When it comes to their appearance, Russian uses the same punctuation marks as English or other European languages, except maybe for the quotation marks and apostrophe, which is not used in Russian: period (точка), comma (запятая), question mark (вопросительный знак) and so on.
However, when it comes to the rules, Russian punctuation can be very tricky.
Here are some of the basic Russian punctuation rules.
- Two types of quotation marks are used in Russian. The first one is «ёлочки» (literally: fir trees), which is used in more formal writing. The other one is „лапки“ (literally: little paws). When you have one quote inside another you can use both of them.
- When representing direct speech in Russian, a dash is used together with the quotation marks: ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘I’m awesome’. – “А ты прав.” – сказал он, – “Я великолепен!”.
- The dash is also often used in Russian instead of a linking verb: I am the king! – Я – король!
- There is no comma before AND in Russian: cats, dogs, and parrots – собаки, кошки и попугаи. However, there is an exception: when “И” introduces a separate part (clause) of a sentence. The thing to watch out for is the presence of a separate subject in the next clause of a complex sentence: She called him and he came in. – Она позвала его, и он вошёл.
- All relative clauses are set off by commas in Russian: This is the man who I met yesterday. – Это человек, которого я встретил вчера.
- Always put the comma before the following conjunctions in Russian: что, кто, который, где, когда, как, потому что, чтобы, etc. He called me to apologize. – Он позвонил мне, чтобы извиниться. I don’t remember where I put it. – Я не помню, куда положил его.
- Always put a comma in front of the conjunctions А (and) and НО (but): I asked you, and you didn’t reply. – Я спросил тебя, а ты не ответил. I would help you, but I am busy. – Я бы помог тебе, но я занят.
- If-clauses (если) are always separated by commas: I’ll be glad if you help me. – Я буду рад, если ты поможешь мне.
- When you insert one word, such as “например” (for example), “конечно” (of course), etc., it must be separated by commas: Of course, I will call you. – Кончено, я позвоню тебе.
- Commas are not used in Russian after places and dates: In 2010, I moved to London. – В 2010 году я переехал в Лондон.
- Exclamation marks are used in Russian a bit more often than in English, German or some other languages to add some emotions into a text. For instance, an exclamation is often used at the beginning of a letter or e-mail after the address, where a comma is usually used in English: Dear friends, – Дорогие друзья!
As you can see, the punctuation marks are similar in their appearance only – their use in Russian can be quite peculiar. It is not a good idea to try and use the punctuation rules of your native language when writing in Russian. Instead, you should devote some time to studying Russian punctuation to improve your writing and understanding written texts as well.