When we learn our mother tongue, we get very accustomed to the way that it’s written and spoken. However, most of us have had (or will have) to deal with learning a new language at some point in our lives. And while we can definitely manage to learn this new language well, writing habits from our native tongue can sometimes interfere with our ability to learn how to properly write the second one.


Therefore, in this article, we will learn some of the important ways in which written French and written English differ from each other in order to learn how to correctly write in these two languages.




Section #1: Punctuation


  • Full stop
  • Comma
  • Colon
  • Semicolon
  • Quotation marks


Section #2: French accents


  • Acute accent
  • Grave accent
  • Circumflex accent
  • Diaeresis
  • Cedilla


Section #3: Double consonants


  • English
  • French
  • Top seven spelling differences


Section #1: Punctuation


Punctuation is a key issue that people tend to forget. Let's have a look at some of the biggest differences between English and French regarding punctuation:


Full stop (UK) or period (US)


The full stop (.), also referred to as a "dot" in web addresses, is called a point in French. The usage is almost the same in both French and English, but they are written differently. How can that be? Well, let's have a look:


English: We use this punctuation mark at the end of a sentence or an abbreviation. Furthermore:


  • The full stop is often placed within the quotation marks.
  • It is also used to indicate a decimal place (for instance: 2.99).




  • "We can be heroes, just for one day." -David Bowie.


French: The full stop is primarily used exactly the same way in French as in English. However:


  • This punctuation mark is placed outside the quotation marks.
  • When writing long numbers, the full stop is typically used to separate every third digit. It is not used as a decimal point (for instance: 1.000).




  • « Non, rien de rien. Non, je ne regrette rien ». -Edith Piaf (No, not at all. No, I don't feel sorry about anything).




The comma (,) is known as the virgule in French. Once again, the usage is very much the same in both French and English, but let's take a closer look at how it's used:


English: We use commas to separate elements in a series or to indicate a shorter pause than a full stop.


  • Again, it usually is placed within the quotation marks.
  • Unlike in French, the comma is used to separate every third digit in long numbers and it is not used as a decimal point (for instance: 1,000).




"The Oxford comma," also known as "the serial comma," is used before the words "and" and "or."


The Oxford comma is unusual in that it is not mandatory in English writing. So you can choose to use it or not. It's up to you! Or it’s up to your boss…


French: Like the full stop, the comma is basically used the same way in both languages. However:


  • The comma is placed outside the quotation marks in French.
  • It is used to indicate the decimal place (for instance: 2,99).




« The Oxford comma », ou « virgule d'Oxford », s'utilise devant les mots « and » et « or » en anglais.




The colon (:) is called deux points in French. We essentially use it the same way, but again, it can differ when written.


English: It is used to introduce a list of words or specific phrases.


  • It is placed outside the quotation marks.
  • There is no space before the colon.




He wanted to go, but there were some problems: money, time and work.


French: It is generally used in the same way as it is in English.


  • It is also placed outside the quotation marks.
  • HOWEVER, there is always a space between it and the preceding word.




Celui-ci c'est son groupe préféré : Oasis (This one here is his favourite band: Oasis).




The semicolon (;) is known as point-virgule in French. The usage is basically the same in the two languages, but let's take a look at some of the differences when it comes to writing.


English: We use it to separate elements of a series when the items in the series are long and at least one item contains internal commas.


  • It is placed outside the quotation marks.
  • There is no space before the semicolon.




The meeting will include people who have come from Seattle, Washington; Albany, New York; San Antonio, Texas; as well as some other places.


French: It’s usage is mostly the same. Specifically:


  • It is placed outside the quotation marks.
  • HOWEVER, there is always a space between it and the preceding word.




J'adore jouer au foot, mais qu'avec mes amis proches ; au basket, avec n'importe qui ; et surtout, jouer la guitare, mais tout seul, parce que je suis timide. 


Quotation marks


Quotation marks (“”), known as guillemets in French («»), are one of the biggest differences between these two languages.


English: They are used to quote text that has been previously said by someone, or to indicate that we are talking about a specific word or term.


  • We use single quotation marks (‘’) when including a quote within a quote.




“I was walking down the street when I saw ‘Tourists go home’ written on a wall. Then, my friend told me, ‘don't pay attention, mate.’”


French: Instead of using the English quotation marks, we use guillemets («»). They're used in the same way for both the quotation marks and the single quotation marks.


  • You must add spaces before and after the guillemets.




Pauline a écrit ça hier : « je suis malade, je ne viendrai pas chez toi ».


