French Punctuation Marks & Rules

Instructor: Emily France

Emily has experience teaching English and French and has a master's degree in International Studies

This lesson will provide an overview of punctuation use in French. We will go over the names of some common marks and symbols as well as discuss some central guidelines for using punctuation correctly in French.

Say you are reading a short story in French about a woman at a café. The story includes the following passage:

La femme dit au serveur : « Je voudrais du thé. C'est combien ? »

Le serveur répond : « C'est 2,50 €.»

(The woman says to the waiter: ''I would like some tea. How much is it?'' The waiter responds: ''It's 2.50 euros.'')

The waiter says: A cup of tea costs 2.50 euros.
waiter

When reading this story, you might be confused by some of the symbols and punctuation marks you see. What are those weird double brackets in place of quotation marks, for instance? Why is there an extra space before the question mark? Not to mention the fact that that there's a comma in place of a decimal point in the number!

While most punctuation marks in French writing are similar to the ones we use in English, there are a few key differences to learn that will help you make sense of any story or other piece of writing you may come across.

Punctuation Marks in French

To start, let's go over the names of the most common symbols and punctuation marks you'll see in French:

Symbol French English Pronunciation
. le point period luh pwahn
, la virgule comma lah vehr-gool
: les/le deux-points colon lay/luh duh-pwahn
; le point-virgule semicolon luh pwahn-vehr-gool
' l'apostrophe (f) apostrophe lah-poh-strohf
! le point d'exclamation exclamation point luh pwahn dehks-klah-mah-see-ohn
? le point d'interrogation question mark luh pwahn dan-tehr-oh-gah-see-ohn
« » les guillemets (m) quotation marks lay gee-uh-may
( ) les parentèses (f) parentheses lay pah-rahn-tehz
les points de suspension (m) ellipsis lay pwahn duh soos-pahn-see-ohn
- le trait d'union
le moins
dash, hyphen
minus sign
luh tray doo-nee-ohn
luh mwahn
le tiret em dash luh tee-ray
* l'astérisque (m) asterisk lahs-tay-reesk
# le dièse
le carré (French Canadian term)
pound sign, number sign luh dee-ehz
luh kah-ray
le symbole euro euro sign luh sam-bohl uh-roh
$ le signe du dollar
le dollar
dollar sign luh seen doo doh-lahr
luh doh-lahr
% le signe de pour-cent
le pour-cent
percent sign luh seen duh poor-sahn
luh poor-sahn
+ le signe plus plus sign luh seen ploos
= le signe égal equal sign luh seen ay-gahl
/ la barre oblique
le slash
forward slash lah bahr oh-bleek
luh slahsh
\ la barre oblique inverse
l'anti-slash (m)
backslash lah bahr oh-bleek an-vehrs
lahn-tee slahsh
@ l'arobase (f)
le a commercial
at sign lah-roh-bahz
luh ah koh-mehr-see-ahl

Quotation Marks in French

Most of the above punctuation marks are used in similar ways to those in English. You might notice, however, that there are no English quotation marks in the above chart. This is because the French do not use quotation marks ('' '') to denote speech as English speakers do. Instead, they use les guillemets, as seen in the story at the beginning of the lesson. These are used the same way that English quotation marks are employed, although with the addition of an extra space after the opening guillemet and before the closing guillemet. In practice:

Sarah a dit : « Je vais au cinéma. » (Sarah said: ''I am going to the movie theatre.'')

The cat says: Meow! Where is my dinner?
cat

Using Em Dashes in French

Les tirets (em dashes) are quite common in French, more so than in English, and are used for a variety of purposes, including:

1. To separate items in a list, similar to how we use bullet points in English.

2. To insert an aside or interjection in a sentence, like we would commonly use an em dash or comma in English. For instance: Marie — ma soeur aînée — arrive demain. (Marie, my older sister, is coming tomorrow.)

3. To denote a change of speaker in a dialogue. For instance, the dialogue at the beginning of the lesson could be written as the following:

Je voudrais du thé. C'est combien ?

C'est € 2,50.

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