Proper Usage of Punctuation Marks In French

Not everyone in France bother about correct usage of punctuation in French. It’s true, but in some cases it is highly crucial. I could tell you many stories where the wrong guillemet or an unaccented capital letter had disastrous consequences!

In this lesson, you’ll learn the rules on common French punctation: from the the period, colon, semi-colon, comma, to accented letters, capitalization, guillemets and spacing!




Et toi ?

Did you know these differences between French and English punctuation?
Do you already put a space before French double punctuation marks?
Do you use accentuated capitals?

(Even I don’t always do this…)

Share your experience (in French if you dare!) in the comments below. We can all learn from your story. The comment section is the best place to start discussions and ask questions!

Bisous,

Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • Finalement ! J’en ai apprendre plus depuis j’ai trouvé tu, Géraldine. Merci beaucoup, tu es super cool !

    En Anglais, nous avons apprendre à faire deux espace après un point. Cette régle de la grammaire est parce que quelque chose (Je ne sais pas pourquoi…) a faire d’utiliser une machine à écrire (typewriter). La régle a changer depuis nous utilisons les ordinateurs maintenant. Est la régle similar en francais ? L’ancien contre le nouveau?

  • I always use Accented Uppercase, from a Mobile device or a Mac. Windows makes accented characters hard so I do fail to use them often and just hope that the context is enough to distinguish the use I intend from (otherwise) homonyms.

    Didn’t know about the French quotation marks. I found out about the spaces rules for punctuation when I loaded a document I had types in Pages into Microsoft Word. Once I switched the language to French, it went ballistic on all of my punctuation, and since the “explanatory language” was quite technical I had absolutely no clue WTF it was talking about (it was obvious what it wanted, but I wanted to know WHY) until I loaded the “rationale” into a translator.

  • Bonsoir à tous. Je ne suis pas allée en France depuis très longtemps. Mais quand j’etais à Paris, si j’ai lutté de parler en français dans un magasin ou dans la rue et on m’a répondu en anglais – j’etais vraiment décue ! Ma petite connaissance de la langue française n’etais pas assez forte pour expliquer que je voulais parler en français svp ! Bonne nuit et bonne journée pour demain. Tina.

  • I believe that the i in oignon is also to be discarded but traditionalists can still use it if they so desire. Personally I shall still retain the i in l’oignon, as to lose it would bring a tear to my eye…

  • Salut Géraldine,

    En ce qui concerne comment écrire en Français, j’utilise Microsoft Word et je change la langue avec l’option marqué « review ». C’est assez bien mais il faut toujours vérifier le texte car de temps en temps les accents n’arrivent pas !
    Amicalement

    Robert

  • Hi Geraldine –
    Please could you explain about the dash or long hyphen which is used in printed novels to introduce direct speech? Should we use this ourselves when reporting a conversation?
    Thank you.
    Sarah

  • Chere Geraldine,
    I read recently about a spelling reform in France and as far as I understand (I read it in French!) you are going to get rid of some accents soon, is it true? What do you think of it?

  • [ ] are called “square brackets” in English now 🙂

    Not sure what the curly brackets are really called but that’s what I say.

  • Dear Geraldine,
    I found your video on French punctuation very interesting – indeed, all your videos capture some essential learning points, but this one especially so.
    One thing I have never done (because I have always believed it to be permitted) is to put an accent on a capital letter. Should I now rethink this?

    Bonne continuation,
    Peter Thomas

    • Hi Peter,

      No worries, very few people do. 🙂
      As in the example, we’ll put them on words that could be ambiguous (SALE / SALÉ) but not all the time.

  • Quand je change mon clavier anglais au clavier français sur mon portable , je ne peux pas trouver le cedille ! Ça m’agace beaucoup!
    Quoi? Le voilà ! ? J’aime beaucoup les leçons le mardi, Géraldine! Merci beaucoup!
    Lynda

    • Brian, “math” is American English, short for “math-emetics”. I with you though, t’was always “maths” growing up in England, Ireland or Australia

      • Re. “Math”. Bonjour Karen et merci beaucoup pour votre l’explication. J’ai pensé que c’était américain mais je ne savais pas l’étymologie. Maintenant je me relache quand entends “math”!

  • Bonjour Géraldine. Encore une vidéo très utile. Je remarquais en tapant le français à la machine qu’il y avait toujours une espace avant le point d’interrogation et le point d’exclamation. Merci pour l’explication. Opal

  • Merci, Géraldine. J’aime vos vidéos. Je suis Americaine, et ici on s’appelle le suspension ( … ) une ellipsis. On utilise cette ponctuation quand on omet des mots de un citation. Est-ce qu’il y a le même usage dans le francais?

  • Bonjour Géraldine

    This is a very helpful lesson, especially for people (like me)
    who were trying to learn French quite a long time ago ..
    ie, taking exams etc !!
    Even in English I sometimes have a sort of “DIY” approach
    to correct punctuation .. in other words, I make it up as I
    go along 🙂
    However, I think that in French it’s a good idea to try to
    get it right. I often think that English allows a certain
    flexibility with how you use it, whereas French rather
    needs to be expressed correctly, both spoken and
    written. At least, that’s my idea .. even if (as Jane has
    previously pointed out) the French Academy proposes
    to make a few changes on this front.
    Either way, I think that this lesson that you’ve put together
    for us Géraldine is one that I’m going to look at from time
    to time in the future as I try to get to grips with correct
    French punctuation.
    And …
    I’ve had a look at the post you did in the past regarding
    French accents on an English keyboard. My komputer
    aparat 🙂 (!!) has a second set of numbers on the far
    right of the keyboard and, with the Alt key pressed down,
    you can use combinations of these numbers to find both
    a variety of accents and other interesting symbols …
    ƒ Ñ ô è ♪ ▒ Ã ü ╝ ……… and so on ..
    The web page info that I found this advice on seems to
    have disapeared from use now, but if you experiment
    around you can find all of the necessary accents for
    French (and others) .. capitals included.
    Voilà ..
    Another great lesson Géraldine, and again,
    thank you so much for all of your fun and
    interesting guidance.

    Merci, et bonne journée ..

    John 🙂

  • Jenny, Perhaps I am much older, but I learned that brackets are [ ] or { } and parentheses are ( ). Brackets are used mainly in math and parentheses in writing. Tho’ I must agree that is easier to say “brackets” than “parentheses” !

  • I always look forward to your videos on Tuesdays, Geraldine!
    In English we have several names for ‘le point’: the one at the end of a sentence is called a ‘full stop'(/’period’ in American English) and, as you said, a ‘dot’. We also have an expression for when you have to be very correct and precise, when filling out a form for example: “You have to dot all the ‘i’s and cross all the ‘t’s”. We say ‘brackets’ as a simpler way of saying ‘parentheses’ :-).
    Bonne journee!

  • In English we “dot the i’s” and “cross the t’s”.

    Old words are tittle and jot respectively, leading to the term “to the last jot and tittle” for “with all precision”

  • Merci pour le lecon très utile (mais le cédille ne fonctionne pas pour moi). Est-ce que on peux espérer que les accents va disparaitre dans le futur? comme mesure de rationalisation? C’est mon grand espoir!

  • Tu n’as pas parlé du circonflexe ! Quelle est ta réaction à la décision de l’Académie qu’il est facultatif ?

  • Merci Geraldine,
    Oui, j’ai observé ces différences, mais je me demande pourquoi on doit avoir une espace avant les doubles marks de ponctuation. En passant, le mot Anglais pour les lettres est « accented », not « accentuated » qui veut dire « souligné » ou « Insisté sur le fait que ». Mais vous le saviez toujours, non ?

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