Understanding Spanish punctuation marks

Understanding Spanish punctuation marks

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated October 25, 2023

Spanish punctuation marks (or puntuación) serve the same basic function as English punctuation marks. They allow the reader to pause, connect ideas and better understand the emotion a sentence is attempting to convey.

But if you’re learning Spanish, you may notice that the language contains a few punctuation marks not found in English. These include the inverted question mark (¿) and the inverted exclamation point (¡), both of which come at the beginning of a sentence. 

There’s a whole variety of other Spanish punctuation marks, as well, some of which differ slightly from their counterparts in English. Here’s everything you need to know to use punctuation marks in Spanish like a champ.

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Exclamation marks in Spanish

The first Spanish punctuation marks you’ll need to learn are the signos de exclamación (¡!). These are used to express emphatic interjections or exclamations. 

The two signos de exclamación are always used together: you need “¡ to open a phrase and “! to close it. You may even see these marks repeated if one exclamatory sentence directly follows another.

  • ¡No me digas! ¡Nos comimos todo el pastel! (No way! We ate the whole cake!)

Question marks in Spanish

Spanish questions are marked by signos de interrogación (¿?). These work similarly to the exclamation marks discussed above, though they are used exclusively to denote questions. 

The inverted question mark (¿) is needed to open the question, while the mark that’s more familiar to English speakers (?) closes the question and comes at the end of the sentence.

  • ¿Ya regresaste? ¿A qué hora? (Did you come back yet? At what time?)

Period, or ‘punto’

As in English, the period (or punto) comes at the end of a completed sentence. 

A capital letter always follows a punto to indicate the start of a new sentence. The punto is also used in abbreviations like Sr. (Señor) or Sra. (Señora), but not in others like kg or cm.

Comma, or ‘coma’

The coma, just as in English, indicates a pause within a sentence. It can isolate a phrase or separate items in a list. 

In Spanish, we never use the Oxford comma, i.e. the comma separating the final two items in a list. This type of comma is sometimes (but not always) used when writing out lists in English.

  •  Amigo, no me mientas. (Friend, don’t lie to me.)
  • Tengo libros, bolígrafos y cuadernos. (I have books, pens and notebooks.)

Semicolon, or ‘punto y coma’

The semicolon, or punto y coma, joins two ideas that are related and equal in grammatical structure. 

The punto y coma can replace a comma when a conjunction word is used. Examples of conjunction words include pero, mas, aunque, sin embargo and por tanto

  • El examen era largo y complejo; sin embargo, todos hicieron bien. (The exam was long and complex; however, everyone did well.)

Colon, or ‘dos puntos’

The colon, or dos puntos, is used to give an example or provide more information. In Spanish it is also commonly used in the opening salutation of a letter or email.

  • Está permitido usar los siguientes recursos en el examen: diccionario, notas, y el libro. (The following resources are allowed during the exam: dictionary, notes and the book.)
  • Estimado Sr. Garcia: (Dear Mr. Garcia,)

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Quotation marks, or ‘comillas’

The quotation marks, or comillas, are used in Spanish to directly quote textual or spoken words (for example: inspirational quotes). They can also be used to cite titles of books, poems, articles and some other types of media. Comillas can also be used to express irony or the improper use of a word. 

Traditionally, Spanish phrases entre comillas (in quotes) were written using comillas angulares (angular quotation marks) or comillas latinas (Latin quotation marks) like this: « ». In the age of the internet, though, many Spanish-speaking countries have adopted the comillas inglesas (English quotation marks).

Parentheses, or ‘paréntesis’

Spanish parentheses, or paréntesis, are used to add extra information or clarification within a statement. Parenthetical statements are announced as entre paréntesis (between parentheses).

  • Thomas Edison (1847–1931) tuvo herencia mexicana. (Thomas Edison (1847–1931) had Mexican heritage.)

Dash, or ‘guión’

The dash, or guión, is used to enclose a declaration that interrupts the main sentence. 

  • Todos mis novios — y he tenido varios — han sido así. (All my boyfriends — and I’ve had several — have been like that.)

Spanish punctuation marks for email

Need to give somebody your email address out loud? You’ll need to learn some vocabulary:

  • The underscore (_) often found in email addresses is a type of guión called guión bajo (low dash). Alternative names for this mark include subrayado, raya al piso, rayita abajo and, in recent years, barra baja.
  • The “at” (@) symbol separating an email username from the domain is pronounced “arroba” with a rolled double r.
Email addressHow to say it in Spanish
aprender_123@lingoda.comAprender guión bajo uno dos tres arroba Lingoda punto com.

Spanish keyboard for Spanish punctuation marks

Now that you know when to use Spanish punctuation marks, the best way to start using them is to change your computer’s keyboard to Spanish. 

In Windows, at the bottom right of your system tray, click on “ENG” + “Language Preferences” + “Add a Language.” For Apple, go to “System Settings” + “Keyboard” + “Text Input.” You’ll be able to type all the Spanish punctuation marks from there.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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