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Russian dash punctuation

This isn't another question about when to use the dash or what it means, but rather I'd like to know which dash to use (I searched and couldn't find another discussion about this topic, so excuse me if it's already been asked). I've seen both and - being used. After doing a quick scan through the discussions, it seems that the former tends to be used in the sentences throughout the course, while the latter tends to be used by helpful users (native or advanced speakers), usually explaining the usage of the dash (or, interestingly enough, the sentences in the Ukrainian course seem to exclusively use the latter). I'm able to type both easily on my Russian keyboard. Are they interchangeable? Is one more standard/correct than the other?

Which of the following is preferable?

  • Эти девочки — сёстры.
  • Эти девочки - сёстры.
November 13, 2015



The correct Russian dash is m-dash (—). However, it is not present in the standard keyboard layout (as well as the correct Russian «quotes» and „nested quotes“). So Russian only use the proper typographics in books and other printed editions, and also on the web if the site is serious enough. When commenting on forums or chatting, everyone uses standard "straight" quotes and a hyphen surrounded by spaces - like this - instead of the dash.

Curiously enough, MS Word auto-replaces " - " with " – " (en-dash), so this version is also popular, especially in the printed announcements, etc. The correct dash is em-dash, though.


Thank you. I had seen the Russian quotes in the lessons and tried to find them on the йцукенг keyboard without any luck, as well as the em-dash. Good to know that ordinary Russians don't use them either when typing stuff online.


I find it so odd that russian quote symbols aren't present on the russian keyboard.


Well, are the proper English quotes (not "straight", but “curly”) and the proper dash on the keyboard?


Hmm...good point. Certain programs edit them in to replace standins (if you write a hyphen and then a word then it subs in a dash, etc) automatically, but I suppose they are not on the keyboard. Which is odd in and of itself!


To add an opening and a closing quote mark, and also both hyphen and a dash, you need two more keys than you'd need for one straight quote and just a hyphen. Consider nested quotes - two more keys, here you go.

With Russian localization, MS Word also auto-replaces "quotes" with «chevrons» :-)


On Windows, the em-dash can be inserted by holding down the Alt key and pressing 0151 (in succession, not all at once) on the keypad, then letting go of the Alt key: —

The Russian quotation marks are:
Alt-0171: «
Alt-0187: »

Some other Alt-key codes:
€ ALT+0128
£ ALT+0163
© ALT+0169
ª ALT+0170 (Feminine Ordinal)
® ALT+0174
º ALT+0186 (Masculine Ordinal)
¿ ALT+0191 ¡ ALT+0161
ç ALT+0231
÷ ALT+0247
§ ALT+0167
æ ALT+0230
œ ALT+0156


Thank you for your explanation! After looking into this further, I realize that the Russian Phonetic keyboard on my Mac has a hyphen (-) and an em-dash (—) available (the two I typed in my original post above), while the Finnish Extended keyboard I use for languages in the Latin alphabet has a hyphen (-) and an en-dash (–) as well as an em-dash (—) available. Also, my Russian keyboard has no problems typing either the «Russian quotes» or the „nested quotes“.

Edit: Formatting


I believe you can type the em-dash with option + shift + minus keys on a mac. The en-dash can be done without the shift. There should be a similar command for other systems.


As long as we're talking about the dash, I'd like to know if it represents an audible pause, or is just a writing convention.


It represents a pause. I can't think of an example where it doesn't, but maybe other native speakers will provide them.


Actually, it doesn't represent any pause in sentences like «Мой отец — учитель» or "Я люблю мандарины, а моя мама — яблоки". You can make a pause there if you really wish to, but, you know, you can make a pause in many places where there is no punctuation whatsoever.

It is the same with commas, which usually do not represent any pause. They just hint at the structure of the sentence and the possible intonation required.


I'd make a small pause in your second example, but as to the first, I agree, the pause is rarely heard there. Thanks for chiming in!


I make a small pause there too, but it is very short. However I emphasize the word after the dash and that's the main difference for me.


Native speaker here, I make small pauses practically at any punctuation. It's evident by the changing cadence when pronouncing a sentence. That is how we learn it in school (in Russian, punctuation glyphs are literally called "signs of stumbling"). In linguistics, prosody is the term that is responsible for non-grammatical and non-lexical aspects of speech, chunking of words is an important concept there.


I also think that the dash always represents a pause.


I'm only a beginner but the pattern I noticed is that the long dash is used to replace 'to be' and the short dash is used to hyphenate words


Я — американка


I hope someone chimes in with the explanation


In casual written speech (if I may say so), like on Facebook or other internet resources, people only use hyphens, but when they actually mean a dash, they surround the hyphen with spaces. Дженни - американка, но говорит по-русски :-)

Note that the dash is not needed when the subject is a pronoun. "Дженни - американка" BUT "Я американка" (no dash). To always use dash is a very common mistake of the native Russian speakers.


To always use a hyphen is a very common mistake of native English speakers. I think that most Americans don't know what an em-dash is. They think that dashes and hyphens are the same thing.

I was taught that an em-dash was slightly shorter than an actual dash. The hyphen can also be called an en-dash.

As I recall, some software replaces two hyphens with an em-dash automatically, so instead of looking for the em-dash you just type -- .


The "actual" dash is an m-dash: —. The n-dash is shorter: –. And this is the hyphen: -.


"I searched and couldn't find another discussion about this topic, so excuse me if it's already been asked."


It was kind of hidden, though. ;)

Спасибо олимо ещё раз!))


dash does not represent any pause in your speech.


M-dash in Russian does. Hell, in 1789 Russian grammar textbook it was literally called by the same word as game of silence.


I am clueless about this dash thing. It seems to replace a comma and also seems to emphasize the object of the sentence in which it’s contained. I’m using an iPhone to learn languages on Duolingo and I often get marked wrong on my answers in Russian when this dash thing occurs. My iPhone has no “m-“ option. (the “m dash” option that I’ve heard tell of here) Any suggestions? Also, when is this dash thing necessary to use when writing? I find it very confusing, because I can’t tell when (or when not) to use it, why it is necessary or how it functions. Could someone please help me understand this thing?


My iPhone has no “m-“ option.

Are you sure?

On my English (UK) keyboard, I can access it fairly easily -- "123" button to switch to punctuation marks, long-press the "-" key and I get four options including "en dash" (–) and "em dash" (—).


duolingo ignores common punctuation when checking answer you don't have to type it at all

I use — and also «» in my sentences. This is what you see in professionally edited articles and books. In real life people mostly use - and " " because they are the only punctuation easily available on a keyboard.

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