upside down question mark

The Upside-down Question Mark and Exclamation Point in Spanish, Explained

Spanish has used inverted punctuation for centuries.

However, it can be a bit of a surprise if you’ve never run into an upside-down question mark or an upside-down exclamation point before.

There’s no real secret to mastering this topic—you just need to know why and how to use upside-down punctuation marks in Spanish.

¡Vámonos! (Let’s go!)

Contents

How to Type Upside-down Punctuation Marks

Using a Mac

To type the upside-down question mark:

1. Hold down the Option and Shift keys.

2. Press the question mark key.

To type the upside-down exclamation point:

1. Hold down the Option key.

2. Press 1 (the button with the standard exclamation point).

Using a PC

To get the inverted question mark:

1. Hold down the Alt key.

2. Type 168.

To get the inverted exclamation point:

1. Hold down the Alt key.

2. Type 0161.

If you’re using an international keyboard:

  • hold the right Alt key and tap the question mark key for the upside-down question mark.
  • hold the right Alt key and tap the exclamation point key for the upside-down exclamation point.

To type other Spanish punctuation marks, Useful Shortcuts provides a handy reference table.

Using an iPhone or iPad

For the upside-down question mark:

1. Find the conventional question mark on the device’s keyboard.

2. Press and hold the question mark. A little bubble will appear.

3. In the bubble, you can select either the standard question mark or the upside-down mark.

Follow similar steps to find the upside-down exclamation point:

1. Find the standard exclamation point on the keyboard.

2. Press and hold it until the bubble appears.

3. Within the bubble, you can choose between the conventional or the upside-down exclamation point.

Using an Android Device

To find inverted punctuation marks:

1. Select “sym” (for “symbols”) on your keyboard.

2. Navigate to the second page.

3. Select the inverted question mark or exclamation point.

Using a Spanish Keyboard App

For more precise typing, you can use an app that makes all Spanish punctuation—including the upside-down ones—readily accessible. You might try:

  • Spanish Keyboard, for Android devices
  • Gboard, available for Android or iOS devices
  • Spanish Keyboard & Translator, for Android or iOS devices

Why Is the Upside-down Question Mark Used in Spanish?

In Spanish, inverted punctuation is used to communicate clearly in written form.

Let’s take a closer look at what each inverted punctuation mark does, starting with the upside-down question mark.

To Indicate a Question

The simplest function is that an inverted question mark tells you a question is coming.

¿Cómo estás?
(How are you?)

¿Quieres un poco más de agua?
(Would you like some more water?)

¿A qué hora cierra la tienda?
(What time does the store close?)

To Replace an Interrogative Word

We typically use an interrogative word at the beginning of a question, but we don’t have to. When speaking, tone implies the missing interrogative. In writing, that job falls to the question marks.

¿Dónde está el baño? → ¿El baño?
(Where is the bathroom?) → (The bathroom?)

¿Cuándo llega el tren?¿El tren?
(When is the train arriving?) → (The train?)

¿Pasarías la sal? ¿La sal?
(Would you pass the salt?) → (The salt?)

To Signal a Change in Tone

In Spanish, declarative statements and questions may only differ by punctuation. If you’re reading aloud, the upside-down question mark tells you when to raise your tone for a question.

Juan va a la florería. ¿Juan va a la florería?
(Juan goes to the flower shop. ) → (Is Juan going to the flower shop?)

Hablas inglés. ¿Hablas inglés?
(You speak English.) → (Do you speak English?)

El autobús llega muy tarde.¿El autobús llega muy tarde?
(The bus is very late.) → (Is the bus very late?)

Why Is the Upside-down Exclamation Point Used in Spanish?

The upside-down exclamation point simply tells the reader that this is an exclamatory sentence.

You don’t have to wait until the end of the sentence to find out the tone was meant to be excited the whole time!

¡Que linda!
(How cute!)

¡Me encanta esta canción!
(I love this song!)

¡Lo siento, no puedo oírte!
(Sorry, I can’t hear you!)

How to Use Inverted Punctuation Marks

When writing questions or exclamatory sentences in Spanish, you’ll just need to remember to use two punctuation marks—one at the beginning and one at the end.

For example:

¿Cómo te llamas?
(What is your name?)

¡Vamos a llegar tarde a la fiesta!
(We’re going to be late for the party!)

Note that upside-down punctuation is becoming less common in casual writing.

When texting or writing informally, Spanish speakers won’t always use it. That means you probably don’t have to, either.

However, you should expect to see inverted punctuation in books, standard writing and movie subtitles. You’ll also need to use it when writing in Spanish class!

Using Inverted Punctuation in the Middle of a Sentence

By now, you know the upside-down question mark is placed at the beginning of a question. However, that doesn’t always mean that it’s placed at the beginning of a sentence.

Same goes for the upside-down exclamation point. These inverted marks should be placed at the beginning of the question or exclamatory phrase.

For example:

Si bailamos, ¿ellos también van a bailar?
(If we dance, will they dance, too?)

Te veo el martes, ¡adiós!
(I’ll see you Tuesday, bye!)

Using Upside-down Question Marks with Exclamation Points

Don’t be surprised to see passages that use both inverted question marks and inverted exclamation points.

¡Buenos días! ¿A dónde vas, Susana?
(Good morning! Where are you going, Susana?)

¡Ayuda! ¿A dónde va con mi bolso?
(Help! Where is she going with my purse?)

¡Ahora no! ¿Podemos hablar después?
(Not now! Can we talk later?)

You may also see upside-down question marks and exclamation points used together.

Note that the punctuation may show up in either order, according to the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) which maintains the standards for proper Spanish usage.

¡¿Cómo me llamaste?!
(What did you call me?!)

¡¿El perro se escapó?!
(The dog ran away?!)

¿¡Dónde has estado!?
(Where have you been?!)

 

Now that you understand the hows and whys of using upside-down punctuation in Spanish, it’s time to practice!

You can further familiarize yourself with inverted punctuation marks by reading in Spanish. The more you see upside-down punctuation, the less strange you’ll find it.

If you don’t want to read books or stories, you can also practice by reading Spanish subtitles on movies, TV shows or other video clips.

FluentU, for example, teaches you Spanish with authentic videos and expert-vetted subtitles, where you can see upside-down question marks and upside-down exclamation points in action.

There are so many great reasons to learn Spanish—don’t let those funky inverted punctuation marks stand in your way!

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