Punctuation Mark and Symbol Names in French

Posted on 26. May, 2016 by in Grammar, Vocabulary

Image courtesy of Plume-Escampette

Image courtesy of Plume-Escampette

John’s post yesterday reminded me of the first time I had to orally give mon adresse mail. I knew she was talking about my email address. I’d mastered the alphabet and proudly spelled out the letters, but I stopped when I got to the at sign. How do you say that?? I didn’t want to say simply “à” (it’s French, it can’t be that simple, right?) since I knew it’s a very versatile word that doesn’t always have the same equivalent in English. Instead of risking that, I just described it: “le petit a avec le cercle” (the little a with the circle). This took place at an international language school, so the receptionist knew what I meant and smiled before telling me what that little character was called: une arobase.

This was in 2005. I had just finished my junior year in high school and had worked all year long to save up to study for a month in Cannes. That June, I hopped on a plane for the first time and flew to Paris. From there, I flew to Nice (definitely should have done my research on the TGV – it would have been so much cheaper). This was over a decade ago (omg I’m getting old), so some details aren’t as clear as they used to be, but there are certain things you can never forget.

One of those things I won’t forget was our first dictée (dictation) in class. I remember doing pretty well until Annick threw in the word virgule. I had no clue what this meant, and it didn’t seem to after the string of words she’d just said, but I wrote it down to the best of my ability. Just because I didn’t know the word didn’t mean it didn’t make sense. While we were correcting it, though, I learned that virgule meant comma and that she’d simply wanted us to write a comma. After arobase and virgule, it was clear I didn’t know how to say any signes de ponctuation ou symboles (punctuation marks and symbols).

I ended doing research on my own to learn some of these terms, and today I’m going to share them with you. You never know when you may need to say un trait de union!

. un point period/full stop
, une virgule comma
? un point d’interrogation question mark
! un point d’exclamation exclamation mark
; un point-virgule semi-colon
: les deux points (m) colon
« » des guillemets (m) quotation marks
un apostrophe apostrophe
= un signe égal equals sign
un trait d’union / un tiret hyphen
@ une arobase at sign
# un dièse pound sign
$ un signe du dollar dollar sign
£ un symbole livre pound sign
% un signe de pour-cent percentage sign
& une esperluette ampersand
* un astérisque asterisk
( ) une parenthèse parentheses
[ ] un crochet square brackets
{ } une accolade curly brackets
< un signe inférieur less than sign
> un signe supérieur greater than sign
~ un tilde tilde
/ un slash forward slash
\ un anti slash backslash
les points de suspension ellipsis


Two Different Mails – Email In French

Posted on 25. May, 2016 by in Vocabulary

Photo by Dennis Skley on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Photo by Dennis Skley on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Talking about the Internet in French can be confusing. There’s a mix of vocabulary borrowed from English and new terms in French. It can also be hard to know how to say any symbol whether it’s just numbers or “@” (arobase). Then there’s learning how to type using un clavier AZERTY!

Writing and sending emails is another area that can complicate things. A common word for email in French is mail, and even after I knew that I would still get confused. Hearing the English word immediately made me think of a physical address rather than an email address!

One time when I needed to buy de l’assurance (some insurance) and la sécretaire was asking for my information I mixed up the French mail and the English mail pretty badly. Everything was fine until she asked me:

– Et votre adresse mail ?
– Ah oui. J’habite…

And your email address?
Ah yes. I live on…

She looked at me like I was crazy as I began giving her une adresse postale (a postal address). I didn’t even realize I had made a mistake as she began to explain:

– Non, non. J’ai besoin de votre adresse mail. Vous nous avez déjà donné votre adresse postale.
– Adresse mail ?
– Oui, pour que nous puissions vous envoyer des mails concernant votre compte.
– Pour m’envoyer du courrier ?
– Non, des mails.
– Ce n’est pas où j’habite ?
– Non… c’est sur Internet…
– Ooooh ! Oooooh ! Je comprends ! Désolé ! Oui, mon adresse mail est….

