Punctuation by Languages

By Felicia Bratu

July 2005

Being born in Eastern Europe, about two countries North of Greece, I thought that Greek language and alphabet can’t surprise me too much. I knew that the Greek alphabet was a special one, but I didn’t expect the punctuation to be so different (compared to what European and American countries are currently using).

Not too long ago, I was managing a translation project in Access (English to Greek) when I discovered that the translator hadn’t used question marks similar to those used in the English source. Instead of question marks, he was using semicolons. I was sure that this was a mistake and that the computer was acting strange again. But it wasn’t a mistake. In the Greek language, the question mark is like a semicolon, and the semicolon is instead a raised period.

I’ve started to check on other projects as well, and I’ve learned quite a few interesting things about punctuation and their separators.

French Language
French and English have the same punctuation marks, but some of their uses are significantly different.
The major difference in using the period is when writing numbers. Either a period or a space will be used to separate the thousands. 22,222,222 (English) = 22.222.222 or 22 222 222 (French). Also, in French, the period is not used after abbreviations or measurement: 22 m (meters); 22 min (minutes).

A comma in French is used as a decimal point: 2.20 (English) = 2,20 (French).

In French, a space is required both before and after all two- (or more) part punctuation marks and symbols, including: “:”, “;”, “« »”, “!”, “?”, “%”, “$”, “#”, etc.

Canadian French doesn’t require a space before punctuation such as this, excepting the colon.

Spanish Language
Spanish punctuation is a little atypical and requests the use of an inverted mark of interrogation or exclamation at the beginning of sentences, as well as the normal mark at the end. The same rule applies to Latin Spanish as well.

German and Other European Languages
Most European languages are using the period as the thousands separator and the comma as the decimal separator.

A number like 22,222.00 (English) = 22.222,00 (European languages)

German and a few other European languages use quotation marks that are similar to English except that the opening quotation mark is below rather than above. Here is an example from the Romanian language: „Ce faci?”, întreaba ea. (”How are you?”, she asked.)

Japanese and Chinese Languages
Japanese and Chinese question marks and exclamation points are the same as in English, but the period and comma are different in shape from Western equivalents.

Japanese periods and commas are placed near the base line in a horizontal way, while they are placed at the right side in a vertical way.

Burmese Language
We noticed most punctuation differences while handling translation and typesetting projects. Burmese punctuation was one of the most interesting cases.

There are two break characters in Burmese, drawn as one or two downward strokes (I or II), that act as a comma and a period. And, our first impression of the question mark in this language is that of a smiling face. Hard to forget.

Burmese colon
Burmese period
Burmese question mark Burmese question mark

Farsi Language
The decimal separator is like a forward slash, but lower in height (/). The thousands separator looks like an apostrophe (‘).

Ethiopian Languages
These punctuation marks are very different from all other languages: commas look like the Western colon; the colon resembles the English version, but with two small horizontal lines – one above and one below; the semicolon looks like an English colon with a small horizontal line between the dots, etc.

Hindi Language
The end of a sentence is indicated in Hindi by a vertical line “ | ” . All the other punctuation marks are used in Hindi just as they are in English.


On August 12, 2010, posted in: Foreign Language Typesetting by