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French Punctuation

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Jul 31, 2020
French Punctuation rules how to type French punctuation

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 different French punctuation marks. Then study the difference between English and French punctuation when we type.

1 – 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”.

2 – French Punctuation Marks

  1. A comma in French is “une virgule”
  2. A period in French is “un point”.
  3. A colon in French is called “deux points” – we usually use it without an article.
  4. A semi colon in French is called “un point virgule”
  5. Ellipsis (three dots) in French is formally called “le point de suspension”, but in reality, many people would say: “trois petits points”… I love the use of “petits” there!
  6. Exclamation mark in French is “un point d’exclamation”.
  7. Question mark in French is “un point d’interrogation”.

Now let’s see the differences of typing punctuation in French and English.

3 – How To Type Punctuation in French

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

A – Typing One-part Punctation Marks in French

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 même temps. C’est agréable…

B – 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 % # € $ « »

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4 – 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”.

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

5 – 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 tiret is often used to introduce a new speaker in a conversation 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.

6 – 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.

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