No, no. I need your email address. You already gave us your postal address.
Email address?
Yes, so that we can send you emails about your account.
To send me mail?
No, emails.
It’s not where I live?
Non… It’s on the Internet…
Ooooh! Oooooh! I understand! Sorry! Yes, my email address is…

I don’t know who was more confused while I struggled to understand mail as email. I did know that I would be sure not to confuse the two words again!

There are other words to refer to email in French and if you are ever in a similar situation you can ask if they want your addresse électronique or courrier électronique to be sure that you are saying the right thing.

Another word that’s often used au Québec is courriel, which is un mot-valise (a portmanteau) of courrier and électronique.

It’s also possible to see and hear email, e-mail or mél.

Have you ever run into trouble with des faux amis (false friends) in French? Let me know in un commentaire below!

Silence, on tourne!*

Posted on 24. May, 2016 by in Culture, Film, Vocabulary

« A mes yeux Paris restera le décor d’un roman que personne n’écrira jamais.»**

Paris, Julien Green, 1984

Before we get to this week’s post, I wanted to revisit last week. While I included examples like Bonjour / Bonne journée, I forgot to include Bonsoir et Bonne soirée (good evening) . . . and bonne matinée . . .  and bon après-midi. I also forgot to clarify an important point of usage. A general rule and an easy way to remember which of these expressions to use when, is to know that the masculine forms are greetings, while the feminine versions are used when wishing someone a pleasant time upon leaving.

Time of day Coming . . . And going . . .
Before noon Bonjour / Hello, good morning Bonne journée / Have a good day
Noon to 6:00 (ish) Bonjour / Hello, good afternoon Bonne après-midi / Have a nice afternoon
After 6:00 pm Bonsoir / Hello, good evening Bonne soirée / Have a nice evening
At bedtime! n/a Bonne nuit / Good night


Now back to today’s topic! There have been many, many, many books written about Paris, despite author Julien Green’s assertion in the quote that opens this post. But anyone who has spent any time in Paris knows, there is just something undefinable about the city that simply has to be experienced. Paris, more than many cities, has a feeling, a mood, a personality, constant and eternal, but changing with each season, moment of the day, and change in the weather.

Some people love Paris in the springtime. Some people love Paris by night. I love Paris all the time and I always do find that each Paris (Paris sous le soleil / Paris in the sun; Paris sous la pluie / Paris in the rain; Paris l’hiver / Paris in the winter; Paris en été / Paris in the summer . . . ) is unique and wonderful. No amount of words can truly capture Paris . . . but for my money, sometimes a movie can!

For your viewing pleasure this week, a few of my favorite movies (American and French) that always put me in a French frame of mind.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4104754

Frantic, 1988

A view of an older, slightly grittier Paris to be sure, but with some great scenes of the city especially of the quais along the Seine . . . and a classic 80’s soundtrack to boot. “Frantic” stars Harrison Ford as a buttoned-up-yet-desperate husband searching for his missing wife with the help of a young French woman of questionable background.


French Kiss, 1995

By POV - Impawards, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18560741

Kevin Kline stars opposite Meg Ryan playing a surprisingly convincing Frenchman with a certain je-ne-sais quoi in this charming romantic comedy. Most of the movie takes place in the south of France, but the early scenes in Paris capture the sights and sounds of the city in a way that movies don’t always get right.


Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, 2001


A charming classic of French cinema, Amélie (as it is known in English), is as in love with the neighborhoods of Paris as it is with its main characters. The production team did digitally “clean up” the city, but that just adds to the charm.


Julie & Julia, 2009

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22373224

How can you go wrong with a movie that combines France and food . . . and a very sweet portrayal of the always endearing Julie Child? And who knew that Julia Child didn’t write the classic cooking master work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by herself?

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31219010

Midnight in Paris, 2011

This time-traveling Woody Allen film
lets you enjoy Paris of today and yesteryear
all in one package!


And we can’t forget something for the kids . . . Anastasia, 1997

Et vous? What are your favorite movies (French or otherwise) that feature the City of Lights or that put you in a French (or even a francophone!) mood?

* “Quiet on the set! We’re rolling.” Another common expression you’ll hear on French movie sets is “Silence, moteur . . . Action!” (“Silence, motor . . . action!”), the equivalent of the English “Lights, camera, action!”.

** “In my eyes Paris will always be the setting for a novel that no one will ever write.”