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What are main differences in punctuation marks between Russian and English? I found the following:

  • In Russian, a signature is often follwed with the period mark. In English, no period after the signature.
  • Сложноподчинённые предложения. In Russian, the comma is required before "что", "как" etc. In English usually there is no comma before "that", "which" etc.
  • In Russian, no comma before "и" in constructs like "A, B, C и D". In English, "A, B, C, and D" - the comma before "and" is required. Same for или/or.
    • Similarly, in the constructs "и A, и B" and "или А, или В" the comma is required, while in the constructs "both A and B" and "either A or B" there is no comma.

But probably there are other differences.

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  • I am not sure about your first rule. How have u decided that Russian requires a period after a signature? – Anixx Nov 15 '14 at 7:58
  • @Anixx - from gramota.ru: "Точка после подписи в деловом письме не ставится. (...) Следует отметить, что в газетных и журнальных сохраняется традиция ставить точку после подписи автора, если подпись располагается после основного текста статьи." – user31264 Nov 15 '14 at 8:26
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    Your third rule (stating the serial comma is required with English) is not entirely true. In fact, this is somewhat of a contentious point (see Wikipedia: Serial Comma, Oxford Comma Infographic, and Funny News Headline Fail). – Александр Nov 18 '14 at 0:42
  • A Serial comma (Oxford comma) is an essential element of American Grammar - it resolves an ambiguity in separating items in a list. For instance: In this restaurant, my favorite appetizers are Signature Wings, Southwestern Eggrolls, and Salsa and Chips. In this example 'Salsa and Chips' is obviously a single item. – Noviff Jan 19 '17 at 4:43

10 Answers 10

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Besides already mentioned, there is one thing that kind of drove me nuts when I was making my first steps in communication with English-speaking people: there is no comma before a grammatical address (обращение) in English!
Russian:

Привет, Ваня!

English:

Hi John!

This is a tiny thing but it really makes a difference. So, now when I see a comma in those cases in English, I'm almost sure that the author is a Russian-speaking person.

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  • I'm not sure about that. I have a colleague from Ohio/Indiana, who puts a comma before a name in the case mentioned above. I have also a few German colleagues who do the same thing – UVV Nov 18 '14 at 22:00
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    According to english.stackexchange.com/questions/206310/hello-comma-john , this is not always the case. You can omit the comma only if the greeting is very enthusiastic. – user31264 Nov 20 '14 at 9:40
  • Interesting. Actually, I've virtually never seen a comma in such a case in the daily speech (e-mails, chats, Skype etc.) – Andre Polykanine Nov 20 '14 at 22:48
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Apart from commas and periods, there's a great difference in the use of other punctuation signs.

  • Quotation marks:

    «Собака» – это имя существительное.

    "Dog" is a noun.

    (Also note the dash used to mark a pause.)

  • Direct speech punctuation, especially the colon, the dash, and the position of the comma outside of the quotation marks:

    Он крикнул: «Беги!»

    He shouted, ‘Run!’

    «Беги!» – крикнул он.

    ‘Run!’ he shouted.

    «Она не придёт», – сказал Олег.

    ‘She won't come,’ said Oleg.

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In Germany, an electrician killed a dog.

В Германии электрик убил собаку.

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  • Sadly, a lot of semi-literate Russian speakers would now put a comma after "Germany". – DYZ Dec 24 '17 at 4:33
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Consider вводное слово.

Он, вероятно, плохой человек.

He is probably a bad man.

Они, возможно, не придут.

They possibly will not come.

But I am not sure whether a comma is allowed here in English.

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Your question has no easy answer. Put simply, Russian punctuation is VERY different from the English one. And about twenty times more complicated, too. Which is to say: where English punctuation may be flexible and forgiving, Russian punctuation is authoritarian, prescriptive and merciless.

I've had to read a good few books on English punctuation before I was able to tell my dependent clauses from my independent ones. I suggest you do the same. Brace yourself. :)

By the way, your example:

  • In English, "A, B, C, and D"

should read "in American English". British English avoids the Oxford comma this days - one of the rare examples where Russian punctuation agrees with its (British) English counterpart.

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I am speaking from my own experience, and only about the commas. Also, I am speaking in the most general way – which I still find useful, though.

The main difference is that in Russian, punctuation is made according to how one's thought is built, and in English, it is made according to how one's thought is expressed. That is, in Russian the thought is divided in blocks according to the importance of its components for the completion of minimal ideas (correlations between things), and in English, such correlations are divided in blocks according to the importance of its blocks for the attention of the listener. In Russian, punctuation separates statements of correlation between things, and in English, it separates units of the reader's attention.

Thus, the comma after “in English”, like in the previous sentence, is desirable in English and forbidden in Russian. The word “in English” is absolutely a part of the correlation that is named by the verb “separates”, and thus it couldn't be separated from the verb, if the text was in Russian. All other rules work like that, too. Say, the initial phrase in a letter (“Hi John!”) does not contain just one correlation of things (the address and the greeting are not a statement of correlation, as “hi” is no verb, and therefore we have two such “statements”), but it is still the same unit of attention, so it deserves no comma in English.

I find the same reason for the fact that the English punctuation is less strict: how one's thought is composed from the constituent ideas (one could say, propositions) is a more strict matter than how one's attention is divided over it. The second question permits a lot of leeway.

For completeness of the answer: most Russians punctuate their texts the English way, anyway. That's most annoying and sometimes hinders communication, but that's how it is.

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See also English Grammar online site:

Old McDonald had a pig and a dog and a cow and a horse.

In Russian, a comma before "и" ("and") is required: "Старый Макдональд имел свинью, и собаку, и корову, и лошадь"

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  • In English comma before and is optional, so "Old McDonald had a pig, a dog, a cow, and a horse." is also correct. In Russian comma is mandatory only before repeating "and", but never before a single "and". For example, «Старый Макдональд имел свинью и собаку». would never use a comma. – Vitaly Apr 19 '18 at 12:41
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I once read in a book for Russians about writing in English that the purpose of a comma in written English is to help the reader, while the purpose of a comma in written Russian is to demonstrate to the reader that the writer knows the rules for using commas.

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    I don't agree. Commas in Russian help reading, just like commas in English. Example: В тот год осенняя погода стояла долго на дворе зимы ждала ждала природа. Снег выпал только в январе на третье в ночь. Проснувшись рано в окно увидела Татьяна поутру побелевший двор куртины кровли и забор на стеклах легкие узоры деревья в зимнем серебре сорок веселых на дворе и мягко устланные горы зимы блистательным ковром. Все ярко все бело кругом. – user31264 Dec 4 '17 at 21:54
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    It was meant as a joke (by the author who wrote the book). The point was that rules for Russian commas are more complicated than for English commas. – KCd Dec 4 '17 at 22:03
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In a quotation in English, the period goes inside the quotation marks; in Russian, outside the quotation marks. (But an exclamation point and a question mark still go inside.)

  • "No pain, no gain."
  • «У попа была собака».
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My 5 cents (мои 5 копеек).

Example of a email message in English:

Hi Helen,

yesterday I've received a parcel from you. Thank you for it!

The same in Russian:

Привет, Елена!

Вчера я получил посылку от тебя. Спасибо!

Note that English version uses comma in the first line, and the second line starts in lower case.

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  • Запятая после "привет" необходима. (Kроме того, "получил твою посылку".) – user31264 Dec 28 '17 at 17:39
  • Упустил запятую после "привет". Спасибо, я поправил. – Sargay Dec 29 '17 at 8:40

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