When and how did the dot, comma and other punctuation marks appear in Russian

In ancient times, the punctuation system was far from the same as it is now, and there were no rules for punctuation. The scribes were guided by the meaning of the texts and put signs where it was necessary to pause or highlight some fragment intonation.

Maxim the Greek was the first to try to streamline the placement of signs at the beginning of the 16th century. However, the consistent distribution of his idea was not found. The situation with punctuation anarchy began to change after the advent of printed grammars. In 1596, the “Slovenian Grammar” by Lavrenty Zizania was published, in 1618 – “The Grammar of the Slavonic Proper Syntagma” by Melety Smotrytsky. These works can be called the stage of the birth of the Russian punctuation system.

Functions of punctuation marks similar to modern ones can be found in Lomonosov’s Russian Grammar, which was published “very recently” – in 1755. However, Mikhail Vasilyevich also did not have some signs. And only by the middle of the 19th century did the Russian punctuation system acquire its familiar form.

How different punctuation marks appeared


This is the most technically simple, and therefore the most ancient punctuation mark. Even the word “punctuation” comes from the Latin punctum – “point”. And in the grammar of Lavrentiy Zizania, the corresponding section is called “On Points”.

In Russian manuscripts, the dot was the main punctuation mark. Initially, scribes put it to highlight the semantic parts of the phrase. Marking the end of the statement with a dot was suggested by Maxim Grek. The “final” function was assigned to this sign in the subsequent works of other linguists. For example, Lavrenty Zizaniy understood it as a sign of the end of a sentence. This is how it is still used today.


This sign, like the dot, is found in ancient manuscripts. Initially, commas were placed in random places. In the work of Maxim Grek, the word “hypdiastole” was used to designate this sign and it was assumed that it should give a respite when reading. Later, Lavrenty Zizaniy determined that a comma was needed to separate parts of a sentence from each other.


And this sign is one of the most ancient, but its function has changed a lot. Maxim Grek recommended that the hypodiastole sign with a dot denote a question. The semicolon as a question mark was also used by Lavrentiy Zizaniy. He called “;” the word “underframe”, and Melety Smotrytsky used the term “question room”.

Only in the 18th century did Vasily Trediakovsky begin to use the semicolon in its familiar capacity. And the function familiar to us was formulated by Lomonosov: “The semicolon distinguishes the members of the periods” – that is, it is placed between relatively independent sentences that are part of the complex.


The grammar of Lavrentiy Zizaniy had the signs of the term “·” and the two-term “:”, but in their functions they are more similar to the modern semicolon.

Lomonosov calls this sign “two dots”, and the scope of its application is already much closer to the modern one: “Two dots are examples, reasons and extraneous speeches show ahead.” The word “colon” itself would later be used in his grammar by Lomonosov’s student Anton Barsov.

Exclamation point

In the 17th century, Meletiy Smotrytsky proposed the sign “!”, which he called the word “amazing”. Its function is clear by name: “!” is placed at the end of emotional – “surprising” – sentences. Later, the innovation also got into Lomonosov’s “Russian Grammar” under the name “surprising sign”.

Question mark

Until the 18th century, its function was performed by a semicolon. The usual “?” is first found in Trediakovsky’s work “A Conversation Between a Foreign Man and a Russian about Orthography, Old and New, and Everything That Belongs to This Matter.” And the first description of the question mark in the capacity in which it is used now, we find in Lomonosov: “The question mark upon questioning <...> is supplied.”


The description of this sign is first found at the beginning of the 17th century by Meletiy Smotrytsky. He called brackets the word “delayed” and recommended highlighting in this way a part of the statement that can be completely removed.

Lomonosov used the term “capacious sign”. But its function is the same as that of modern brackets – the inclusion of words and sentences to clarify or supplement the thought being expressed, as well as for any additional comments.

The word “brackets” itself appears in the grammar of Nikolai Grech in 1827.


This is one of the youngest punctuation marks. For the first time at the end of the 18th century, Barsov described it in his Russian Grammar. He called the dash the word “silence” and suggested using it as a kind of pause for expression or for an unexpected word or action. Silence was also used in dialogues to indicate a change in speaking faces.

In Alexander Vostokov’s grammar of 1831, a dash is called a “thought-separating sign”, but as early as 1827, Grech uses the familiar word “dash” in his grammar.


The description of this sign is also first found in the 18th century by Barsov. It was called a “sign foreign” and was used in direct speech. In the 19th century, Grech and Vostokov already found the word “quotation marks”, but the function is described the same – to conclude other people’s words.

A very popular role today – to highlight words in an ironic, unusual and strange meaning – was officially assigned to quotation marks only in the “Rules of Russian Spelling and Punctuation” of 1956.


The appearance of this sign changed: once there were six dots, then four, and in the end there were three.

The first description of the ellipsis appears in the grammar of Grech, where this sign is called simply “dots”. And Vostokov used the name “precautionary sign.” It was supposed to be used when speech is interrupted.

Now the ellipsis is also used to indicate the incompleteness of the statement, hitches in speech and omissions in quotations.

How will Russian punctuation develop further?

Probably, the modern harmonious system will also change over time: some signs will change their functions, some will completely disappear, and new ones will come in their place.

For example, now many people use emoticons as alternative punctuation marks: they replace a period or an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. Perhaps “:)” or “;)” and others will eventually replenish the official Russian punctuation system.

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