Les Guillemets

Les Guillemets

lay ghee-yuh-MAY. Click below to hear this.


Okay, I recognize that that’s not very helpful. What’s a guillemet

Actually, they come in pairs, so you need the s on the end. This post arose from a question asked by my cousin’s husband, Brad: “Do the French put quote marks inside a tall punctuation mark (?) or outside, as with short punctuation marks (,)?”

Well, Brad (and the rest of you), it’s not quite as straighforward as that. The French don’t use the same quotation marks as we do in English. They use these: « » , which are called guillemets.

Here’s a snippet of conversation in English, punctuated according to American English rules:

“Do you love me?” asked Romeo.

“I don’t know,” replied Juliet. “We do have a problem, you know.”

“We can overcome that!” exclaimed Romeo.

“How?” asked Juliet doubtfully.

“I know a guy,” said Romeo. “He can marry us in secret.”

Now for the same dialogue, punctuated according to French rules.

« Do you love me ? asked Romeo.

— I don’t know, replied Juliet.

We do have a problem, you know.

— We can overcome that ! exclaimed Romeo.

— How ? asked Juliet doubtfully.

— I know a guy, said Romeo. He can marry us in secret ! »

Note the space after each ? and ! Also note the long dash (editors call in an em-dash) each time the speaker changes. The guillemets enclose the entire conversation, not just one person’s speech.

Does that clarify matters somewhat? The American-style quotation marks don’t even exist in French, and the spacing rules are different.

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