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Many French writers and publications will use guillemets when quoting in French, e.g.

Il a dit qu'il « était le meilleur joueur du monde » hier soir.

But there are also major publications such as Le Monde.fr who use (update: used to use) doublequotes; for example, here's a snippet of an article from today:

Les deux portraits étaient légendés par ces mots : “Choc de titans”.

So, how commonly are double quotes used in French writing, when quoting? Is it only in certain publications like Le Monde.fr that they are used, or is it more commonplace? Are guillemets ever used outside of France?

Additional query: In English, single-quotes are also a valid replacement for doublequotes (they are more typically used in British English), and so the following two phrases are the same:

He said, “I want it soon” to me.

He said, ‘I want it soon’ to me.

Can single-quotes be used in French in the same way that doublequotes are?

  • Potentially useful link: stackapps.com/questions/2569/… – Benjol Sep 9 '11 at 5:13
  • See this related meta. This one, too. – Evpok Sep 11 '11 at 23:07
  • Do someone know why, when I type English quotation marks (ALT+0147 & ALT+0148), they are automatically converted to straight double quotes? Is that a SO engine limitation? When editing a post, the correct character is still kept in the source but converted in the HTML page... – Stamm Apr 4 '12 at 9:47
14

In French the official punctuation for quoting is … French guillemets :

« »

The double quotes are commonly used because they are generally easier to do on a keyboard (even if a good text editor will automatically translate " to « ). Nevertheless the double quote can be used inside French guillemets to add a level of quotation, for example :

« Patrick a dit : “Bonjour” »

On a Windows computer, guillemets can be entered by using the following key combinations:

  • « : Alt + 0171
  • » : Alt + 0187

A good wikipedia page (in French) about guillemets.

  • 3
    Right. However, it is usually a better practice to use French guillemets even inside quotes. – ℝaphink Aug 18 '11 at 8:31
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    Or, shorter by one number: « = alt + 174 and » = alt + 175. – Otiel Dec 1 '11 at 20:10
  • If you are massivly writing in french, you can use a french Dvorak keyboard like Bépo (FR) witch the tipping of «» (and the most important letters of french) is easier. – Fauve Feb 10 '14 at 18:20
7

The only accepted form of quote in France is the guillemet angulaire double or double chevron, usually called simply guillemet. The guillemets are oriented with the point out, and there is an unbreakable thin space inside. The French Wikipedia article explains the usage.

« texte entre guillemets »

In Unicode, the characters are U+00AB «​ left-pointing double angle quotation mark and U+00BB »​ right-pointing double angle quotation mark. The unbreakable thin space is usually U+00A0   unbreakable space (with the expectation that the word processing software will adjust the width of the space as required).

While my first sentence above may sound overly prescriptive, it is the rule followed by all serious publications. I have never seen a book printed in France that used another forme of quote (apart from books published in that brief period when traditional manual publishing processes went into disuse and computers were not quite up to the task yet — these books typically have other typographical issues such as a monospace font and the occasional hand-drawn symbol).

Very occasionally, American-style “double quotation marks” are used for second-level quotes (quotes inside quotes). However the dominant usage does not typeset quotes at different levels differently.

Il a dit « Elle a dit « oui » ».

You will find a lot of "ASCII quotes" in informal typography, especially on the Internet. This usage is considered unprofessional. Many word processors automatically translate ASCII quotes to proper guillemets when set up for French typesetting.

The usage in some other French-speaking countries is different. Swiss usage, for example, is a blend of German and French usage: French (outward-pointing) guillemets, but with no space.

En Suisse, on dit «huitante».

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    So, Le Monde is not a serious publication? :-) – Jez Aug 18 '11 at 9:24
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    @Jez As I said, you'd better look at the paper version than the online one. The latter is way less strict about French writing, for many reasons (quick editing, less review, windows keyboards :-) ) – Stéphane Péchard Aug 18 '11 at 9:35
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    To resolve this debate, I went and dragged out a paper copy of Le Monde (the most recent one I have is from 2007, but I doubt anything has changed since then). They use guillemets everywhere I could see. – Brennan Vincent Aug 18 '11 at 15:02
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    Note que l'espace fine insécable existe dans unicode (U+202F). – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 9 '11 at 16:37
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    +1 pour « chevron », trop oublié =) – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 13 '12 at 13:49
1

In this computer-ruled world, it is easier to produce " than « or » on a keyboard, therefore, often, even French newspapers like Le Monde use English doublequotes instead of proper French guillemets in their Internet version. I'm not a big reader of the paper version so I cannot speak for it, but I'm kinda sure that it uses French guillemets, as it should be.

