Understanding Spanish punctuation is a key part of learning Spanish reading and writing. While most Spanish punctuation marks will be familiar to you, some of them are used slightly differently or have different meanings.
Knowing how to use Spanish punctuation marks correctly will make your written Spanish more accurate and improve your chances of success in a Spanish-language job or academic environment. It will also help you improve your reading comprehension and interpret Spanish texts more accurately – from newspapers to novels.
In this post, you'll discover some of the most common Spanish punctuation marks and how to use them. You'll also look at their names in Spanish, so that you can identify them when you hear people talk about them in conversation.
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22 Punctuation Marks And Symbols In Spanish
To start, here's a handy list of Spanish punctuation marks. In the next section, you'll discover how to use them.
|.||Punto||Period, decimal point|
|¿?||Signos de interrogación||Question marks|
|¡!||Signos de exclamación||Exclamation mark/point|
|;||Punto y coma||Semi-colon|
|« »||Comillas españolas||Quotation marks (Spanish)|
|“||Comillas inglesas||Quotation marks (English)|
|‘||Comillas simples||Single quotation mark, apostrophe|
|%||Por ciento||Percent sign|
How To Use Punctuation Marks In Spanish
Punto (Period/Full Stop)
The period or full stop is one of the most common punctuation marks in any language. Just like in English, it’s used to mark the end of a sentence in written Spanish. However, Spanish has three different types of periods depending on where it’s used in the sentence:
- When the paragraph continues you use Punto y seguido
- Punto y aparte is used for ending a paragraph
- You use Punto final for ending an entire document
These periods all look the same, so you don’t really need to be on the lookout for them; it’s only really important if you’re discussing the text academically.
The punto can be used in other contexts too. As in English, it’s used in urls and email addresses: instead of “dot com,” .com is read as “punto com.”
The period is also used for abbreviations, such as:
- Sr. (Señor)
- c.c. (centímetros cúbicos)
- EE. UU. (Estados Unidos)
You can also use a period when referring to the time. This is more common than using a colon, as we do English. For example, 1 o’clock is 1.00 instead of 1:00.
Finally, the period is used to write numerals. Unlike in English, though, the period and comma are reversed. Periods are used to separate thousands, while a comma is used to separate decimals. For example, a large sum might look like this:
Keep in mind that if you encounter numerals in the U.S. or Mexico, they’ll typically follow U.S. conventions, so they would be written like this:
We won’t spend any time here on the colon (dos puntos), semicolon (punto y coma), or ellipsis (punto suspensivos) because they’re used just as they are in English.
Next, let's look at the coma (comma).
The coma, or comma, is another punctuation mark that’s used a lot like it is in written English. We’ve already seen one use for it (as a decimal marker), but it’s also used in written text to separate different parts of a sentence.
|Si tienes hambre, comamos.||If you are hungry, let’s eat.|
|Mi casa, que es grande y verde, está al final de la calle.||My house, which is big and green, is at the end of the street.|
|Eres de Barcelona, ¿verdad?||You’re from Barcelona, right?|
|Necesito manzanas, naranjas y bananas.||I need apples, oranges, and bananas.|
One difference that you may notice is that Spanish doesn’t use the Oxford comma. Or a comma after the second-to-last item in a list. In English, the use of the Oxford comma varies from country to country. But in Spanish, it’s avoided entirely.
This means that if you’re listing three or more items, you don’t include a comma before the word “y” or “and,” even if you would ordinarily use it in English.
Next you'll discover one of the punctuation marks that differs most from English.
Signos De Interrogación Y Exclamación (Question Marks And Exclamation Points)
The use of question marks and exclamation points is one of the most visible differences between English and Spanish punctuation marks. Those upside-down questions marks are hard to miss when reading written Spanish. But you can struggle to find them on a keyboard when trying to type in Spanish!
These punctuation marks serve the same purpose in Spanish – to ask a question or to show excitement – but you must use them before and after the phrase. Omitting the inverted question mark at the beginning may happen in some contexts, such as a text message or social media post, but it looks unprofessional in formal writing.
