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What is the capital of Tunisia?

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What is the capital of Tunisia?

Is it necessary to use guillemets when quoting in French, or may one use English-style doublequotes?

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.

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.

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».


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 a 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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What is the capital of Tunisia?