French Typography: Superscripts and Footnotes

GOLD's picture

Dear All,

I'm an English Canadian designer working with a French Canadian designer on a project that involves both English and French typography. I've read a number of Forums that touch on the issue of "air" around punctuation in French typesetting. As my French is poor, I'm wondering what refinements are encouraged in French typography with specific regard to superscripts for footnotes, as well as punctuation in general. Should the Superscripts be set before, on top of or after punctuation? I've attached some samples that point to a specific style, but are these styles correct? And if so, which one is best suited to book typography? I am a proponent of TEOTS, and yet Bringhurst hardly touches on the subject.

Thanks in advance.

Superscript Sample 1.png392.69 KB
Superscript Sample 2.png275.67 KB
Manuel de criminalistique moderne.png475.49 KB
type.nasos's picture

i would suggest The Complete Manual of Typography by Jim Felici
has a chapter about Language Specific issues, that would interest you

GOLD's picture

Thanks for that. I'll be sure and look into it. But, if anyone else has anything to offer (based on real world experience) I'd sure appreciate it.

philippe_g's picture

Different countries speaking French may have different rules, but in France it's generally the Imprimerie Nationale's rules which are followed. In the Lexique des règles typographiques (1990) p. 25, the rules given are that footnote calls are preceded by a thin, unbreakable space and that the footnote calls always precede punctuation, including guillemets when citing material.

The examples given are :

Veuillez agréer ¹... (thin space before the footnote call)

.. le nom attributé à une rue, à un établissement, etc.¹. (no space after or before)

Chateaubriand l'appelle « le grand expiateur ¹ » (thin space before and after the footnote call)

GOLD's picture

Thanks Philippe, I really appreciate the clarification. (I'm going to search out the text that you've mentioned.)

Here's a link to the Province of Quebec's official online style guide:; they seem to support your recommendations.

Here's an excerpt from Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style, one where he discusses a number of approaches to the handling of guillemets, some of which conflict with the above.

Here's an excerpt from the Chicago Manual of Style, one in which they suggest a slightly different approach.

What to make of all this?

philippe_g's picture

What's troubling you exactly with what Bringhurst says?

The Chicago example is interesting. By putting the footnote call after the guillemets, it shows that the reference concerns the whole "A vrai dire, ..." and not only the last citation « Vois combien ... » within it.

I forgot to mention it last time, but an interesting online resource about french (ortho)typography is Jean-Pierre Lacroux, Orthotypo, available at

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