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1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One – Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender and case: French has masculine and feminine genders but no cases. The articles are le (masc.) / la (fem.) and un (masc.) / une (fem.). As a rule, singular feminine nouns end with the letter 'e'. BUT many feminine nouns DON'T end with 'e', e.g. souris, liberté, foi AND some masculine nouns DO e.g. lycée, musée, foie.

2. Accents: As a rule of thumb, accents are not used on upper cases in French, though they are often used stylistically. If they are used (in some magazines, for example), they should be used consistently.

3. Plurals: plural words normally end with 's' and are preceded by the articles les or des (meaning 'some') (masc. and fem.).

Exceptions include:

- some nouns ending with -ou which take 'x' in the plural: bijou, caillou, chou, genou, hibou, joujou, pou;
- nouns ending with -eu end with 'x' in the plural, except for bleu and pneu (s);
- nouns ending with -(e)au end with an 'x' except for landau and sarrau (s);
- nouns ending with -al end with 's' except for bail, corail, email, travail, vantail, vitrail, which change to -aux, e.g. coraux;
- nouns ending with 's', 'x' and 'z' keep the same ending in the plural.

The following shows how plurals are formed for various compound nouns:

Compound noun plural form exceptions
Noun + noun - Both nouns take the plural ending: des oiseaux-mouches, des timbres-poste (= des timbres pour la poste)
Des années-lumière
Des gardes-chasse

Noun + preposition + noun – Only the first noun takes the plural ending: des
Des bêtes à cornes
Des chars à bancs
Des tête-à-tête
Des pot-au-feu

Adjective + noun – Both nouns take the plural ending: des basses-cours, des grands-pères. Exception: the adjective grand + feminine noun takes the plural but does not take the feminine ‘e’: des grands-mères.

Adjective ‘demi’ + noun doesn't change: des demi-journées.

Adjective + adjective – Both adjectives take the plural ending: des sourdsmuets.

Verb + noun
1. Only the noun takes the plural ending: des tire-bouchons; des tournedisques
2. Neither the verb nor the noun take the plural ending: des abat-jour

Invariable word + noun – Only the noun takes the plural ending: des avantscènes; des non-lieux

Verb + verb – No plural agreement: des laissez-passer

Foreign words, e.g.
Des snack-bars
Des pull-overs
Des week-ends

No plural agreement: des post-scriptum

Section Two – Punctuation

NON-CANADIAN French always has a space before and after the following punctuation marks: : ; ! ? " ... " « ... »

CANADIAN FRENCH has NO space BEFORE these signs of punctuation except for the colon (:)

1. Full stops: These are not used at the end of headings, titles, subtitles, addresses, dates, no. of pages, e.g. Le sommaire se trouve p11 Bullet points do not normally have full stops.

2. Speech marks: With speech marks, the " ... " kind are tolerated rather than widely accepted; the French norm is to use the « ... » kind. Unlike English, French does not always have to have closing and re-opening speech marks around a phrase, like 'he said' when it is embedded within dialogue.

3. Brackets: The first letter is not written with upper case.

4. Capitalisation: Similar to English in its use of capitals at the beginning of sentences and for proper names, but French doesn't use capitals as often as English. Some common examples follow:

- In headings, usually only the first word has a capital letter and the rest of the words in the title are lower case.
- Product names are also normally in lower case, apart from the first word.
- Names of days/seasons/months are always in lower case, e.g. lundi, mardi/printemps, été/janvier, février.
- Languages, e.g. anglais, italien, espagnol, etc. are never capitalised in French. Capitals are only used in French in expressions such as les Français,les Espagnols, to refer to the French people, the Spanish people.

Section Three – Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurements: Metric system is used except for computer monitors (inches), inner diameter of pipes/tubes, nautical miles, size of computer disks.

Numbers: use a decimal comma, and a space as the thousands separator (no dot!).

Time: 24 hour clock is used (no am/pm). E.g. 13 h 20

Date: 1999-08-25, 25 août 1999, 1999 08 25. NB: When date is 1st November 1999 in English, the equivalent in Canadian French is 1er novembre 1999.

Always use a space between figure and measurement abbreviation.

Always use a space before a % symbol.

But, no space is left before °C, e.g. 30°C.

2. Abbreviations:

Equivalent abbreviations:
N/a = S/o
No. (nos.) = n° (nos)
e.g. = par ex./ex.
WxLxHxD = LxLxHxP

Other abbreviations:
CEE (Communauté Economique Européenne) = EEC
CA (courant alternatif) = AC
PAO (Publication assistée par ordinateur) = DTP
EET (heure de l'Europe de l'Est) = Eastern Europe Time
N/ref = Our ref
Mo = MB
Go = GB
p.j. = enclosure
p. = pg.

Section Four – Hyphenation

Hyphens are used to link compound terms and verb pronouns, e.g. arc-enciel, prends-le.

Words are hyphenated by syllable.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Always uses the 24 hr clock in writing, normally using 'h' as a separator, e.g. 10 h 30.

Certain place names have a different spelling in French, like Lyons/Lyon, Luxembourg/Luxemburg.

Surnames are sometimes written all in upper case in French.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

French is one of the world's great languages, rivalled only by English as the language of international society and diplomacy. Besides being spoken in France, it is one of the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada; it is the official language of Luxembourg, Haiti, more than fifteen African countries, and various French dependencies such as St. Pierre and Miquelon (off the coast of New-Foundland), Guadeloupe and Martinique (in the Caribbean), French Guyana (in South America), Reunion (in the Indian Ocean), and New Caledonia and Tahiti (in the South Pacific). In addition, French is the unofficial second language of a number of countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All in all, it is the mother tongue of about 75 million people, with millions more familiar with it, in some degree, as a second language. French is one of the Romance languages, descended from Latin.

