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Spanish Punctuation: Marks & Rules

Instructor: Janet Long

Janet has taught college Spanish and English courses and has master's degrees in Spanish literature and TESOL.

Using punctuation can tell the reader many things, such as when to pause or stop. This lesson looks at different punctuation marks and how they are used in Spanish.

Three Ways to Use Punctuation

When listening to someone, it's easy to understand where an idea ends or what's being emphasized because the speaker can pause or change the volume of his or her voice. In the silent realm of writing, we use punctuation marks for a variety of purposes, from showing pauses to emphasizing main ideas. This lesson will look at three different ways that punctuation marks are used in Spanish: to end a sentence, to add a pause, and to show a quotation.

Ending a Sentence

One way that you'll use punctuation to write in Spanish will be to end sentences, like statements (.), questions (?), and exclamations (!). For statements that tell a fact or make a declaration, you just add a period after the last word, just like you would in English. For example, if you say, Me llamo Maria (My name is Maria), this is a fact, so it'll end with a period.

For questions and exclamations, you will use two punctuation marks. At the start of every question you write in Spanish, you need to add an upside down question mark (¿), and you will put a regular question mark at the end (?). For example, if you want to write the question 'How are you?' in Spanish, you'd write ¿Cómo estás?

You'll do the same with exclamation marks: put an upside down exclamation mark at the start (¡) and end with a regular one (!). We can see this in the exclamations ¡Mira! (Look!) and ¡Vamos! (Let's go!)

This chart shows you the sentence punctuation marks in Spanish and gives you examples for each type.

Punctuation Mark Use Example Translation
Period (.) Use to end a statement or sentence that isn't a question or exclamation Me gusta jugar baloncesto. I like to play basketball.
Question Marks (¿?) Use to start and end a question (must be used as a pair) ¿Cómo está? How are you?
Exclamation Mark (¡!) Use to start and end an exclamation (must be used as a pair) ¡Hola! Hi!

Adding a Pause

In Spanish, you often use commas to add pauses within a sentence, and the comma usage rules are very similar to what you see in English. For example, you can still use commas to separate two independent clauses in a sentence: Mi padre come manzanas, y mi madre bebe leche (My father is eating apples, and my mother is drinking milk).

However, one notable difference has to do with how we use commas to put pauses between items in a list, like in the sentence Me gustan las manzanas, las naranjas y las piñas (I like apples, oranges, and pineapples). Notice that with the list you put a comma (and a pause) after each item except the one that comes before y (and). You'll never put a comma before y in a list.

Showing a Quotation

When it comes to showing a quotation, Spanish can use three different punctuation marks.

The first way uses regular quotation marks, as in the sentence: Mi padre me dijo, ''No''. (My father told me, ''No.'') The words inside the quotation marks tell us the exact words that another person said.

The second way to show a quotation is the angular quotation mark << >>. This punctuation may not be as common as using '' '' marks and is used more in Spain than Latin America, but << >> marks are another way to show a quotation:

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