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Spanish Punctuation

How It Differs From English Punctuation

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Spanish punctuation is so much like English's that some textbooks and reference books don't even discuss it. But there are a few significant differences.

The following chart shows the Spanish punctuation marks and their names. Ones whose uses are significantly different than those of English are explained below.

Spanish punctuation symbols:

  • . — punto, punto finalperiod
  • , — comacomma
  • : — dos puntoscolon
  • ; — punto y comasemicolon
  • — — raya — dash
  • - — guiónhyphen
  • « » —comillasquotation marks
  • " — comillas — quotation marks
  • ' — comillas simples — single quotation marks
  • ¿ ? — principio y fin de interrogaciónquestion marks
  • ¡ ! — principio y fin de exclamación o admiraciónexclamation points
  • ( ) — paréntesis — parenthesis
  • [ ] — corchetes, parénteses cuadrados — brackets
  • { } — corchetes — braces, curly brackets
  • * — asterisco — asterisk
  • ... — puntos suspensivos — ellipsis

Question marks

In Spanish, question marks are used at the beginning and the end of a question. If a sentence contains more than a question, the question marks frame the question only.
  • Si no te gusta la comida, ¿por qué la comes? If you don't like the food, why are you eating it?

Exclamation points

Exclamation points are used in the same way that question marks are except to indicate exclamations instead of questions. Exclamation marks are also sometimes used for direct commands. If a sentence contains a question and an exclamation, it is OK to use one of the marks at the beginning of the sentence and the other at the end.
  • Vi la película la noche pasada. ¡Qué susto! I saw the movie last night. What a fright!
  • ¡Qué lástima, estás bien? What a pity, are you all right?

Period

In regular text, the period is used essentially the same as in English. However, in numerals a comma is often used instead of a period and vice versa. In U.S. and Mexican Spanish, however, the same pattern as English is often followed.
  • Gana $30.000 por año. He earns $30,000 per year.

Comma

The comma usually is used the same as in English, being used to indicate a break in thought or to set off clauses or words. One difference is that in lists, there is no comma between the next-to-last item and the y, whereas in English some writers use a comma before the "and."
  • Compré una camisa, dos zapatos y tres libros. I bought a shirt, two shoes, and three books.

Dash

The dash is used most frequently in Spanish to indicate a change in speakers during a dialogue, thus replacing quotation marks. In English, it is customary to separate each speaker's remarks into a separate paragraph, but that typically isn't done in Spanish.
  • — ¿Cómo estás? — Muy bien ¿y tú? — Muy bien también. "How are you?" ¶"I'm fine. And you?" ¶"I'm fine too."

Angled quotation marks

The angled quotation marks and the English-style quotation marks are equivalent. The choice is primarily a matter of regional custom or the capabilities of the typesetting system. The angled quotation marks are more common in Spain than in Latin America.

The main difference between the English and Spanish uses of quotation marks is that sentence punctuation in Spanish goes outside the quote marks, while in American English the punctuation is on the inside.

  • Quiero leer "Romeo y Julieta". I want to read "Romeo and Juliet."
  • Quiero leer «Romeo y Julieta». I want to read "Romeo and Juliet."

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