French is spoken/used in the following countries: Algeria, Belgium, Benin, Bora Bora, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros (Federal Islamic Republic), Congo (Zaire), Congo Republic, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Europa Island, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, French Southern & Antarctic Lands, Gabon, Glorioso Islands, Guadeloupe (French), Guernsey, Guinea, Haiti, Italy, Jersey, Juan de Nova Island, Laos, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Martinique (French), Mauritius, Mayotte (French), Monaco (Principality of), Morocco, New Caledonia, Niger, Reunion Island (France), Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles Islands, St. Pierre & Miquelon (French), Switzerland, Syria, Tahiti (French), Togo, Tunisia, United States of America, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Virgin Islands (U.S.), Zaire.

There are 6,700,000 mother tongue speakers of French in Canada, or less than 24% (1998 Statistics Canada). French is the mother tongue of over 80% of Quebec's population (1997 DiverCite Langues). 300,000 speak Acadien, 500,000 speak Franco-Ontariens.

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Romance

Source: - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a à [0224] â [0226] æ [0230] A, À [0192], Æ [146]
b B
c ç [0231] C, Ç [128]
d D
e è [0232] é [0233] ê [0234] ë [0235] E, È [0200], É [144]
f F
g G
h H
i î [0238] ï [0239] I, Î [0206], Ï [0207]
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
o ô [0244] œ [0156] O, Ô, [0212], Œ [0140]
p P
q Q
r R
s S
t T
u ù [0249] û [0251] U, Ù [0217]
v V
w W
x X
y Y
z Z


Canadian French

What are some pitfalls specific to Canadian French a client should be aware of when translating into this language?

French tends to be "wordier" than English. So the client can expect that a text will be longer in French than it was in English.

When translating web content or software content, the client has to make sure that the application uses Unicode for character encoding and not ASCII which does not support letters with accents like è, é, and à.

Finally, it is very important to respect the local French spoken and written in the country where the target document is to be presented. Although all French countries use basically the same French grammar, there are many differences in vocabulary, and also in the use of English words in French. Certain French cultures accept more English words in their French than others do. One example is the use of the word "week-end" in France, which is not generally acceptable in Quebec. This underlines again the universal importance of localization.

What are characteristics of Canadian French that are unique or different from English and/or other languages?

French, being a Romance language, has many similarities with other Romance languages like Spanish and Italian. English and French are also closely related because of the intertwined history of France and Great Britain. But one great difference is that French gives a gender to all nouns, which is a concept that can be confusing for nonnative French speakers.

Other differences with English are the presence of accents (English practically doesn’t have any), the different conjugations for all persons (Regular English verb conjugations are the same for all persons except for third person singular), liaisons between words for pronunciation, and the subjunctive form in French to name a few.

How do these characteristics make it important to use properly qualified, professional translators?

Like any language, French has its own particularities, set of rules, and vocabulary. It is a very complex process to translate one language into another while respecting all the grammar and punctuation rules, and at the same time, conveying the essence of the source document. Most bilingual people can get along fine, but to create a text that is easily read by the target language population, and that doesn’t seem translated, takes training, practice, and skill in translation and writing.

Do you know examples where translation or localization mistakes have occurred with Canadian French, such as, problems with text expansion, date/time formats, counting errors, character encoding, etc., or mistakes with the translation itself? Perhaps you’ve been asked to review a translation that did not seem to be the work of a properly qualified, professional translator. You may mask the identity of the company, client, or translator in your answer.

In Quebec and France, the metric system is in use, so all measures have to respect SI rules. Also, the dollar sign comes after the dollar amount and not before. Punctuation can be quite different in French with more spaces between punctuation and text than in English.

As mentioned earlier, in Quebec, the French population is very sensitive to any inclusion of English words in a text, so everything needs to be translated properly—even product names, if possible.

The adjective qualifying a noun usually follows the noun in French. For example, in English we might say: "The blue car," but in French this would be: "The car blue" (L’auto bleue). This is a common mistake when translating from English into French.

Relate an example or two of times you found a website page or form difficult to use because it was poorly localized. How might a business lose money, prestige or incur legal risk due to this bad translation?

No specific example comes to mind, but any website that is poorly translated or that does not respect the local way of saying things doesn’t create a good image. As I mentioned earlier, and this came from my experience as a Quebec native living in a small French culture surrounded by English cultures (Canadian and American); French in Quebec is a political matter. So it is very important when deciding to enter this market to use translators from this culture. I think it’s the safest way to make a good impression with this population. I am sure the same can be said of the Walloons in Belgium or the Swiss French in Switzerland. This is also true of many other languages such as English, Spanish, and Portuguese which have many different variations of the "official" version around the world. It comes down to marketing; knowing your market and doing everything to speak to people in their own words.

If possible, provide one example of a particular phrase or concept that only a properly qualified, professional translator would be able to correctly communicate.

Humor and idiomatic expressions are very difficult to translate. For example, the expression in English "to nail it," meaning "to get it" or "to succeed," cannot be translated literally into French. So in one text I was translating, the expression "to nail it" was used to describe how someone could do a certain craft project by herself and succeed in doing so. This craft project happened to be a frame. The client was using this expression as a play on words with a double meaning, as a way to say "you can do it," but also, "to nail this frame to the wall." So a translator has to be very familiar with the expressions of his or her own language or know the right tools to find them, and "taper dans le mille!"

Again, humor is always very difficult to translate. I have had to translate video games for children in which many of the names for the characters, the places, or the games themselves had a funny twist or were rhymes. So mastering the target language is very important to render the comic intentions of the author.

Published - January 2009

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