used:

  1. it separates two sentences which the author wants to put together for some reason. Usually the sentences themselves are complex and contain commas. The sentences may be independent or they may be conjuncted, where the second part starts with a conjunction such as но, тем не менее, однако:

    Я давно собирался зайти в гости к этим людям, пригласившим меня еще месяц назад; но я все не мог решиться, и каждый раз, когда я проходил мимо их дома, я невольно ускорял шаги.

  2. it separates complex conjuncts or subordinated clauses under the same subordination conjunction:

    Он часто думал о ней, о том, что никогда не быть им вместе; что никогда не сможет он посмотреть ей в глаза и честно рассказать о своих чувствах; что никогда не примет она его предложения; что не стоит и пытаться из менить ее вежливо-снисходительное к нему отношение.

  3. finally, it separates enumerated items in a list:

    В помещении суда запрещается:

    1. курить;
    2. распивать спиртные напитки и находится в нетрезвом виде;
    3. громко разговаривать.
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    The 3rd use-case seems completely pointless to me. What is the practical benefit of adding a semicolon to numbered lists, considering that the individual items are already separated with line breaks, and even if these were removed, would still be clearly separated with the numbers preceding each item? – Philip Seyfi Jul 1 '12 at 10:28
  • @PhilipSeyfi Olga is absolutely correct in the 3rd case, though it could be expanded/corrected (not only enumerated and not only the semicolon). Take a look e.g. here: gramota.ru/spravka/buro/29_247493. The general idea is that a sentence should end with a period, so a period is needed after the last item. However, this requires that some other sign be put after each of the previous items. – texnic Jul 1 '12 at 10:41
  • @texnic Oh, I'm sorry if it sounded like I tried to critique the answer in any way. It was just an observation as to the lack of practical benefit behind the rule. That is, unlike with most punctuation marks, if one were to ignore the rule and omit the semicolon, the meaning, emotional context, or reading would not change in any way. – Philip Seyfi Jul 1 '12 at 10:59
  • @PhilipSeyfi - Rest assured there are a lot of things pertaining to English punctuation rules that look absolutely pointless to Russians, too. For example, using comma before "too" in the end of the sentence. It's a language thing. – brilliant Jul 1 '12 at 13:09
  • @PhilipSeyfi I would say that the sentence should still read naturally if there was no newlines and numbers. – jrouquie Jul 5 '12 at 15:20
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I like this question. My first intention was to say that semicolon was not commonly used in classical Russian and is rather an attribute of either bureaucratic or technical speech. However, a quick look into Rosenthal provided some insight, with which I should agree.

Semicolon is used in a compound sentence, which parts are complex sentences themselves, or just contain commas; usually before conjunctions а, но, однако, зато, да, и, тоже, также, же, less commonly before и, да (when it means и), and или. For example:

Шесть лет комиссия возилась около здания; но климат что ли мешал, или материал уже был такой, только никак не шло казенное здание выше фундамента. (Гоголь, Мёртвые души)

Semicolon is also used when a conjunction-less connection is combined with a conjunctional connection, e.g.

Ветер не мог тут свирепствовать; дорога была гладкая; лошадь ободрилась, и Владимир успокоился. (Пушкин, Метель)

Finally, a semicolon is used instead of a period when the author wants to join generally separate sentences:

Бледно-серое небо светлело, холодело, синело; звезды то мигали слабым светом, то исчезали; отсырела земля, запотели листья, кое-где стали раздаваться живые звуки, голоса. (Тургенев, Бежин луг)

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I wonder what they are in English :) I would say that we use it for a pause which is larger that a comma but less then a full stop. Something like "Я пошла в магазин и купила сигарет, молока и хлеба; а заодно на почту сбегала".

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    I wouldn't use a semicolon here. The two clauses are still connected enough for a comma to be OK. – Helgi Jun 28 '12 at 11:10

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