French Language Blog

French Grammar – Punctuation Marks Posted by on Jun 5, 2009 in Grammar

Punctuation is sometimes different in the French language.  I first came across this when reading Albert Camus’ La Chute in my literature class at the Sorbonne back when I was a student in Paris.  I found it so bizarre to see the direct speech noted in the sentence « Voulez-vous d’une vie propre?  Comme tout le monde? » (Would you like your own life?  Like everyone else?).  I added the bold type just so you would notice what I was talking about.  I found these little marks to be so odd at the time.  I soon came to realize that this is how direct speech is marked in French…they don’t use ‘normal’ apostrophe marks!  So, remembering this, I thought I would write about punctuation today.

Le point (.) is used at the end of a sentence and in abbreviations much like in English.  It is also used in numbers to show thousands (1.750).
La virgule (,) is used to mark a pause between groups, also much like in English.  It is also used to show decimals (0,50)
Le point-virgule (;) is used to make a pause between clauses.
Les deux points (:) is used to announce an explanation or a citation, also much like in English.
Les guillemets (« ») are used for statements in direct speech (in a dialogue) and citations.
Les parenthèses (()) are used for side remarks.
Les points de suspension () are used at the end of unfinished sentences.
Le tiret () shows a change in speaker when writing in direct speech (in a dialogue) and when enumerating in a list, for example.
L’apostrophe () replaces an ‘a’ or ‘e’ when taken out of a word to combine with another word.
Le c-cédille (ç) is pronounced ‘s’ before an ‘a’ or ‘o’ or ‘u’.
Le trait d’union () to link compound words (avant-garde) and divide words at the end of a line (fran- çais).  And remember, if you don’t have enough room at then end of your line, you should divide words after a vowel or between two consonants unless the second consonant is an ‘r’ or ‘l’.  Ex: ma-man, change-ment, ac-cent, prop-ret, ta-ble, théâ-tre.

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