I have learnt what the spaces need to be in front of ? ! ; » and after « in French texts, namely thin spaces (1/8em). I got that from this question and its answers: Principles of Typography for different languages

Now we also need to make sure that those thin spaces behave like non-breaking narrow space. There is a code point in Unicode for this purpose (U+202F) but it is 1/3 of a normal space (U+0020) and it is missing from many of our working typefaces.

So I wonder how this is done in France please. We are producing our documents in Scribus (very latest 1.5.3svn with the new text engine). But if there are French users who can share how they do this in InDesign it might help us, if we manage to adapt the work-flow to Scribus.

Edit: Sorry, seems my question was unclear: I am not asking about what lay people are doing but was talking to the main audience of "Graphic Design" here. We are interested to make our printed documents the same quality as contemporary professional output in France. We want a narrow space with punctuation and we want to avoid orphan-like punctuation at the beginning of a line. We know what we want; the question is how do designers produce those nice results in France? Does everybody write their own scripts? Are there some tools we have missed? :tidE

Do you use scripts? Do you have the 1/8em thin space on your keyboards? How to you guarantee that the punctuation glyphs do not jump to the next line? Do you get your fonts tweaked by the manufacturers?

We are producing French texts for paper and for websites, but we are in West Africa, so we cannot just ask next door. Our budgets is also very limited, so please answer more than just "pay for an InDesign licence and activate option 4711". We cannot pay, but we would gladly investigate option 4711, if it does exist for that purpose. Thank you.

Update 2017_06_14: Since no user shared real-life experience from typesetting in France, I have ordered two books from France. There are still stuck/lost in the mail (I am working in Africa). I have not forgotten to mark a final answer but am waiting to see what the documents can add for an answer.


3 Answers 3


I use InDesign so cannot speak for Scribus but the shortcut for a 1/8em space in InDesign (non-breaking by default) is cmd+option+shift+m or ctrl+alt+shift+m. Some people simply do a find/change and change it all by hand. This is usually how I teach my students to do it because we only work on short documents. I used to layout a magazine and got tired of this so I customized my own script that does this (as well as applying some other typographic rules) by using GREP and modifying the Find/Replace script already included in InDesign.

The thin space is a glyph that can be worked with like any other glyph, it is not built using kerning between glyphs.

I'm not sure which fonts fileformat.info searches specifically but I've never had problems with fonts that did not include this glyph. I've never given it thought before and this seems a bit odd to me now as I've ran into countless fonts that were missing the accents I need to do my work like "É, é, à, etc." Maybe InDesign would be able to generate 1/8em spaces using other spaces in the font if they were missing? I can however assure you that I've never seen a thin space built using kerning by InDesign!

  • thank you so far. My first follow up question is whether InDesign really inserts a certain glyph (probably U+2009) or rather does apply some special "kerning with non-breaking automagic". Because according to my sources, U+2009 is not tagged as non-breaking. Mar 21, 2017 at 21:29
  • Second follow up question: I did a quick test on www.fileformat.info/info/unicode/char/search.htm Only 147 fonts carry U+2009 versus 397 fonts which carry the "normal" space U+0020. So I wonder again/still how people in France prepare all their documents in real every-day work. Mar 21, 2017 at 23:34
  • 1
    @MartinZaske I updated my answer in reply to your comments.
    – curious
    Mar 22, 2017 at 2:26
  • thank you for your help and efforts in making your answer valuable for many users. I am still hoping for a French layouter who is working without special tweaked scripts and who got a good grip on the non-breaking issue and missing characters from certain fonts issue. We do not need to be better than InDesign, but we would like to copy "what can be done in real work-flows". Mar 22, 2017 at 12:08
  • I only discovered the font-search on fileformat.info yesterday while I researched before posting my question here. They say they search through "their" fonts on the server. So to get a feel for what that server has got, I did my reference by some trivial character (I believe I just used normal lower case latin letter "a") and got a list of 397 fonts. Of course we cannot expect such a free and public service to purchase lots of expensive commercial typefaces, just for the fun of showing the world which font carries which character. But it gave me a good feel for what is "available" in general. Mar 22, 2017 at 12:15

I have this client and we typeset multiple brochures each month in 15+ languges (French included) and each language is translated from English by a professional translator. For the French layer, i've never been asked to use 1/8 spaces. They do indeed insert normal spaces before ? ! ; » and after «. The client is a multinational so if this was critical for French, they probably would have mentioned it.