It’s important to note that in some cases, only part of the sentence needs to be included within the question marks or exclamation points. For example, if the name of the person who’s being addressed comes at the beginning of the sentence, it isn’t included:
|Maria, ¿cómo estás?||Maria, how are you?|
|La comida es buena, ¿no?||The food is good, isn’t it?|
|Si tú no puedes venir, ¿por qué no?||If you can’t come, why not?|
|Estoy cansada, ¡vamos a casa!||I’m tired, let’s go home!|
But everything that comes after the first question mark or exclamation point is included:
|¿Estás en casa, mamá?||Are you at home, Ma?|
You’ll notice that the first word of the question or exclamation isn’t capitalized, unless it’s at the beginning of the sentence or happens to be a proper noun or name.
You can also use question marks and exclamation points together, which isn’t common in formal English, as well as multiple exclamation points to increase the emphasis:
|¡Qué haces?||What are you doing?!|
|¿Quién está ahí!||Who’s there?!|
|¡¿Cuánto cuesta?!||How much does it cost?!|
|¡¡¡Dios mío!!!||Oh, my God!!!|
As you can see, either the question mark or exclamation point can be used first, or they can be combined in either order.
Comillas (Quotation Marks)
Comillas, or quotation marks, come in several different forms in Spanish. Firstly, there’s the angled quotation mark (« »), or comilla española, which you'll find in European Spanish and other Romance languages like French.
Secondly, there’s the English quotation mark (“ “), or comillas inglesas, and also the single quotation mark, comilla simple, which in English also serves as an apostrophe. But these quotation marks are more commonly used in Latin American Spanish.
You can use quotation marks just as you would in English: to identify a quotation or dialogue, or to write the title of a book or movie:
|Él me dijo “te amo” anoche.||He told me “I love you” last night.|
|Ya he leído «Don Qujote», ¿lo has leído también?||I’ve already read “Don Quixote,” have you read it too?|
|“¡No hay tiempo que perder!” ella dijo.||“There’s no time to waste!” she said.|
|«¿Quién está ahí?». Por un momento nadie respondió.||“Who’s there?” For a moment, no one answered.|
While comillas are mostly used the same way in both languages, you might notice a few differences in how other punctuation marks are applied. For example, in Spanish, you’ll need to use a punto after the quotation mark, even if it already includes another mark, like a question mark or exclamation point, that would be sufficient in English.
Also, English allows for some marks, like the comma, to fall within the quotation marks even if it isn’t part of the title of a book or movie; Spanish does not.
Because of the above rules you’ll occasionally end up with more punctuation marks in a row than would be natural in English.
Other Marks And Symbols In Spanish
So far, you've seen most of the major punctuation marks that you need to know in order to read and write in Spanish. But there are a few other symbols you may encounter, such as accent marks and numerical symbols.
Accent marks in Spanish are called tildes, although in English, we use the term tilde to refer only to a single diacritical mark, the (~) that goes over the letter n. In Spanish, this isn’t actually treated as an accent mark, because the n and ñ are distinct letters of the Spanish alphabet! Instead, the (~) is referred to as virgulilla.
When it comes to numerical symbols, (%) is referred to as por ciento, while (+) and (-) are más and menos. It’s a good idea to be familiar with the names of these symbols, because they may come up when speaking aloud in Spanish. For example, a phone number with an area code (+57) would be pronounced as más cinco siete.
Likewise, some common Internet symbols have different names in Spanish. The at sign (@) is called arroba, while the backslash is barra invertida (although may be referred to as “slash” even in spoken Spanish). Guion bajo refers to an underscore.
If you listen to Spanish podcasts, you may hear the host invite you to email them at an address like “info guion bajo 2021 arroba podcast punto com”, which means:
How To Type Punctuation Marks On Your Keyboard
Learning Spanish punctuation marks is fairly easy. But typing in Spanish on your keyboard is a different story. Depending on your operating system, you can use keyboard shortcuts to access Spanish punctuation marks, such as the ¡ and ¿.
On a Mac, you can use the Option key for some of them. Opt + 1 gives you an inverted exclamation point, while Opt + Shift + ? gets you an inverted question mark.
However, other devices have different keyboard shortcuts, so we won’t go into them all here.
Spanish Punctuation: Wrapping It Up
Just remember that punctuation marks are an integral part of Spanish, and leaving them out isn’t an option.
Take the time to learn them and use them properly, and you’ll be able to express yourself more accurately in Spanish and read it aloud more fluently!