French Punctuation

I realized that I had never covered French punctuation, in any of my posts, and it is one of those things that is strangely different than English punctuation.

Starting with the period ( . ), which is called “le point”, these are the rules to know:

1. In French, the period is not used after abbreviations of measurement: 25 m (mètres), 12 min (minutes), etc.
2. Le point can be used to separate the elements of a date: 10 septembre 1973 = 10.9.1973
3. When writing numbers, either a period or a space may be used to separate every three digits (where a comma would be used in English): 1,000,000 (English) = 1.000.000 or 1 000 000
4. It’s not used to indicate a decimal point, a comma (la virgule) is used instead.

Speaking of the comma ( , ), which is called “la virgule”, these are its rules of use:

1. In French, the comma is used as a decimal point: 2.5 (English) = 2,5 (French)
2. It’s not used to separate three digits, that would be “le point” that separates three digits.
3. In English, there is something known as a serial comma, which comes before the word “and”: I bought a book, two pens, and some paper. In French, they don’t use that serial comma, so they write: J’ai acheté un livre, deux stylos et du papier.

The colon ( : ), called “les deux-points”, is much more common in French than in English. It may introduce direct speech; a citation; or the explanation, conclusion, summary, etc. of whatever precedes it. Example:

Jean a dit : « Je veux le faire. »
Jean said, “I want to do it.”

Ce film est très intéressant : c’est un classique.
This movie is interesting: it’s a classic.

Quotation marks, also known as “inverted commas”, ( ” ” ) are not used in French. Instead the French use “les guillements”, which look like this: « » , and they have a space between themselves and the words within. Example:

« Salut Jeanne ! dit Pierre. Comment vas-tu ? »
“Hi Jean!” Pierre says. “How are you?”

You may also notice that the exclamation point and the question mark also have spaces between themselves and the last letter. A French person correcting your essay will always correct you if you do not. Don’t worry, when you correct their essay, you can take away the space they sometimes leave, when you correct their English essay. Touché !

Besides their « les guillements », the French also use “les points de suspension”:
— Ah, salut Pierre ! crie Jeanne.
“Oh, hi Pierre!” shouts Jeanne.

That dash is called “le tiret” and it can also be used like parentheses, to indicate or emphasize a comment:

Paul — mon meilleur ami — va arriver demain.
Paul—my best friend—will arrive tomorrow.

Misc. Rules:

1. In French, a space is required both before and after punctuation marks and symbols, including : ; « » ! ? % $ #

les deux-points :
le point-virgule ;
le point d’exclamation !
le point d’interrogation ?

punctuation la ponctuation
comma la virgule
period le point
colon le deux-points
apostrophe l’apostrophe (f)
semi-colon le point-virgule
exclamation mark le point d’exclamation
question mark le point d’interrogation
hyphen le trait d’union
ampersand l’esperluette (f)
brackets les parenthèses (f)
square brackets les crochets (m) droits
curly brackets les accolades (f)
angled brackets les crochets (m) flechés
asterisk l’astérisque (m)
ellipsis [ … ] les points (m) de suspension
French conversation marks les guillemets (m) [ « » ]
long dash [also “new speaker”] le tiret [ — ]
underlined souligné(e)
degree symbol le symbole du degré
hash symbol [ # ] le dièse
@ symbol l’arrobas (m)
forward slash la barre oblique
backslash la barre oblique inverse
pound sign [ £ ] le symbole livre
dollar sign [ $ ] le signe du dollar
acute accent l’accent (m) aigu [ ´ ]
grave accent l’accent (m) grave [ ` ]
circumflex le circonflexe [ ^ ]
cedilla la cédille [ ¸ ]
diaeresis [example: Noël] l’accent (m) tréma

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