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French Quotation Mark ( « » )

Term Definition
French Quotation Mark ( « » )

French quotation marks, are French punctuation marks and represented with polylines pointed like arrows (« or »), sometimes forming a complementary set of punctuation marks used as a form of quotation mark.

Introduction to French quotation marks or guillemets

Guillemets (« ») are punctuation marks shaped like double arrows. Alternately known as angle quotes or French quotation marks, guillemets are used in various languages around spoken passages of text. Unlike English quotation marks, guillemets are not represented by grouped apostrophes. 

Named after 16th century French printer Guillaume Le Bé, the marks have also been given lesser-used names in Great Britain, such as "Little Willy," in homage to the name William, which is the English translation for Guillaume.

Due to the obscurity of guillemets among English speakers, keyboard users in the Anglosphere sometimes confuse the marks for the lesser-than (<) and greater-than (>) symbols. The keypad codes for guillemet characters are as follows:

  • ALT + 174 = «
  • ALT + 175 = »

Using French quotation marks

In French publishing, it's standard practice to place closing guillemets at the start of each new line of a continuing quote. Such marks, however, do not indicate the end of a quote, which is represented by the closing guillemet at the end of a given passage. Examples of such usage appear as follows:

« Cette ligne de texte se terminera avec fermeture guillemets 

» placés au début de chaque ligne, malgré le fait que la 

» citation est pas fini jusqu'à un guillemet de clôture apparaît 

» à la fin d'une ligne. »

As opposed to English, quoted passages in French texts don't contain markers for breaks within quotes. The following two examples demonstrate this difference:

1. "A text is easier to follow," says the instructor, "when non-quoted material 

is separated with quotation marks."

2. « Un texte est plus facile à suivre, dit l'instructeur, lorsque le matériau 

» non-cité est séparée par des guillemets. »

However, some French-language publications place actual quotes in italics for clarity's sake.

« Citations sont plus faciles à distinguer de texte narratif, disent les critiques, 

» une fois imprimées en italique. »

Additional usage and examples

In recent years, various French-language websites have begun using English quotation marks for quotes within quotes:

« Avant Bowie pris la scène pour mimer "Golden Years" à la télévision 

» française, Alain Kan l'a attrapé par le col et dit "écouter connard , dans 

» ce pays , je suis le roi du glam!" »

When a word within a set of guillemets is emphasized during the course of an article or interview, the word is usually printed in italics:

Berlioz: « Ont été Etron Fou influencé par la musique New Wave britannique 

» de la fin des années 70? »

Ferdinand: « Non, nous étions beaucoup plus en Zeuhl et le jazz rock fusion. »

In French fiction, passages with running dialogue will typically contain an opening guillemet, but no closing guillemet until all speech has ended for the section. Interjecting statements are marked off with a dash:

« Monter dans la voiture, dit-il.

— En aucune façon! Je ne vais pas n'importe où avec vous! » lui dit-elle avec défi.

Originally, guillemets were shaped like commas rather than angles. Unlike the comma familiar to English speakers, however, this shape was enlarged and placed on the baseline of text; as such, the earlier guillemets resembled 6's and 9's. By the early 1800s, the marks had changed into a shape that resembled small parentheses. Ultimately, the angle shape of today's guillemet was chosen to prevent confusion with other punctuation marks in printed texts and manuscripts.

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Synonyms: french-quotation-mark

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