If you are wondering what the heck “guillemets” are, you have come to the right place. English and French may both use the Latin alphabet, but the French writing style is quite different as are certain French punctuation marks.
On this blog, I use the written style format of American English for spelling and grammar. (I hope!) I’ve lived abroad for so long that I’m sure everyone would be pointing out that I’ve inconsistently spelled “color” as “colour” (Canadian spelling), and wondering what these « » are.
French Writing Style Format differences
1. A person’s last name is written in ALL CAPITALS
This one I will say is my favorite. It is eminently practical, and we should adopt this everywhere. No more embarrassing mixups between first name and last name: Jean XAVIER. On official documents, regular life, etc. this one takes the guesswork out of your name.
2. Time is stated in 24 hours instead of 12.
AM, PM, it is so unprecise. French people tell time the way the army does, which is in 24 hours. I can get fully onboard with this. Even when writing or speaking to other anglophones, I’m still tempted to write “let’s have a phone call at 20h”, instead of “8 pm”. What if someone got confused and wanted to chat at 8 am? You can laugh, but since I’m in a different timezone from friends and family, this could happen! And I would be in my PJs trying to shove the kids out the door to school.
3. The date is stated as “Day, Month, Year”
This is one for all the North Americans where we write “Month, Day, Year” instead of “Day, Month, Year”. I know it’s us New Worlders who are confusing on that one, Month before the Day makes no sense when everybody else is doing it the other way. It just confuses people when they look at a date like 3/1/2019. Is that the 3rd of January or 1st of March? North Americans in France beware, it is Day, Month in France.
4. When writing numbers, the decimal and comma are inversed: 1000,00 instead of 1000.00
The accountant in me does not get this one at all. In France, the writing convention for numbers has the decimal point and the comma inversed. So one million, which would be written in French as 1.000.000,00 instead of 1,000,000.00. But certain institutions such as French banks that have a global footprint use the English convention and convert your comma into a decimal point or vice versa. This is not helpful if you are trying to transfer 100 euros to someone and don’t accidentally want to transfer 10000 euros!
5. Use « guillemets » instead of “quotes” for quotation marks
I have no particular opinions about this one, (surprising I know!). If you have a french computer as I do, your keyboard may automatically transform your quotation marks from English to French, or the other way around, but only sometimes. So it’s a bit of an editorial nightmare from a consistency standpoint, but other than that I think most people will figure it out. Unless they have an English keyboard and then can’t figure out where to get those guillemets from.
Any others I’ve missed? Comment below and let me know!
¹ Featured Image: Matthew Henry for Shopify Burst
- French Snacks: 10 ideas for an after-school nibbleMarch 28, 2020/
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