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https://www.duolingo.com/CrazyZ

Spaces before punctuation marks

CrazyZ
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You might have noticed that some of the answers to the French sentences have spaces before their exclamation marks (!) or question marks (?), and wondered why.

This is apparently a practice in French that is not common in English, but it's always done. It is not done before periods, but before these four punctuation marks: ! ? : ; » and after «.

For example, "Un enfant cuisine ?" (EN: A child cooks?)

Well technically, it's not the same space that we use in English, but "une espace insécable" (EN: a non-breaking space) and can be typed on an English keyboard with the sequence ALT + 0160. Although it looks exactly the same, the reason this is done is so that on word processors, the word is not broken when it overshoots a line, ending up with a solitary ? on the next line.

Hope that clears things up! Keep on translating, folks!

Sources: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=656762 http://french.about.com/library/writing/bl-punctuation.htm

6 years ago

23 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/gregoire
gregoire
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So French people have a special alternate space bar? Or the software knows that if you press space before a question mark, you want a Non-Breaking Space?

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Talae
Talae
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From my experience, localised (is that correct ?) software generally do it automatically... although far from perfectly, especially when editing a sentence after typing it, or when using some sorts of dashes... If you're brave enough ;) here are the current rules about spaces and punctuation marks in French typography (be warned, it's... complicated !) : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponctuation#Les_espaces_autour_des_signes_de_ponctuation_.28r.C3.A8gles_actuelles.29

In any case, these rules, or at least some of them, are less and less respected, either by ignorance or by mistake, and also, to be honest, because of the impact of technologies such as computers, the World Wide Web, etc., which didn't took into consideration such subtle and sophisticated distinctions at first, and often still don't, at least in widespread used software. Only some good books publishers and newspapers really respect all of them. But spaces before ! ? : ; » and after « are still the norm indeed, even if the non-breaking aspect and the theoretically different lengths are not anymore, in common written French.

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pythonenfrancais

It would make sense that at least localized software would do it automatically, but like you implied, it really does depend on a lot of factors. Depending on what OS, which version of the OS, which application, which version of the application, how the computer was set up, etc. certain variables describing the geographical location are turned on (environment variables for the techies out there). Some of these variables tell you if Day Light Savings is happening, some tell you what time zone you're in, some tell you if you're using an English keyboard, a French keyboard, a Dvorak keyboard, etc.

Part of the issue of this automatically being taken into account some places and not others is that a good portion of the early days computer science (since this is really more of a software thing, not a hardware thing) was developed in English speaking countries. If you know anything about the more common programming languages, all of their key words are in English, even though the languages are used globally. All of the default documentation is also in English. And a lot of these English-speaking computer programmers didn't have the social skills to know the subtitles of other languages, or to learn them anywhere outside of a book. (Nor did they have the time.)

Another part of the issue is that localized punctuation differences vary from location to location, language to language and even dialect to dialect. A set of environment variables that work well in one system in France, may not work so well in the same system in French Caribbean countries. Is it worth spending the time and effort adjusting the software for these differences? Or is that time and effort better spent trying to set up environment variables that work well in a different common system in France? (There is currently a huge shortage of computer programmers world-wide, so while this isn't probably what they were thinking, it is still a viable thought.) Like the early days of typewriter keyboards that had the letters "l" and "o," but no numbers "1" or "0," maybe it's just assumed that the space bar will be good enough, or at least good enough for now.

I do believe a third part of the issue has to do with an indirect result of technology, although this may be growing into a problem as opposed to currently being a problem: the younger generations are getting lazier about punctuation, at least here in the US. (I'm Gen Y, I see it in my peers constantly.) With texting being common, who actually says "You're so cool!"? Instead we say "UR so cool!" or "your so cool!" or whatever. Even with a full computer keyboard in front of them, see fewer and fewer people capitalizing the word "I", fewer uses of commas, periods, even question marks. While this kind of laziness has yet to really hit written published pieces, I do believe we will be seeing more and more of it. After all, "ain't" isn't a word but recently they've started being included in some dictionaries. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ain%27t?show=0&t=1384564237 Languages are alive and as such they adapt to however they are most commonly used, whether or not it follows the rules.

None of this is a valid excuse for ignoring how to correctly write and communicate in different, but completely legitimate and widely used languages. This comment was just to point out some of the reasons why it can be difficult to get something as complex as this right.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scooby509

Macs can produce it with option-space in most applications. Windows machines can do it with alt-1, alt-6, alt-0. And as it's a widely used special character, most word processors have a function to insert one. It's a good idea to use a NBSP in any phrase like Mr. Smith where you don't want the title to get orphaned.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NickC172

thanks.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mattmcca

Yes, in Canadian French, the space before periods, question marks, etc. is often left out. You'll also notice more accented uppercase letters in Canada,

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rwstandridge

Just to confuse this farther I guess it isn't #0160 (non breaking space) but U+202F / #8239 (narrow non-breaking space).

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-breaking_space#Encodings http://typofute.com/l_espace_fine_insecable_dans_les_documents_html

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mforster1uk

Note that if you have one of these four punctuation marks following another, you need a space before both of them:

Examples:

« Ô rage, ô honte du XVIIIe siècle ! »

N’a-t-il pas dit : « Pour vaincre les bourgeois, il faut rallier le peuple » ?

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bugbrain_04

Is there a space before those punctuation marks in handwritten french, too?

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Talae
Talae
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Yes, there is indeed.

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ClassicBookworm

Wow, I had no idea. I thought they were typos. I don't recall anything about it in French Immersion, but we didn't use computers back then and perhaps it is different in Canada. Thanks for the insight CrazyZ!

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/cmccolm

As I recall in Canada it is less popular to add spaces before exclamation points and question marks but it is still acceptable.

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NickC172

Agreed!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jeffers86

Thank you for pointing that out, I noticed that duolingo was offering my translation with that extra space as another possible translation. I thought it was a mistake until I read this post. I immediately grabbed a book in French and verified that it is true.

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heartlandexpat

In doing french assignments for class I've always why word always put those little spaces in! Now I know. Thank you very much :)

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ssokolow

I first encountered it in a similar situation but, since LibreOffice doesn't auto-correct that by default, letting the job fall to the LanguageTool grammar checker plugin, I was presented with an explanation of why it wanted me to change it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Gouryella91

weird. thx for the insight.

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CMAPalmietto

This is pretty interesting. Thanks!

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/adrian.bedford

Yes, thank you for explaining that. I had been wondering.

6 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HD123
HD123
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Merci beaucoup de l'avoir expliqué !

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NomadaJaime
NomadaJaime
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Not to pick on you, but if you understood the rule you might as well apply it yourself ;P

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HD123
HD123
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Ah whoops didn't see that

5 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NickC172

Thanks so much, CrazyZ! That was very helpful!

4 years ago