Punctuation is a crucial aspect of writing that often goes unnoticed until it is done incorrectly. In French, punctuation marks aid in clarity and comprehension and follow specific rules that differ from those in English.

Learn French punctuation marks

Learning French grammar and associated rules is essential for anyone learning French or aiming to write proficiently. This guide will delve into the key punctuation marks used in French, their rules, and examples to illustrate proper usage.

Common French punctuation marks

The French language is widely spoken worldwide. Mastering this language can allow you to communicate with various communities. Knowing French punctuation can take you one step closer to fluency. Punctuation in French is almost the same word as in English: it’s “la ponctuation.” The table below shows French punctuation marks with English and French names:

French Punctuation markEnglish NameFrench Name
,commala virgule
.periodle point
:colondeux points
;semi colonle point virgule
ellipsisles points de suspension
!exclamation markle point d’exclamation
?interrogation markle point d’interrogation
«»quotation marksles guillemets (m)
hyphenle trait-d’union
apostropheune apostrophe

The Period (Le Point)

The period, or le point, is used similarly in French and English. It marks the end of a declarative sentence and is placed directly after the last word without a space.

For example:

  • Elle aime lire des romans. (She likes reading novels.)

The Comma (La Virgule)

The comma, or la virgule, separates elements within a sentence, much like in English. However, its usage in French can vary, particularly in lists and complex sentences.


  • French: Il achète des pommes, des oranges, des bananes et des fraises.
  • English: He buys apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries.

Complex sentences:

In French, commas are often used to separate clauses connected by conjunctions like mais (but), et (and), and ou (or).

For example: 

  • Elle voulait sortir, mais il pleuvait. (She wanted to go out, but it was raining.)

The Semicolon (Le Point-Virgule)

The semicolon, or le point-virgule, connects closely related independent clauses. It is less frequently used in French than English but serves a similar purpose.

For example:

  • Il aime voyager; elle préfère rester chez elle. (He likes to travel; she prefers to stay at home.)
Understand the difference between colon and semi-colon

The Colon (Les Deux-Points)

The colon, or les deux-points, introduces explanations, lists, or direct speech. In French, it is preceded by a space.

For example:

  • French: Voici la liste des courses : du pain, du lait, des œufs.
  • English: Here is the shopping list: bread, milk, eggs.

The Question Mark (Le Point d’Interrogation)

The question mark, or le point d’interrogation, follows similar rules in French as in English but is preceded by a non-breaking space.

For example:

  • French: Comment ça va ? (How are you?)
  • English: How are you?
Learn the use of question mark

The Exclamation Mark (Le Point d’Exclamation)

The exclamation mark, or le point d’exclamation, conveys strong emotion or emphasis and is preceded by a non-breaking space, like the question mark.

For example:

  • French: Quelle surprise ! (What a surprise!)
  • English: What a surprise!

Quotation Marks (Les Guillemets)

French uses angle quotation marks, or les guillemets, for direct speech or quotations. Quotations, commas, periods, and other punctuation marks follow the same rules as outside. Les guillemets are preceded and followed by non-breaking spaces.

For example:

  • French: Il a dit : « Je viendrai demain. »
  • English: He said, “I will come tomorrow.”

The Apostrophe (L’Apostrophe)

The apostrophe, or l’apostrophe, is used in French to indicate the elision of a vowel before another vowel or a silent h. It’s commonly found in contractions.

For example:

  • l’homme (the man) instead of le homme
  • c’est (it is) instead of ce est

The Hyphen (Le Trait d’Union)

The hyphen, or le trait d’union, connects compound words, numbers, and certain expressions. It is also used in imperative commands with object pronouns.

For example:

  • Compound word: porte-monnaie (wallet)
  • Numbers: vingt-et-un (twenty-one)
  • Imperative: Donne-le-moi (Give it to me)

The Ellipsis (Les Points de Suspension)

The ellipsis, or les points de suspension, indicates a trailing off or unfinished thought. In French, it comprises three dots and is preceded by a non-breaking space if it comes after a word.

For example:

  • French: Je pense que… (I think that…)
  • English: I think that…

Start by learning the French alphabet and gradually move towards other language concepts. Practice them regularly to polish your French writing. Punctuation in French is crucial for conveying the correct meaning and tone. Misplacing or omitting punctuation marks can lead to misunderstandings or ambiguity. Proper punctuation enhances readability and comprehension, making it an essential skill for effective communication.

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