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Dwain Richardson

English Editing in Quebec: All About Style


Whenever you do a concordance reading or translation, you certainly notice that the two or more languages you are working with show many stylistic differences. English and French are no strangers to this phenomenon. For instance, have you observed that French texts and translations are often longer than texts written in or translated into English? Have you noticed, as mentioned in one of my previous posts, that French makes more use of transitional words and expressions than English does? What about capitalization? Use of rhetorical questions? Negative versus affirmative structures? These stylistic components set our two official languages apart.

And there are more. Here are some other stylistic points to watch out for in your work.

Beware of generic placement

In building and street names, French places the generic term before the specific. Some francophone clients or authors, however, may not realize that English puts the generic after the specific term.

Théâtre Centennial Theatre
Centre Shaw Centre
rue Main Street

Note that the specific term is never translated. It would be incorrect to write *Théâtre du Centenaire or *rue Principale in a French context. Similarly, if you translate a street name such as rue Principale into English, you cannot translate it as *Main Street; instead, use Principale Street. Remember, municipalities and villages use street names that Canada Post will recognize as official.

Some exceptions:

Complexe Desjardins
Centre Laval
Place Longueuil

Keep the above generic terms in front in English copy, since no official English equivalents of these place names exist.

Hyphenating award and structure names

French has a greater tendency to hyphenate award, building, bridge, university hall and park names. English, however, prefers not to hyphenate, leaving instead a space between the person’s first and last name.

Oscar Peterson Hall / salle Oscar-Peterson
Tom Fairley Award / prix Tom-Fairley
Tom Davies Square / place Tom-Davies
Sir John A. Macdonald Building / édifice Sir-John-A.-Macdonald
Jacques Cartier Bridge / pont Jacques-Cartier

If the award, building, bridge, university hall or park has no official English equivalent, use the French name in English copy. In this case, be sure to hyphenate the name as you would in French.

Salle Claude-Champagne
Complexe Jules-Dallaire
Parc Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier
Pavillon Lionel-Groulx
Pont Pierre-Laporte

As a rule, French hyphenates award, building, bridge, university hall and park names when the personality in question has died.

Punctuation use

French uses some punctuation marks more frequently than English does.

When French authors begin a list, draw a conclusion or summarize a point, they will often use a colon to set off the main clause. In English, you can either use a dash (—) or replace the colon with connectors like such as, namely or for example.

Mais il y a des gens qui gagnent bien leur vie : les médecins, les ingénieurs, les avocats.

But there are people, such as doctors, engineers or solicitors, who earn a lot of money.

Et il échoua : c’était à prévoir.

And he failed — which was to be expected.1




In a French context, commas replace English decimal points. When working into English, the reverse is true.

35,8 % (French); 35.8% (English)

In French, commas are not used in thousands, millions, billions or trillions. They are, however, common in English:

34 057 434 (French); 34,057,434 (English)

Note the non-breaking space2 between the number and the per cent sign, as well as between the millions in French. This space avoids bad breaks at the end of a line. Such a space is non-existent in English, although many English-language publishers call for one in certain situations — for example, to make sure a scientific measurement stays with its unit (“3.2 cm”).

In writing techniques courses, we are often told not to overuse ellipses. French uses them a great deal, especially in unfinished lists.

Il y a tant de grands romanciers au 19e : Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray …

There are so many great 19th-century novelists, such as Dickens, Eliot or Thackeray.3



In the above example, notice how the coordinating conjunction or separates Eliot from Thackeray, thereby avoiding the ellipsis. In the same line of thought, French texts often place etc. at the end of examples. According to Grant Hamilton, founder of Anglocom, a copywriting and translation company in Quebec City, etc. is not an example in English. You can safely drop it without changing the meaning.

Careful with monetary symbols!

In French, monetary symbols follow a figure. In English, they precede it.

35 500 $ (French); $35,500 (English)

Again, note the non-breaking space between the thousands and before the dollar sign in French. Also note the comma in English.

No spaces between words or symbols

As mentioned earlier, non-breaking spaces are non-existent in English. When writing in or translating into English, do not insert a space between words and punctuation, or between numbers and symbols.

That was such a wonderful performance!
Our laptops cost $800.
Do you know where I can find the nearest post office?

Aside from the tips I’ve pointed out in this post, what other stylistic differences do you notice in your concordance editing or translation work?


Previous “English Editing in Quebec” post: Mind Your Noun Strings, Please!

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1Françoise Grellet, Initiation au thème anglais : The Mirrored Image. Paris, Hachette Supérieur, 1992, p. 24.
2In French, this space is known as an espace insécable. In typography contexts, the noun espace is feminine, not masculine. In other words, instead of writing un espace, write une espace.
3Grellet, p. 25.