So let's sum up what we’ve learned so far with this simple table:



Quotation marks


Quotation marks

Full stop (UK), period (US)



« Out ».




« Out »,



Deux points

« Out » :




« Out » ;

Quotation marks: ""

Quotation marks: «»


Section #2: French Accents


There are a few different kinds of accents in French, which can be very confusing for English speakers. So, let's go through the following list to learn more about each one.


Acute accent (´): l’accent aigu


This accent is only used with the letter e (é) and indicates that you should pronounce it in a wide open manner, as opposed to the plain French e. It is important to remember that French words may contain more than one accent, unlike Spanish words for example.


Examples: é


  • télévision (television)
  • fermé (closed)


Grave accent (`): l’accent grave


This can be placed on the vowels ae or u (à, è, ù). It is generally used to open the e vowel in closed syllables. Both a and u may use the grave accent as a diacritical mark to distinguish it from other words.


Examples: à, è, ù


  • grève (strike)
  • où (where)


Circumflex accent (^): l’accent circonflèxe


This accent can be placed on any vowel, and it is used to indicate that this vowel was once followed by an s in the past.


Examples: â, ê, î, ô, û


  • hôpital (hospital)
  • forêt (forest)
  • île (isle)


Diaeresis (¨): le tréma


This is used when you have two vowels in a row and indicates that you should pronounce each of them distinctly, removing the diphthong. It can be placed on the vowels e, i, or u.


Examples: ë, ï, ü


  • naïf/naïve (naive)
  • troïka (troika)
  • canoë (canoe)


Cedilla (ç): le cédille


The cedilla is used to soften a strong sound such as ca, co, or cu in order to make it sound like sa, so, and su (ça, ço, çu).


Examples: ç


  • maçon (builder)
  • français (French)
  • déçu (disappointed)


Section #3: Double Consonants


The truth is that double consonants are a headache, more so if you have already learned them well in one language. Why is this? Because the rules are so difference between languages that when you switch to a new one, you might find that you have trouble remembering the new rules. So, let’s have a look at how these rules work in English and French.




Main cases:


  1. Comparatives and superlatives: “big” > “bigger” (comparative), “hot” > “hottest (superlative).
  2. Words ending with “-ed”: “cancel” > “cancelled.”
  3. Words ending with “-ing”: “forget” > “forgetting.”


Basic rules:


There is a general rule for knowing when to use a double consonant in English. This rule is specifically for monosyllabic words and words that are stressed on the last syllable. If such a word ends with a consonant, vowel and then another consonant, we double the last consonant when adding the suffixes “-ing,” “-ed,” “-er,” “-est,” etc.


Examples of words that double their final consonant:


  • swim > swimming
  • put > putting
  • run > running
  • get > getting
  • sad > sadder


Examples of words that do not double their final consonant (not stressed on their last syllable):


  • listen > listening
  • open > opening




The following words follow different rules in British and American English:


  • travel > UK: travelling / US: traveling
  • model > UK: modelling / US: modeling
  • cancel > UK: cancelling / US: canceling


In addition, words ending with w, x and z are never doubled.




  • row > rowing
  • relax > relaxing
  • pray > praying




As we have just seen, the English rules are very clear. However, French rules are quite vague and have many exceptions. My best advice to you for learning proper French spelling is to read, read and read. In the meantime, let’s have a look at some rules:


The general rule says that you should never double a consonant after another consonant, but obviously, there are quite a few exceptions:


The letter s


  • The imperfect subjunctive of the verbs tenir and venir double the s (que je tinsse, vinsse).
  • It is also doubled after a vowel with an accent: émission.


The letter c


  • Words starting with ac- usually double the c: accalmie, accaparer
  • Words starting with oc- usually double the c: occasion, occident
  • Only two words starting with ec- double the c: ecchymose, ecclésiastique.


The letter d


  • The words addiction, addition, adduction and their derivatives double the d.


The letter m


  • Words starting with em don’t usually double the m.
  • Words starting with im double the m, except for image, imaginer, imiter and their derivatives.


The letter p


  • Words starting with ap usually double the p.


The letter r


  • Words starting with a vowel followed by r normally double it.


The letter t


  • Words starting with t usually double the consonant t.


Seven spelling differences between English and French 


Finally, let’s have a look at our seven spelling differences between English and French to get an idea of how difficult writing can be when you know these two languages:



















Well, that’s it. You now know some of the most basic skills in French writing, and how to differentiate them from English. Did you find them useful? Leave a comment if you want to add some information!


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