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12 Languages

12.5 French

12.5.1 Accents

The acute (΄), the most common accent in French, is used only over e; when two e’s come together the first always has an acute accent, as in née. The grave (`) is used mainly over e, but also on final a, as in voilà, and on u in (‘where’), but not ou (‘or’). The circumflex (ˆ) may be used over a, e, i, o, and u. The cedilla c (ç) is used only before a, o, and u. The diaeresis (¨) is found on i, e, and y.

Although they are recommended by the Académie française, accents on capital letters are often omitted in everyday French, except when they are needed to avoid confusion:

POLICIER TUÉ ‘Policeman killed’
POLICIER TUE ‘Policeman kills’

12.5.2 Orthographic reform

Les Rectifications de l’orthographie, drafted by the Conseil Supérieure de la Langue Française, was published in 1990. It is a controversial document and ignored by many. From an editor’s point of view the main changes are those affecting circumflex accents and hyphens. Since the document recommends the removal of the circumflex on і and u, except in verb endings and a few words where it distinguishes meaning, the lack of this accent may indicate the author’s support for the reform, and it would be wise to ascertain whether or not this is the case; if this is not possible, assume that the reforms are not being followed.

12.5.3 Abbreviations

As in English, place a full point after an abbreviation (chap., ex.) but not after a contraction (St, Mlle). Retain the hyphen when a hyphenated form is abbreviated:

J.-J. Rousseau (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
P.-S. (post-scriptum)
Some common examples of abbreviations in French:

abrév.

abréviation

apr.

après

av.

avant

c.-à-d.

c’est-à-dire

chap.

chapitre

Cie, Cie

compagnie

conf.

confer (Lat.)

dito

Dr

docteur

éd.

édition

etc.

et cætera

ex.

exemple

folio

Ier, Ier

premier

IIe, 2e, II ème, 2ème

deuxième

ill.

illustration

in-4°

in-quarto

in-8°

in-octavo

inéd.

inédit

in-f°

in-folio

in pl.

in plano (Lat.)

l.c.

loc. cit. (Lat.)

liv.

livre

M.

monsieur

Me, Me

maître

Mlle, Mlle

mademoiselle

MM.

messieurs

Mme, Mme

madame

ms.

manuscrit

mss.

manuscrits

numéro

Ρ·

page

p., pp.

pages

P.-S.

post-scriptum

qqch

quelque chose

qqn

quelqu’un

s., ss., suiv.

suivant

s.d.

sans date

s.l.

sans lieu

t.

tome

TVA

taxe à la valeur ajoutée

v.

voyez, voir

Vve

veuve

12.5.4 Capitalization

Capitalize only the first element (or first element after the article) in compound proper names. If the first element has a following adjective linked by a hyphen, capitalize the adjective also:

l’Académie française

la Comédie-Française

le Palais-Royal

la Légion d’honneur

le Conservatoire de musique

Bibliothèque nationale

Note that a following adjective is lower case, while an adjective preceding the noun is capitalized:

Le Nouveau Testament

les Saintes écritures

l’Écriture sainte

Use lower-case letters for: days of the week; names of months; the cardinal points (le nord, le sud, etc.); languages; adjectives derived from proper nouns (la langue française); ranks, titles, regimes, religions, adherents of movements, and their derivative adjectives (calvinisme, chrétien(ne), le christianisme, humaniste, les sans-culottes, le socialisme, les socialistes).

Use capitals for nationalities when used as nouns: le Français (‘the Frenchman’), la Française (‘the Frenchwoman’), as opposed to le français (‘French’) (the language). Note that when referring to an adherent of Judaism un juif should be lower-case like un chrétien and un musulman, but capitalized as a member of a people: un Juif like un Turc and un Arabe. In practice, the capital seems to be used more widely.

