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Guillemets are, by Oxford Dictionaries definition:

Each of a pair of punctuation marks (« ») used as quotation marks in French and other European languages.

This is backed up by Wiktionary:

Guillemets (/ˈɡɪləmɛt/, or /ɡiːəˈmeɪ/; French: [ɡijmɛ]), angle quotes, angle brackets, or carets, are a pair of punctuation marks in the form of sideways double chevrons (« and »), used as quotation marks

However, I would like to know if there is a use for guillemets in the English language?

My research is below:


Source 1:

The furthest Google has taken me is Writeawriting. It states:

The guillemet is used to mark the starting and the ending point of an entire conversation (this includes phrases like ‘he said’, ‘she replied’, ‘we told’ etc). This use is more specific to French language and many other Non-English languages.

Though, as the article's title is "What is guillemet and how to use it in English language" (all [sic]), it doesn't specify whether it is sometimes used in the English language, rarely is, or if it's used at all. The rest of the article discusses programming and the like, so not useful.


Source 2: EL&U answer to:

Is it acceptable to nest parentheses?

User Orbling attests:

...I do it, but then I spend a lot of time as a mathematician.

If it gets confusing I think using alternative bracket glyphs assists ([{<« »>}]).

[Though using the guillemets (« ») as brackets can get you in to [sic] trouble, as a lot of languages use them as speech marks. (Wikipedia.) ]

This indicates that using guillemets in the layering scheme for brackets is a thing, but is it correct?


Source 3: EL&U question Why Do Guillemets Sometimes Appear?

User Benjamin McAvoy-Bickford asks:

I have noticed, recently, that guillemets are being used in all sorts of odd ways. I saw one example where they seemed to be inserted around a few shorter words in a slogan for no reason at all. Is there such a thing as a proper use of guillemets in English? Similarly, are guillemets sneaking in because people don't remove them, as partially addressed in this question? I live in America, so I was particularly thinking about American English, though British English-based answers could help.

Then user Hot Licks comments:

The use of the << and >> brackets is unusual in normal English and has no established meaning.

In regards to this, guillemets may be rare in English, but, as we've established previously, they aren't unseen; they have a meaning to at least some people.

And this brings us back to square one!


All answers appreciated.


NB: BrE, AmE, AuE, CaE etc. based answers are all accepted.


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    It seems to me that the research you've noted does in fact answer your question - there is no standardised use for guillemets in English. That said, I consistently use them (along with italic text) to indicate telepathic 'speech' in my SF writing. «Here's thinking at you, kid!» – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 4 '19 at 19:33
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    You can use any marks however you want, but if you're writing in any formal capacity, one that requires adherence to standards, I'd recommend leaving guillemets out of the mix. – Robusto Apr 4 '19 at 19:36
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    I said that I consistently use them thus. It's not any kind of standard, and some editors that I've submitted such stories to have changed them to match 'house style'. – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 4 '19 at 19:36
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    @Lordology - When my parenthetical thought gets that deeply nested it's time to take a nap! – Hot Licks Apr 4 '19 at 20:28
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    Your "writeawriting" link says: they are scarcely used in English language. On the other hand, I wouldn't take writing advice from such a badly-written website. – user323578 Apr 5 '19 at 11:57
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I am reading a dissertation written in English in the 1930s by an American who got his PhD from a French university, but who's committee wanted him to use English, as his contribution was to present the work of an important German sociologist to the English-speaking world. He uses guillamets all the time. They are not really being used as quotation marks, and are probably there because of the his writing for his French-speaking supervisor, rather than for proper English.

I came to this page because I wanted to quote the following passage, which uses guillamets in English:

This feeling of responsibility of the individual is awakened on the one hand by the elimination of magic and supernatural powers, and on the other hand by the existence of the innumerable « institutions », « organizations », « systems », « establishments », and « orders » of modern life created by the process of rationalization."

No part of the passage is presented as a nested quotation, so quotations doesn't do it justice. I see the list as some examples of "innumerable [names of abstract collective entities]". I therefore, interpret this use of guillamets for modern, standard English as best quoted using italics. I got this from the Millersville University Grammar and Punctuation guide (https://blogs.millersville.edu/bduncan/italics-quotation-marks-underscore/)

"Use italics for emphasis, for unfamiliar foreign words and phrases, and for technical terms followed by definitions".

