Writing in Spanish

Question and exclamation marks in Spanish. Let’s see how to use it!

In Spanish, the exclamation marks (!) and question marks (?) are double, like parentheses. That is, they delimit both interrogative and exclamatory sequences. Unlike languages like English or French, which have auxiliaries or a specific grammatical formula or order for constructing a question, Spanish is more unrestrained, so the only way to indicate that you are facing the beginning of an exclamation or question mark is through the first sign. This is the clue that allows correct intonation when reading a text, so the opening signs (?) should not be suppressed to imitate other languages that only use the closing sign.

But how do we use these signs?

  • When a sentence ends with a question or exclamation, the closing signs are the sign at the end of the statement (!?) Therefore, it is not appropriate to put a period at the end (the point is already included by the sign: !?); thus, the word that follows it will always be written with an initial capital letter.

Example: ¿Qué hora es? Olvidé mi reloj en casa.

                 [What time is it? I left my watch at home]

  • If the statement does not end in a question or exclamation, other punctuation marks can be added, for example, comma (,), semicolon (;) or colon (:):


¡Tranquilo!, ¿vale?

[Calm down, okay?]

   «Aúllan como demonios cuando llega la noche; ¿sabes por qué?: para quebrar el silencio que los aterroriza»

[«They howl like demons when night comes; Do you know why? to break the silence that terrifies them»]

(Vargas Llosa La ciudad y los perros, 1962).

  • Finally, do not forget that if the word immediately before the beginning of a question or exclamation is also the end of a sentence, it must have a period.

Example: No sé por qué voy. ¿Por qué soy así, qué busco?

  [I don’t know why I’m going. Why am I like this? What am I looking for?]

(Leila Guerriero Domingo, 2020).

Remember that punctuation marks are intended to transcribe -in part- the pauses, tones, duration, and intensity of the melodic curve of the spoken language. Although it is impossible to transcribe oral discourse with all its nuances, punctuation marks help us a lot. Despite their limitations, they can interpret and harmonise a written text with the melody of orality. Think that punctuation marks are symbols that help us write the scores of our voices.

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