In names for geographical features common nouns such as mer (‘sea’) are lower case, but there are traditional exceptions:

le Bassin parisien

le Massif central

le Massif armoricain

la Montagne Noire

le Quartier latin

12.5.5 Punctuation

Hyphen

Use hyphens to connect cardinal and ordinal numbers in words under 100:

vingt-quatre

trois cent quatre-vingt-dix

but when et joins two numbers no hyphen is used:

vingt et un

cinquante et un

vingt et unième

Quotation marks

Texts set wholly in French should use quotation marks called guillemets (« »); these need not be used for French text in English-language books. A space is inserted inside the guillemets, separating the marks from the matter they contain; prefer a thin or no-break space (see 2.5.1) to avoid awkward line breaks but a normal word space is acceptable.

A guillemet is repeated at the head of every subsequent paragraph belonging to the quotation. In conversational matter guillemets are sometimes put at the beginning and end of the remarks, and the individual utterances are denoted by a spaced dash:

« — Nous allons lui écrire, dis-je, et lui demander pardon.
— C’est une idée de génie. »

Many modern authors dispense with guillemets altogether, and denote the speakers by a dash only, although this is officially frowned upon.

English-style inverted commas are often used to mark a quotation within a quotation.

Where guillemets are used, only one » appears at the end of two quotations concluding simultaneously.

12.5.6 Work titles

Capitalize the initial letter of the first word of a title and of a following noun, if the first word is a definite article:

Les Femmes savantes

Au revoir les enfants

Where the title occurs within a sentence, a lower-case l for the definite article (le, la, les) beginning a title may be used; the article is construed with the surrounding sentence:

La mise en scène de la Bohème ‘The production of La Bohème

If a noun following an initial definite article is itself preceded by an adjective, capitalize this also:

Le Petit Prince

Les Mille et Une Nuits (two adjectives)

but downcase any following adjective:

Les Mains sales

If the title begins with any word other than le, la, les, or if the title forms a complete sentence, downcase the words following, unless they are proper nouns:

Une vie
A la recherche du temps perdu
La guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu
Les dieux ont soif

A parallel title is treated as a title in its own right for the purposes of capitalization:

Emile, ou, De l’éducation

As these rules are complex, some English styles merely capitalize the first word and any proper nouns.

12.5.7 Word division

Divide words according to spoken syllables, and in only a few cases according to etymology. A single consonant always goes with the following vowel (amou-reux, cama-rade); ch, dh, gn, ph, th, and groups consisting of consonant + r or + l count as single consonants for this purpose.

Other groups of consonants are divided irrespective of etymology (circons-tance, tran-saction, obs-curité) but divide a prefix from a following h (dés-habille). Always divide ll, even if sounded y: travaillons, mouil-lé. Do not divide between vowels except in a compound: anti-aérien, extra-ordinaire (but Moa-bite). In particular, vowels forming a single syllable (monsieur) are indivisible. Do not divide after a single letter (émettre) or before or after an intervocalic x or y (soixante, moyen, Alexandre), but divide after x or y if followed by a consonant: dex-térité, pay-san. Do not divide abbreviated words (Mlle), within initials (la CRS), or after an abbreviated forename (J.-Ph. Rameau) or personal title (le Dr Suchet).

Do not divide after an apostrophe within compound words (presqu’île, aujour-d’hui). Divide interrogative verb forms before -t-: Viendra-|t-il?

12.5.8 Numerals

Use words for times of day if they are expressed in hours and fractions of hour:

six heures ‘six o’clock’

trois heures et quart ‘a quarter past three’

but use figures for time expressed in minutes: 6 h 15, 10 h 8 min 30 s.

Set Roman numerals indicating centuries in small capitals:

le xième siècle

xie siècle

but they should be in full capitals when in italic.

Use upper-case Roman numerals for numbers belonging to proper nouns (Louis XIV), but Arabic numerals for the numbers of the arrondissements of Paris: le 16e arrondissement.

In figures use thin spaces to divide thousands (20 250), but do not space dates, or numbers in general contexts (ľan 1466, page 1250).

Times of day written as figures should be spaced as 10 h 15 min 10 s (10 hrs 15 min. 10 sec.); formerly this was also printed 10h 15m 10s.

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Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms