French language notes – September 2019

Rules is rules for French phrases with hyphens

19 September 2019
By Connexion journalist

A simple hyphen (trait d’union) can make a big difference when it comes to writing correctly in French – omit one at your peril or you could be imparting a radically different meaning.

For example, beau-frère with a hyphen means ‘brother-in-law’. But without the hyphen it means ‘handsome brother’ – confusing the two in written form may lead to all manner of misunderstandings!

The famous Comédie-Française theatre in Paris – the oldest active theatre company in the world (it was founded in 1680) – is the home of France’s finest comedy actors. Leave out the hyphen and write ‘comédie française’, however, and you are referring simply to generic ‘French comedy’.

Writing numbers down is fraught with quirky rules.

A hyphen must be used for some compounds such as vingt-trois (twenty three), cinquante-deux (fifty-two) and quatre-vingt-treize (ninety-three). Yet those numbers requiring ‘et’ in them – such as vingt et un (twenty one) and soixante et onze (seventy one) do not.

If in doubt, why not just write the numeral to be on the safe side.

The use of ‘anti’ needs a hyphen when the word that follows begins with a vowel – such as anti-inflammatoire (anti-inflammatory) but otherwise there is none (ie. anticoagulant).

One easy rule to remember relates to the use of ‘bi’. A magazine is bimensuel never bi-mensuel, and a person is bisexuel(le) and not bi-sexuelle.

The go-to tome for correct usage is Bescherelle: l’orthographe pour tous. Needless to say, however, that a certain proficiency in the language is required to read it in the first place. Look out for an interview with its esteemed author Claude Kannas in a future Connexion!

Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now