TNs, Extra: French Punctuation

English and French share many of the same punctuation marks, but how they are used can be different between the two languages.

Le point (.)

The period or full-stop is used after title abbreviations if the last letter is not in the abbreviation.

MadameMme (no punctuation)
DocteurDr (no punctuation)

It may be used to separate numbers in a date. Remember that the order is day, month, year in French.

le 6 avril 2001 ⇒ 6.4.2001
le 27 novembre 2015 ⇒ 27.11.2015

For numbers, le point or a space may be used between every three digits, where in English you would find a comma.

Deux mille deux cents ⇒ 2 200 or 2.200
Deux millions ⇒ 2 000 000 or 2.000.000

-Please note that le point not used as a decimal placeholder in numbers. Please see la virgule below.

La virgule (,)

La virgule is used to separate ideas joined by a conjunction, natural pauses, and more than two items in a series. However, the “oxford comma” does not exist in French, and la virgule is not used before et or ou in a series.

  • Je vais acheter une tomate, un poivron et des champignons. — I’m going to buy a tomato, a pepper, and mushrooms.
  • Voulez-vous un café, un thé, un chocolat chaud ou un soda ? — Do you want a coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or soda?

It is found in front of conjunctions when it is separating two coordinating ideas with different subjects.

  • Jean lit le journal, et Marc fait ses devoirs. — Jean is reading the newspaper, and Marc is doing his homework.

Decimals in English are separated by une virgule in French. Thus π is 3,141 592…

This can be a confusing because the punctuation for numbers in French is the inverse in English.

French English
4,5 (quatre virgule cinq) 4.5 (four point five)
4.500 (quatre mille cinq-cents) 4,500 (four thousand five hundred)

Two-Part Punctuation

Anytime the punctuation mark is composed of two or more parts, there is a space both before and after it.

They all follow this pattern:


Le point d’exclamation and Le point d’interrogation (! and ?)

The punctuation following a phrase changes the meaning.

  • Ça va ? — How are you?/How’s it going?
  • Ça va. — I’m fine./It’s okay.
  • Ça va ! — All right!/I’m good!

Notice the space between the last word and le point d’interrogation and le point d’exclamation.

Le point-virgule (;)

As in English le point-virgule or semicolon separates two independent phrases (subject-verb ; subject-verb) connected logically together.

  • Appelez-moi demain ; nous pouvons en discuter à ce moment-là. — Call me tomorrow; we can talk about it at that time.

Use a point-virgule if the second clause in a sentence begins with an adverb.

  • Elles étaient à l’heure pour la pièce de théâtre ; malheureusement, elles avaient oublié leur billet. — They were on time for the play; unfortunately, they had forgotten their tickets.

Les deux points (:)

The colon or les deux points is used before enumerating a list of things.

  • Le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unis a cinq membres permanents : la Chine, les États-Unis, la France, le Royaume-Uni et la Russie. — The United Nations Security Council has five permanent members: China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

It is also serves to link two clauses in a cause or consequence situation.

  • Le petit garçon n’a pas fini son dîner : il n’aura pas de morceau de gâteau. — The little boy did not finish his dinner. He will not have a piece of cake.

Lastly les deux points can appear before quoted text.

  • Le musicien a affirmé : « La pratique rend parfait. » — The musician affirmed, “practice makes perfect”.

Les guillemets and les tirets ( « » and — )

French quotation marks are not introduced in the Duolingo course, but spend any time reading French articles or books and you will be confronted with these two notations.

As shown above, les guillemets can enclose quoted text that is followed by les deux points. They can also enclose a single word or group of words to add emphasis or nuance, much like quotations marks do in English writing. They often encircle foreign or slang words as well.

  • C’était un peu maladroit quand le secrétaire d’État américain a fait un « big hug » au président français. — It was a little awkward when the American Secretary of State gave the French President a “big hug”.
  • Mon collègue agit comme si son rapport hebdomadaire était un « grand projet ». — My colleague acts as if his weekly report is a “big project”.

Les guillemets require an international or French keyboard to make. They are not two angle brackets simply typed together. Here are instructions for PC and for Mac. It is also useful to change your keyboard settings in order to easily type the various accents.

This: « »
Not that: << >>

Like all two-part punctuation in French, there is a space before and after les guillemets.

When you pick up a French novel you may notice what looks like a long hyphen in front of the dialogue whenever the speaker changes. This is un tiret and it is longer than the trait d’union (hyphen) you have already seen in inverted questions, numbers, and imperative statements involving pronouns.

  • Qu’a-t-elle dit ? (trait d’union) — What did she say?
  • Laisse-moi le faire. (trait d’union) — Let me do it.

  • — Excusez-moi. Avez-vous l’heure ? a demandé l’inconnu. (tiret) — “Excuse me. Do you have the time?” the stranger asked.

  • — Désolée, non, a-t-elle répondu. (tiret) — “Sorry, no”, she replied.

Les tirets can also be found in the middle of sentences, acting in the place of parenthesis.

  • Ses parents — de grands lecteurs — lui ont donné le goût des livres. — Her parents, avid readers, have given her a passion for books.

Important: If you find any errors in the Tips and Notes, have questions related to the grammar points above, or would like to discuss the topic in depth, please feel free to comment below. We ask that you keep your comments on topic so that this post stays educational and everyone can benefit from them. Any spam or unrelated comments will be deleted.

For more Tips and Notes, click HERE

January 24, 2019


In Linux you don't have to change keyboard layout if you setup Compose Key. For example, if your compose key is Alt, then you can hit Alt followed by << to get «, or Alt followed by >> to get ». (In addition, you can type Alt followed by `e to get è, Alt followed by ,c to get ç, etc).

Here is how to setup Compose key in Gnome and KDE

January 25, 2019

Thanks for the instructions Slycelote! That will be useful for all the Linux users out there.

January 26, 2019

very useful. Merci!

January 25, 2019

Merci beaucoup. This cleared up many things.

February 22, 2019
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