If you ever plan on writing a letter or email in Spanish, not only will you need to know the specific letter-writing vocabulary, but you’ll also need to know correct Spanish punctuation, especially when it’s is not the same as English. Here we highlight some essential differences in basic written punctuation involving questions, exclamations and quotations in Spanish.
In Spanish punctuation, there are specific differences in the way we signal a written question.
1. There is always an opening and a closing question mark, one of which is upside down
Every question phrase contains an opening and a closing question mark. The opening question mark is an inverted version of the closing.
¿Cuántos estudiantes hay en clase? = How many students are in the class?
2. Question marks can be placed mid-sentence
Often surprising to English speakers is that the opening questions mark can start mid sentence, encompassing just the portion of the sentence that is specific to the question. They are also often used at the end of the phrase, surrounding only the small question or question tag like ¿no? or ¿verdad? or ¿y tú?.
Tú ya has terminado el trabajo ¿no? = You already finished work, no?
No me llamaron para la entrevista ¿ y a tí? = They didn’t call me for the interview, you?
Si no estás de acuerdo ¿por qué no dices nada? = If you don’t agree why don’t you say anything?
Additional considerations: When using specific question vocabulary, don’t forget the accent
Just a reminder, that when forming questions, words like que, donde, como, cuando, and quien all carry written accents. For example:
¿Qué quieres? = What do you want?
¿Dónde están mis llaves? = Where are my keys?
¿Cómo vas a trabajar? = How do you go to work?
¿Cuándo llegan tus amigos? = When do your friends arrive?
¿Quién es esa chica? = Who is that girl?
How to create the upside-down question mark on your keyboard:
MAC: rightalt + shift + ‘?’
PC: alt + ‘0191′, ‘6824′, or ‘168′
PC (US international keyboard setting): RightAlt + ‘?’
Exclamation marks have very similar rules to those of question marks. Mainly:
1. They are found at both the beginning and the end of the phrase, and the opening exclamation is inverted.
¡Qué lástima! = What a shame!
¡Claro que sí! = Of course!
¡Cuidado con la carretera! = Careful on the freeway!
2. They can be used in the middle of a sentence and surround only the portion of the phrase in exclamation.
¡Hola! y ¡Buenas noches! = Hello and good night!
How to create the upside-down exclamation mark on your keyboard:
MAC: alt + !
PC: alt + 061 or 173
PC (US international keyboard setting): RightAlt + 1
In Spanish punctuation, there multiple ways to denote quotations in written Spanish. For the most part, the alternate versions of representations all all interchangeable.
1. Both Spanish and English use double inverted comas quotes (” “)
In English, to write a quotation we use the double inverted comas
“ this is a quote in English ”
Spanish also uses the same quotation symbols, known as commillas:
“ Esta es una cita en español ”
2. Angular quotes are also common in Spanish (« »)
Written Spanish also uses angle quotes or guillemets to represent the spoken word. In Spanish, they are referred to as comillas españolas or comillas angulares.
« esta es una cita en español también »
3. Spanish may also signal dialog with the long dash (—)
Finally, the Spanish also uses the Spanish raya, or long dash — to denote quotations. It is more typically used to show quotations in dialogs to represent new speakers:
– No tengo tiempo para hablar = I don’t have time to talk
– No te preocupes ¿Hablamos mañana? = Don’t worry. We can talk tomorrow?
Additional considerations: Where to place the punctuation
When creating quotes in Spanish you must also know where to place the periods and question marks. Contrary to English, Spanish generally places punctuation outside quotation marks. For example:
“In English the period goes inside the quotation marks.”
“En español el punto va fuera de las comillas“.
How to create angle quotes on your keyboard:
MAC: alt + ‘ \ ‘ (for opening quote)
alt + shift + ‘ \ ‘ (for closing quote)
PC: alt + 0161 or 173
PC (US international keyboard setting): RightAlt + ‘ [ ‘
RightAlt + ‘ ] ‘