Spanish uses the same punctuation as English or other European languages for many things. For example, it uses periods (puntos) at the end of statements and commas (comas) to separate elements in a list. There are also some punctuation marks used only in Spanish, as well as some punctuation marks Spanish uses differently compared to other languages.
One of the distinctive features of Spanish punctuation is the use of inverted exclamation and question marks. This means that an upside-down exclamation or question mark comes at the beginning of a sentence, while there is a regular exclamation or question mark at the end. This helps recognize exclamations and questions immediately, even in longer sentences.
This is especially important in case of questions, as in Spanish the word order of an affirmative sentence and a question is often absolutely the same. Inverted question marks help questions stand out.
Te llamas Marco. – Your name is Marco.
¿Te llamas Marco? – Is your name Marco?
Here are some other features of Spanish punctuation. Depending on your native language, they may be similar to or different from the rules that you are used to.
- There is no comma used before conjunctions like y (and) or o (or) in Spanish lists: Compré leche, manzanas y pan. – I bought milk, apples, and bread.
- Question tags are separated by a comma and highlighted by inverted question marks: Hace calor, ¿no? – It’s hot, isn’t it?
- When writing quotation marks, the comma in Spanish comes after them (unlike, for instance, English, where the comma comes inside the quotation marks): “Tengo sueño”, dijo María. – “I am sleepy,” said María.
- In large numbers, Spanish uses a point to divide thousands and a comma to separate decimal numbers: 1.234.567,89 (compare to 1,234,567.89 in English).
- In Spanish, a colon is used in the first line of the letter, compared to a comma (e.g. in English) or an exclamation mark (e.g. in Russian): Estimado señor: – Dear Sir,
- Spanish uses three types of quotes: guillemets or angle quotes (« »), quotation marks (” “) and simple quotation marks (‘ ‘), but the favourites are the guillemets. Although more and more people use the so-called English quotation marks nowadays, the guillemets are still preferred by many newspapers and publishing houses.
Another peculiar feature of the Spanish language are vowels marked by acute accents (also called diacritic signs). These are not considered to be separate letters in the Spanish alphabet. They are used in written texts for two main purposes.
The first purpose is to mark word stress if it does not follow the most common pattern (el examen – los exámenes).
The second purpose is to differentiate words that are otherwise spelled absolutely the same, for instance: tú “you” and tu “your,” sólo “only” (as in “solamente”) and solo “alone”.
As you can see, Spanish punctuation marks are mostly visually the same as in other European languages. They even follow many of the same rules. However, when learning Spanish you need to pay special attention to the peculiarities of the Spanish alphabet: the inverted exclamation and question marks, accents placed above the vowels, slightly different use of commas, periods and other punctuation marks.