Did you know that all languages have different punctuation systems? For example, some languages, such as Thai, don’t use a question mark at all, while Greek uses a symbol that looks like an English semicolon (;) to indicate a question. Even English has some strange punctuation that you might have never seen or used, such as the interrobang (‽), an exclamation point and a question mark combined.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the upside down question mark (¿) and its many uses in Spanish.
Introduction to the Inverted Question Mark
The upside down question mark (¿), also known as the inverted or Spanish question mark, is used in Spanish at the beginning of a sentence or clause that asks a question or expresses doubt. A normal question mark goes at the end of the sentence or clause.
The upside down question mark is beneficial because, in Spanish, the wording of some sentences and yes/no questions is the same:
Te gusta el verano. = You like summer.
¿Te gusta el verano? = Do you like summer?
Origin and history
Inverted punctuation marks (question and exclamation marks) were first published in the second edition of the Orthography of the Castilian Language (Ortografía de la Lengua Castellana) by the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) in 1754. It recommends that a question or exclamation begins with an inverted punctuation mark and ends with a normal punctuation mark.
Like any change, it’s taken time for its use to catch on. And to this day, some people – including some famous authors – still refuse to use inverted punctuation in their writing. However, it’s now generally accepted as standard punctuation in formal writing in Spanish.
Use in Spanish
To Denote Questions
All questions in formal writing in Spanish begin with an upside down question mark and end with a regular question mark (¿…?):
¿Qué hora es? = What time is it?
¿De dónde eres? = Where are you from?
¿Dónde está el baño? = Where’s the bathroom?
Additionally, upside down question marks can be used in the middle of a sentence to mark the beginning of a clause that asks a question:
Paula, ¿adónde vas? = Paula, where are you going?
No sé, ¿qué opinas tú? = I don’t know, what do you think?
To Avoid Confusion
As mentioned earlier, some statements and yes/no questions in Spanish use the same wording. To avoid confusion for the reader, an upside down question mark is used at the beginning of questions:
¿Hablas inglés? = Do you speak English?
Hablas inglés. = You speak English.
This is particularly important when a person is reading aloud. It signals to the speaker that an inflected tone is necessary when reading the following words.
To Use With Inverted Exclamation Marks
Similar to the use of ?!/!? in English at the end of a question/exclamation, inverted question and exclamation marks can be used together to express simultaneous surprise and uncertainty. Notice that the order of the punctuation is not strict.
¡¿Cómo me llamaste?! = What did you call me?!
¿¡Dónde has estado!? = Where have you been!?
While inverted punctuation is standard in formal writing, it’s becoming less common in casual writing, such as texting or posting on social media.
How to Type an Upside Down Question Mark
If you’re using a Spanish keyboard, then you already have the upside down question mark as a key. However, if you don’t have this on your keyboard, fear not! There are several ways you can add this to your writing, depending on your device and computer system.
On a Mac
Press Option, Shift, and the Question Mark key.
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On a PC
There are several ways you can add an upside down question mark on a PC:
Alt + 168
Alt + 0191
Alt + 6824
In Google Docs
Go to the Insert tab, click on Special Characters, then search for the upside down question mark, and click on it to add it. Tip: To narrow down your search, type “question mark” in the search box.
In Word on a PC
Similar to Google Docs, go to the Insert tab, click on Symbol, and find the upside down question mark. Alternatively, you can press Alt + Ctrl + ? to add the upside down question mark.
On Your Smart Device
To add the upside down question mark on your smart device, you can download a Spanish keyboard, which will automatically have the upside down question mark. You can also hold the regular question mark key for a moment, and the upside down question mark will pop up as an option. Simply slide your finger over to the upside down question mark to select it.
Using Symbol, Character, and Accent Websites
There are many websites dedicated to helping language learners use accents and symbols not found on their keyboards. Type It is a website that offers accents, symbols, and characters for many languages.
If you’re learning Spanish or reading Spanish texts, understanding the upside down question mark and how it’s used is crucial. Upside down question marks are used in Spanish at the beginning of all questions to signal to the reader that a question follows. This is beneficial because Spanish syntax for some statements and questions can be the same.
While the upside down question mark is standard in formal writing, its use in casual writing is becoming less common.
What is the difference between the upside down question mark and the regular question mark?
Both punctuation marks are used to indicate a question. In Spanish, the upside down question mark is used at the beginning of a question (or question-like phrase) while a regular question mark goes at the end of the question.
How can I use the upside down question mark in my writing and communication?
The upside down question mark is not used in English. It is used in Spanish to indicate a question (or question-like phrase) by placing it at the beginning of the question. Like all punctuation, its use is standard in formal writing; however, its use in casual and informal writing is decreasing among native speakers.
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