10 French Punctuation Marks: Names & Typing Rules

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Comma, period…how do we call the various punctuation marks in French? What about French quotation marks? What are the rules for typing French punctuation?

First, we’ll look at the names of the various French punctuation marks. Then study the difference between English and French punctuation when we type: the spaces we leave when typing French punctuation are not always the same as when typing punctuation in English.

How to Say Punctuation in French

Punctuation in French is almost the same word as in English: it’s “la ponctuation”. Watch out with the French pronunciation of the ending: “ssion (nasal), not “shion”.

Now let’s study the name of the various French punctuation marks

Names of French Punctuation Marks

This article features audio recordings. Click the blue text next to the headphone to hear me say that word or sentence in French.

French Punctuation markEnglish NameFrench Name
,commala virgule
.periodle point
:colondeux points
;semi colonle point virgule
ellipsisles points de suspension
!exclamation markle point d’exclamation
?interrogation markle point d’interrogation
«»quotation marksles guillemets (m)
hyphenle trait-d’union
apostrophe une apostrophe

Let’s now study how to type punctuation in French.

The Rules To Type Punctuation Marks in French

Unfortunately, the rules for typing punctuation in French and English are not the same. Or not exactly the same, at least…

French Typing Rules for Commas and Periods

Good news! For the one-part punctuation marks: commas and periods (including three dots), spaces used in typing are the same in French and English: no space before, one space after.

Nous nous promenons, et nous parlons en français en même temps. C’est agréable…

And for the apostrophe, there’s no space.

J’aime Paris.

Rules for Typing Two-part Punctuation Marks in French

The way we type the rest of the punctuation marks differs between French and English…

In French, you’ll need to type a space BEFORE and after a colon, semi-colon, exclamation mark, question mark and symbols including % # € $ « »

J’adore Paris ! Et vous ?
Je dois aller faire des courses : je n’ai plus rien à manger !

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Quotation Marks in French

Quotation marks in French are called “les guillemets” (masculine plural).

In literary French, they are usually typed using this symbol: « » which is called “guillemets en chevron à la française” (source: wikipedia)…

There are two types of “guillemet à la française”:

  1. « un guillemet ouvrant
  2. » un guillemet fermant

Now, since the invention of the typewriter, many models only offered one kind of quotation mark: ” ” – which is typically an English quotation mark. symbol.

And nowadays a lot of software will only offer the ” ” version of quotation marks, therefore it’s more and more common in French to use ” “.

Besides, using ” ” seems more dynamic, younger… « » is used in literature, but in many French blogs – including mine – , you’ll see people use ” ” .

When you start typing quotation marks in French, you’d say: “ouvrez les guillemets” and when you end: “fermez les guillemets”.

When typing in French using the traditional « guillemets en chevron à la française », , there is a space before the opening one, before the first word, before the closing one, after the closing one if it’s followed by a word.
If followed by punctuation, it depends on the rule of that specific punctuation mark.
En Bretagne, il ne pleut pas « tout le temps » ! Il pleut « de temps en temps »…

Parenthesis in French

Parenthesis in French are called “les parenthèses” (feminine plural).

There are two types of parenthesis in French:

  1. ( une parenthèse ouvrante
  2. ) une parenthèse fermante

When you start typing parenthesis in French, you’d say: “ouvrez la parenthèse” and when you end: “fermez la parenthèse”. If you are reading to someone and indicating the punctuation, you could say “entre parenthèses” to say ‘in parenthesis’.

There is space before the opening parenthesis, after the closing parenthesis, but not before the words inside the parenthesis. If followed by punctuation, it depends on the rule of that specific punctuation mark.
J’aime Paris (elle le dit en souriant) et j’y vais souvent.

So now let’s see precisely how we would dictate with punctuation marks in French.

The French Dialogue Dash: Le Tiret

Another punctuation symbol is “le tiret”. It shouldn’t be mistaken with an hyphen (le trait d’union) or the minus sign (le signe moins) although usually the same symbol is used for the three.

There are 3 “tirets” in French

  1. le tiret long (« — »),
  2. le tiret moyen (« – »)
  3. le tiret court (« – »).

A long dash is often used to introduce a new speaker in a dialogue in printed literature.

« Bonjour ! dit Sophie. Tu vas bien ?
— Bien. Et toi ? répond Anne.
— Très bien, merci ! »

For more information, there is a complete article in French Wikipedia.

Dictating Punctuation Marks in French

So, how does it sound when someone dictates with punctuation marks in French?

Let’s take an example.

Pierre dit : « Je vais lui acheter un livre. Sophie aime les livres ; les beaux livres de littérature. Et toi ? »

Anne lui répond : « Moi, je ne sais pas… Je ne sais pas vraiment quoi lui offrir. En fait, je pense que je vais lui acheter un bon d’achat. Ça fait toujours plaisir ! »

Now let’s see how I would dictate this in French with the punctuation marks and instruction.

Pierre dit deux points ouvrez les guillemets Je vais lui acheter un livre point Sophie aime les livres point virgule les beaux livres de littérature point Et toi point d’interrogation fermez les guillemets
À la ligne
Nouveau paragraphe

Anne lui répond deux points ouvrez les guillemets Moi virgule je ne sais pas points de suspension (ou trois petits points) Je ne sais pas vraiment quoi lui offrir point En fait virgule je pense que je vais lui acheter un bon d’achat point Ça fait toujours plaisir point d’exclamation

Voilà. I hope this was useful to you. You may also like my article about how to write letters and emails in French.

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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