In French, quoting should be done with guillemets. It's only a bit more difficult to produce on a computer than doublequotes, hence the habit to substitute them.

Additional answer: absolutely not. An apostrophe ' is never used as a quote in proper French. It is very rare to see it in practice.

  • 2
    True with AZERTY keyboards, but some people use bépo. – Wok Aug 18 '11 at 8:19
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    Which is not exactly true, depending on context. Most word processing programs automatically make it so there are « instead of quotes but in my French lessons our teacher would often use quotes. – Neikos Aug 18 '11 at 8:19
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    @wok: of course, but bépo is very marginal... In fact, it is very easy to produce guillemets with a AZERTY keyboard on Linux, but I choose not to speak about it, as it is not the major case. – Stéphane Péchard Aug 18 '11 at 8:21
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    @Jez: kinda true, but is it right to change an established rule because of an inadequate tool (the keyboard) or our lack of patience to learn how to properly do it? – Stéphane Péchard Aug 18 '11 at 8:28
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    @Jez I'll check in a printed copy, but I'm pretty sure Le Monde uses proper guillemets in print, like every other publication in France. – Gilles Aug 18 '11 at 9:23
1

Complement

It must be noted that the first sentence we find in the question (Il a dit qu'il « était le meilleur joueur du monde » hier soir.) and all sentences of that type do not have an equivalent form in standard French; if we find them nowadays it's on the count of their being borrowed recklessly from English, especially by headless journalists in need of attention; the guillemet is used to introduce in a sentence the very words someone has pronounced or written. The wish to keep to the flow of a usual sentence and the wish to show as faithful the reporting of the words heard or written cannot be reconciled entirely on the level of keeping the language simple. The form, morever, if it can be acceptable for straihtforward utterances, leaves a taste of adulterated grammatical techniques that is somewhat unpleasant. If it seems satisfactory in the way of having the best of both world when the language is kept plain, it's different matter when this is not so.

One will notice that a change of tense is necessary.

present in utterance → past in reported utterance; in French : "présent" in utterance → "imparfait" in reported utterance but not always, also "subjonctif présent"

Let's look now at a more complicated case in French;

Il a dit « faites attention, il y avait des balises mais il n'y en a plus! ».

In the English form we have the following as a first possibility;

Il a dit qu'ils « fassent attention, il y avait des balises mais il n'y a en a plus! ». (note that the "subjonctif" is needed)

It's not clear where the elements are situated in time; we can try this other option, in which we apply the time shift generally;

Il a dit qu'ils « fassent attention, il y avait eu des balises mais il n'y en avait plus! ».

In the utterance the beacons are reckoned to have been in place up to the locutor's time of speaking; that is not any more what the tense "plus que parfait" communicates; the new understanding is that at some point in the past there were beacons; one can get back at the true utterance, I would believe, but situating things at their proper time in the past is just not a matter of fact thing.

Another case; the speaker says "Faites attention, il y a eu des balises mais il n'y en a plus!". It seems that we must write this:

"Il a dit qu'ils « fassent attention, il y avait eu des balises mais il n'y en avait plus! »".

We cannot really tell what has been said.

All of this shows that with a small increase in complexity one is thrown into mind boggling considerations of tense correspondences and that it is much better to stick to the traditional form. The alternative to this added complication in the means of expression is to restrict its use to simple utterances and to revert to the traditionnal form for more complicated sentences; I, personnally, do not think that a desirable option: in doing so we introduce in the language one more weak technique, one more amputated means, which at that is nothing but a hybrid of two existing language techniques.

In conclusion I should say that this manner of using the guillemets (that is as in the question) is for now an unhappy English way of using quotes that shouldn't not be introduceded blindly into French, in which, fortunately, it's not been found up to the present day.

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