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9 Comments on “English Editing in Quebec: All About Style”

  • Benoit Paré


    Excellent and enlightening post as usual from you, Dwain. Merci de partager!

    • I always appreciate your positive feedback. Merci à vous, Benoit!

  • Claudine


    Thank you for these tips. I often review French articles for my internal newsletter. The articles that have already been translated by the submitter (rather than our translator) often contain small errors. I’ll be able to catch some of these now thanks to this info!

    • Always a pleasure, Claudine! 🙂

  • Frances Peck


    A most informative post, Dwain. Great information in here for anyone working with French text in English.

    One question: am I missing the point about “etc.”? We do indeed use it in English to show that a list of examples isn’t complete. For instance, I might write “She loves Victorian novelists (Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray, etc.).” The “etc.” tells readers that these are just some of the novelists she likes. If I were to omit “etc.” I would change the meaning; I’d end up implying that these are the only three Victorian novelists she loves.

    What we don’t do in English is use “etc.” along with other wording that also sets up an example. An editor would, for example, delete “etc.” in this sentence: “She loves Victorian novelists, such as Dickens, Eliot and Thackeray, etc.” because “such as” already says that the items that follow constitute a partial list of examples.

    Maybe it’s just the redundant use of “etc.” that your Quebec City source had in mind?

    • Hi, Frances,
      I appreciate your constructive feedback. Thank-you!

      With respect to etc., I think Grant Hamilton was precisely referring to its redundancy, especially when used after qualifiers like such as, namely, or for example. Then again, whenever you’re working with French copy and English translations, you can always replace the French etc. with and so on/and others/and more—or perhaps you won’t write anything at all! You can use one of the options provided when working with standalone English copy—at least I do.

      Context is everything, of course. Who knows? Perhaps etc. is indeed the best option to choose, and perhaps it isn’t. This is where a copywriter’s, an editor’s, or a translator’s judgement call comes into play.

  • Karen M.


    Hi Dwain,

    Could you cite your reference for the rule that in French, only when buildings, awards, etc. are named after people who are deceased should the person’s name be hyphenated? Because this is the reference I found, and it makes no mention of that rule (all proper names contained within these types of names should be hyphenated):

    Besides, there are streets and buildings named after people who are still alive, and they also use a hyphen between the person’s first and last names. For instance, former Olympian Gaétan Boucher has a boulevard, school and sports centre named in his honour: ;

    On another note, I don’t necessarily agree with your statement that non-breaking spaces aren’t used in English writing. I use them at the end of a line to keep a person’s first and last names together, as well as when the last word on a line would otherwise be “a” or “the” or when the line ends with a figure whose unit would otherwise fall to the next line. Does anyone else out there do the same?

    • Hi, Karen,

      Thanks for your reply.

      A few years ago (probably in 2009 or 2010), residents in Charlemagne, a city northeast of Montreal, wanted to dedicate a main thoroughfare to Celine Dion. As you may know, Dion was born in raised in this city. According to news stories I heard at the time, however, Quebec’s toponymy commission, the Commission de toponymie du Québec (CTQ), did not grant Charlemagne residents their request, for Celine Dion was—and still is—alive and well. When I consulted the government’s website, I remember reading that the CTQ names thoroughfares after people only when they died. (Unfortunately, I don’t have links to the news stories.) Given what you have provided as resources, though, I see that the rule has since changed, since some buildings like the ones you mentioned hyphenate people’s names even if they’re still alive. And some foundations, such as the Fondation Martin-Matte, hyphenate the actor’s name, even though he’s still alive. By the way, the Ville de Charlemagne went ahead and named a main thoroughfare after Celine Dion. When you’re next in the area, look out for Boulevard Céline-Dion.

      To reply to your second comment regarding non-breaking spaces, the copy editor who looked at my original draft made a comment in line with what you stated. I have since learned that you do use a non-breaking space to keep numbers and units together, e.g., 32 cm. I also learned that you normally keep the first letter of someone’s first name and the last name together, e.g., N. Chomsky. I was not aware that you inserted non-breaking spaces between peoples’ full names or between “a” and “the.” So, I stand corrected.

    • Follow-up to my previous reply: I stumbled across this 2007 article with respect to naming thoroughfares and other establishments after people.

      In November of that year, the Commission turned down the Ville de Charlemagne request to rename a thoroughfare after Celine Dion. Here’s why: « Pour donner le nom de quelqu’un à un boulevard, il faut que cette personne-là soit décédée depuis au moins un an ». (Free translation: To name a boulevard after someone, the person in question must have been dead for at least one year.) The CTQ had not officially recognized boulevard Céline-Dion, even though the city went ahead with the name change.

      As I mentioned in my last reply, the above rule must have been changed since, especially when schools, parks, and other establishments are named after people who are still alive.

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