In real life many French writers will probably be using MS Word, which is not very likely to use all the white spacing options you get with InDesign. How many people will set 1/8 spaces in MS Word?

So not sure about the 1/8 rule, this could be a personal preference which some translators will recommend and others won't. You might want to double check this rule before spending too much time on it.

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  • Thank you for the nice graph. We know what we want, because it is the right way of doing, i.e. the "thin space" with non-breaking behaviour. Yes, the writers might well be using Word or something better. But before printing there is normally proof reading and typesetting and layout, done by professionals. Many publications are taking shortcuts in France, especially on web-pages. But still properly done documents show thin spaces because those "floating punctuation marks" are just ugly and quality productions look out for such detail. So how is it done? Mar 22, 2017 at 11:16
  • The how part has already been answered by Emilie, assuming an InDesign workflow, which is what most professionals looking for properly done documents will be using. InDesign is using an advanced Find/Replace engine and you can also build custom scripts to automate things like this. As for Scribus, personally, i don'k know, never used it.
    – Lucian
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:24
  • To be honest I don't think you'll find many professionals working with Scribus exclusively. Professional publishing is more or less limited to InDesign at the moment and for a good reason.
    – Lucian
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:29
  • Also, since you seem interested in detailed typesetting, pick up this book. You will find many other typesetting "tricks" similar to the 1/8 french rule, most of which are doable in InDesign, but again, don't know about Scribus. The 1/8 rule is just one of many things you can apply to a properly done document. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Typographic_Style
    – Lucian
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:39
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    @lucian, Scribus is not about providing for free, the features Indesign provides your for 30$. You can afford it, it makes you earn more money, you have no interest in open source software: it's the right thing to pay that money! But if Martin can publish in the Anii language (which might or not be supported by ID), this is a real achievement for Scribus. Personally, I only use Scribus a few times a month, and I love to use a professional (even if not mature) tool for that! And I really love that it's free software! (not for free, really free!)
    – a.l.e
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:17

In my experience, most french speaking people simply insert a space. It's a pain, but this is what most are used to. The result is that they are not very picky on the width of the space, but some space must be!

Most designers speak of a thin space (espace fine), so this is probably the most common choice in typography.

In the Web you can find some documents giving hints on which spaces you can / should use in which context, but most just say: "use a space". This detailed link could be helpful for you.

Now, concerning Scribus:

  • You can insert spaces from the "Insert > Space & Breaks" Menu.
  • You can only insert space "types" that are defined in the current font.
  • You can define shortcuts for the spaces (see the Shortcuts section in the Preferences)
  • You can use (and modify if it does not fit) one of the two Autoquote scripts that are distributed with Scribus itself.
  • Thank you @a.l.e; yes lay people are not too picky in France, but we are! We are publishing the first ever documents for language development for a minority language and we need to set a good example and get things right. We know how to insert thin spaces in Scribus, but we wonder about those many fonts which do not carry U+2009 nor U+202F (we are very limited in our choice of fonts, because of our very special alphabet). And we wonder how to get non-breaking behaviour in this context: end-of-sentence/thin-space/concerned-punctuation. Mar 22, 2017 at 11:32
  • I thank you especially about the info re autoquote-scripts, that was news to me. For fonts which carry "narrow non-breaking space" this might be a part of the solution. I may be able to tweak the script2 to use a font like Charis SIL which is free and does carry the needed spaces. If we do not insist on 1/8 em but rather use U+202F which I believe is 1/3 of the "normal space" we might have a working solution because of the "inbuilt" non-breaking value. If I get this done, I will report here. Mar 22, 2017 at 11:44

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