A French teacher once told me you've got to know the rules before you can break them. He was talking about grammar. I often get the sense that speakers of any language throw punctuation to the wayside, never bothering to learn the rules and happily breaking them. Correct punctuation is the mark of how professional your writing looks (in any language) but because it often does not affect the meaning of the sentence (especially in French, since the language is less ambiguous than English), many often assume it is unimportant. So, without further ado, here are 5 punctuation errors you never have to make again in French:
1. One space goes before every exclamation point, semicolon, ellipsis, question mark, and colon (but not period).
It may seem weird to write "Bonjour !" with a big space like that, but this is actually the correct way to do it! In addition, the semicolon, ellipsis, and colon take one space after them. I have seen these spacing rules used in written conversation and writing, but sometimes it is ignored in promotional or informal writing.
2. Quotations are indicated by either a dash or the chevrons (« »).The dash is used in literary writing, always starts a new line, and doesn't require closing:
-Il fait beau aujourd'hui, il a dit. ("It's nice out today," he said.)
The chevrons often quote phrases or words (but can quote speech as well) and require a space after the opening and before the closing: On appelle la France « l'hexagone ». (They call France "the hexagon".)
3. The comma and decimal point are reversed in numbers!If you mess this up, you could make 4,321 into 4.321 or the reverse! As a result, three digits do not need to follow a comma in French.
4. Accents are not only optional in capital letters, they are considered overkill.Sure, if your teacher or professor wants you to remember all the accents, there's no harm in putting them in, but show a French person how savvy you are by leaving them out when you know you can! Just remember, this only applies to accents, cedillas (ç) must remain!
5. "Number" (numéro) is abbreviated with a degree sign.Yes, it's Chanel N° 5, not No. 5.