My quotation will not use guillamets, but italics instead, as below. Even though the author's purpose was not for emphasis, italics are always called emphasis.

"This feeling of responsibility of the individual is awakened on the one hand by the elimination of magic and supernatural powers, and on the other hand by the existence of the innumerable institutions, organizations, systems, establishments, and orders of modern life created by the process of rationalization."(Author,year)(p.#, emphasis in original)

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  • "probably there because of the his writing for his French-speaking supervisor". It could be even worse: enforced by the university's dissertation format requirements. – GEdgar Dec 21 '19 at 11:36
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There is no authoritative use for guillemets in the English language.

Here's why:


1. Guillemets may only be used to mark telepathic or inward speech.

This is just about the only use guillemets have in English. And it's a fine line.
Many editors will replace guillemets with more standard notation. Source: Jeff Zeitlin

This is still a rare practice and only really used in SF writing and the like.


2. Guillemets should not be used whilst nesting brackets.

Guillemets, and for that matter, carets < >, should never be used to nest parentheses when further information is required. The order should be, if at all:

1([2{3}]4) i.e.([{}]) at most and never ([{<«»>}])

Though it should be noted, nesting brackets in English to add further information inside parentheses is allowed.Source: EliteEditing, user Orbling


3. There is no direct keyboard key, Alt code, AltGr or Shift code to a guillemet.

On standard English keyboards, no Shift code, no Alt code, no AltGr code can produce a guillemet, like you can with ([{}]). Following user HotLick's comment, If you can't easily produce it, avoid it.


4. No website or source mentions the usage of guillemets in English.

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Wikipedia, WordReference, Wiktionary and many more do not state any use for guillemets in English.


TL;DR: Use guillemets only if you are writing an internal monologue (preferably in SF writing/graphic novels etc.) Except for this, guillemets hold no use in the English language.

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    We also use it to mean "much greater than" or "much less than", though that's a rather informal usage. E.g. "Population of Earth >> 1000". Pushing the two greater-than signs into one symbol is a matter of typography, like joining the letters f and i where they occur consecutively in that order. – Lawrence Apr 5 '19 at 11:09
  • @Lawrence - And joining letters like that is almost never done in modern English typography. – Hot Licks Apr 5 '19 at 12:05
  • @HotLicks Kerning (which is closer to the idea of pushing the two ">" signs closer) is quite widespread in automated typesetting. – Lawrence Apr 5 '19 at 12:08
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    @Lawrence: These: « » are guillemets. These: ≪ ≫ are the mathematical much less/grater than signs. You might get away with using one for the other, but you also might get away with using an O for a 0, or an l for a 1, a # for a ♯. It's not technically correct. – Peter Shor Apr 5 '19 at 12:44
  • @Lawrence Exactly. They aren't guillemets, they're double carets. – Lordology Apr 5 '19 at 12:45
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Are guillemets used at all in English?

As the following examples attest, I can confidently answer: «Yes.»

THE NEW « ROSE DES VENTS » CAMPAIGN

Pan-African Forum « Africa: Sources and resources for a culture of peace »

« CROSSCUTTING ISSUES IN PEACE OPERATIONS » AT THE HEART OF A TRAINING IN DAKAR

A walkshop about « Building Bridges to Prevent Early School Leaving »

The Director of the Rema hospital visited « Centre Hospitalier de Dracénie » in France.

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  • Survey says...... ❌ – Dan Bron Apr 5 '19 at 13:40
  • The single word "Yes" is entirely inadequate as an answer on our site. You might like to refresh yourself with some of the EL&U basics: How to Answer and the EL&U Tour. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Apr 7 '19 at 6:22
  • All of your sources have links to other languages. – Lordology Apr 10 '19 at 9:19
  • @Lordology - Yes... – Jeremy Apr 10 '19 at 10:03
  • @Jeremy Where translation has occurred and they have kept the guillemets. – Lordology Apr 12 '19 at 16:19

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