Comma Abuse in Russian Posted by Maria on Aug 25, 2014 in Russian for beginners
We are often so concentrated on the various skills involved in the mastery of a language that punctuation tends to fall by the wayside. In the absence of any other guidance, we rely on our own language in our writing, but that may sometimes prove wrong. I would like to point out several aspects of Russian punctuation concerning commas that are different from English and, possibly, other languages. Relying on their own language, people tend to get “comma-happy” and use commas more often than needed.
It’s worth saying that Russian punctuation can get very complex with layers of rules and exceptions. Most likely. you won’t run into the harder cases right away. However, if you read Russian well, I would highly recommend the gramota.ru website. They have detailed guidelines for Russian punctuation, and if that does not resolve your doubts, you can search their Q & A (справка) or even submit your own question!
English is a language that allows for a comma before the “and” preceding the last thing in a list of 3 or more — if it clarifies the sentence. An example would be “I bought bread, butter, and cheese.” It is sometimes known as the Oxford Comma. Not so in Russian! If there is an и before the last item in a series, no comma (запятая) is needed. So, our sentence would read “Я купил(а) хлеб, масло и сыр” (or хлеба, масла и сыра if you want to emphasize the “part” aspect of it).
Note that coordinate clauses joined by и are still separated by a comma.
Дверь открылась, и в комнату вошла женщина. (The door opened, and a woman came into the room.)
2. Dependent clauses
A dependent clause (придаточное предложение) is a part of the sentence that add information to be main clause (главное предложение). In Russian, each clause normally has a subject and a predicate (“verb”), although some clauses only have one of these two elements. With few exceptions, dependent clauses are separated from the main clause by commas. Compare:
I don’t know if I can come. – Я не знаю, смогу ли прийти.
The woman that lives next door is a scientist. – Женщина, которая живёт в соседней квартире, — учёный.
We’ll go hiking when it stops raining. – Мы пойдём в поход, когда перестанет идти дождь.
Adverbials (обстоятельства) are the words that explain when, where, why, or how something happened. In English, they may be set off by a comma if they come at the beginning of the sentence — like the first two words of this sentence. Russian does not require that. I will often see stray commas in translations from English into Russian, even done by native speakers.
После работы я зашла к подруге. (After work, I stopped by my friend’s place.)
В результате эксперимента были получены ценные данные. (Valuable data was obtained in /literally, “as a result of”/ the experiment; read more about the word order of this sentence here.)
For what it’s worth, “в результате” should not ever be separated by a comma.
Note that present participles referring to the same subject should normally be set off.
Улыбаясь, актёр поднялся на сцену. (Smiling, the actor came on stage.)
Are you aware of any other case of “comma abuse” in Russian? Are there any punctuation rules you would like to see explained?
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