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I've seen both the western comma "," and the eastern comma "、“ used in Chinese before, although the "eastern comma" seems to be used more frequently (correct me if I'm wrong). Which is more proper to use in general?

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3 Answers 3

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In proper use of the Chinese language, you're talking about the difference between the true comma 逗號 「,」 and the enumeration comma 頓號 「、」.

The difference between the two can be illustrated in a sentence from the Chinese Wikipedia article on 頓號:

分隔同類的並列的事,通常是單字、詞語或短句,當中的停頓較逗號短。

(Enumeration commas are) used when separating similar items consecutively, such as single characters, words, or short sentences/phrases, where the pause is shorter than that given by the True Comma.

The list begins with the word 單字, continues on with 詞語, then finishes with 短句, after which the true comma is used to create a pause between the previous part of the sentence and the next part.


Note: Very rarely will you see enumeration commas everywhere and true commas not used at all. In this case, you're most likely looking at a Japanese rendition of a Classical Chinese text, because in the Japanese language they use 「、」 for everything.

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Always use full-width comma ("Eastern") when the context is all Chinese.
However, use half-width comma ("Western") in the following situations:
1. Academic use, when commas appear in formulae and mathematical expressions.
2. Quotations, when you need to quote someone in its original language, which always use half-width comma.
It is worth noting that there is still NO standard usage on foreign punctuations in Chinese context. I mean, it hasn't been standardized on national level.
EDIT: The "comma" in your OP is actually a caesura mark (顿号), which is totally different from the real "Eastern" comma ",".

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There are indeed national standards on punctuation. For legal texts, the NPC also has rules on punctuation. If the matter involves a judicial cause of action, there are also rules on how to punctuate (obviously this can be extremeley important in terms of punctuation). The national standard on punctuation is GB/T 15834-2011, 标点符号用法 (General Rules for Punctuation), 中华人民共和国国家标准。In legal writing, since a western comma can carry different conjunctive meanings and since the difference between the Western comma and the enumerative commas is often unclear, unless there is an absolutely clear Western meaning, I tend to think that one should carry forward the Western comma into Chinese. Consider "Liberty, equality, and fraternity" - actually, most legal scholars view fraternity as modifying the prior two concepts - creating a uniform standard or concept. If an enumeration comma is used, the integrity of the whole concept is lost (in human rights discourse, France is often viewed as a country that believes human rights also encompass individual obligations towards society - i.e., liberty and equality are restricted to a degree by fraternity). I think an enumerative comma would otherwise turn it into a disjointed list. An "and" in English can mean - here is the final term of a group of terms with some relationship, or here is the final term of a group of terms that make an integrated whole. Using an enumerative comma to me suggests a disjointed list.

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