How to Use Commas in Spanish
What’s the difference between these two sentences?
Vamos a comer niños.
Vamos a comer, niños.
Yes, the comma makes all the difference!
The first sentence is a cannibal’s confession: “We’re going to eat kids.”
The second one could be said by a mom, just before lunch: “Let’s eat, kids.”
Without commas and periods, our writing would seem like one single flow of consciousness. It works great in some literature but not so much in your daily life!
By learning how to correctly separate words in your writing, you ensure that each sentence means exactly what you want it to mean.
Now the ultimate question: Are there commas in Spanish that we use differently from English?
In this blog post, I explain some basics about punctuation in Spanish with a focus on the usage of commas.
Are you ready to improve your Spanish writing skills?
What Is a Comma?
Before we move on to the Spanish comma guidelines, let’s get one thing straight:
What is a comma?
A punctuation mark that separates words, clauses, and ideas within a sentence.
A comma is like a written pause that marks a smaller break than a period.
Let me show you the most important guidelines for using commas in Spanish! You’ll notice that while the definition is the same as it is in English, some rules are different.
How to Use Commas in Spanish: The Rules
You surely agree with me that punctuation rules cannot be taken too lightly!
If you want to make a good impression with your Spanish writing, then having a solid understanding of basic Spanish punctuation rules is your way to get there. The fact is, knowing how to use commas in Spanish can get you a job!
The following guidelines explain how to use commas in a sentence. Keep an eye out for the ones that are different from English punctuation rules!
1. Commas in a list of items (no Oxford comma)
Similar to English, you must separate items in a list with a comma. But note this big difference: you can’t use a comma before y in Spanish! The old Oxford comma debate is non-existent in Spanish, as it’s simply not an option.
Ayer fui al mercado para comprar coliflor, lechugas, jitomates y pepinos.
Yesterday, I went to the market to buy cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
2. Commas for interruption and clarifications (Appositives)
If you want to throw in an explanatory phrase or clarification into your sentence, don’t forget to separate it with commas.
Amelie, mi hija mayor, lee muy bien.
Amelie, my older daughter, reads very well.
3. Commas with adverbial expressions
Adverbial expressions that modify the meaning of the whole sentence require a comma before and after.
With the following expressions, make sure to separate them from the rest of the sentence:
- efectivamente (in fact)
- en cambio (on the other hand)
- en ese caso (in that case)
- en fin (anyway)
- en realidad (actually)
- es decir (that is)
- no obstante (nevertheless)
- o sea (that is)
- por ejemplo (for example)
- por fin (finally)
- sin embargo (however)
México, en realidad, es un país de América del Norte.
México, actually, is a country in North America.
En mi casa, por ejemplo, no comemos chocolate todos los días.
At my house, for example, we don’t eat chocolate every day.
En fin, ya veremos.
Anyway, we’ll see.
Nos vemos en tres días, es decir, el jueves.
See you in three days, that is, on Thursday.
No es fácil, sin embargo, voy a intentarlo.
It’s not easy, however, I will try.
4. Commas with conjunctions
A comma goes before the following conjunctions:
- pero (but)
- mas (but)
- excepto (except)
- salvo (except)
- menos (except)
Te quiero mucho, pero no te puedo perdonar esto.
I love you very much, but I can’t forgive you this.
Me gustan las manzanas, mas no las verdes.
I like apples but not green ones.
Todos terminaron la tarea, excepto ella.
Everyone finished homework except her.
If you want to read more about conjunctions in Spanish, check out the following articles:
- 9 Coordinating Conjunctions in Spanish Essential to Know
- 9 Types of Subordinating Conjunctions in Spanish That Will Supercharge Your Fluency
- The Ultimate Guide to Using ‘And’ in Spanish (and Other Conjunctions)
- What’s the Difference Between Pero and Sino?
You can also take a quiz on Spanish conjunctions here!
5. Commas and Imperatives
Commas separate a name while giving an order, advice, or a suggestion.
Pedro, no lo hagas.
Pedro, don’t do it.
Juan, tráeme el libro.
Juan, bring me the book.
Pásame la sal, Bárbara.
Pass me the salt, Barbara.
6. Commas and Numbers
You use commas in Spanish to separate the answer in mathematics.
Dos por dos, cuatro.
Two times two, four.
In terms of decimals and commas, different Spanish-speaking countries have their own systems. In México, Puerto Rico, and parts of Central América, commas and periods are used in the same way as in American English.
For example: 2,000.35
Meanwhile, in Spain, South America, and certain parts of Central America, commas and periods are used in the opposite way.
For example: 2.000,35
7. Commas and Quotes
Here’s another case where Spanish comma rules differ from English in that there is no alternative. In Spanish, when you set off quotes, the comma always goes outside the quotation mark, whereas in English its location depends on which style guide you’re following.
“Nunca te voy a olvidar”, dijo Ana.
“I will never forget you,” said Ana.
8. Commas and Exclamations
Commas in Spanish with exclamations also follow different conventions than in English. When you insert an exclamation in a Spanish sentence, you have to separate it with commas and not with em dashes as in English.
Mi maestra, ¡no lo vas a creer!, también es de Perú.
My teacher—you won’t believe it!—she is also from Perú.
9. Commas in Compound Sentences
Remember you can’t use a comma before y in a list of items?
Well, if the conjunction y joins two sentences, then you actually should use one!
Me encanta escribir ensayos y poemas, y me encanta expresarme a través de la música también.
I love writing essays and poems, and I love expressing myself through music as well.
Take note that if the compound sentence is very short, you can omit the comma.
Te quiero y la quiero.
I love you and I love her.
Writing Tips in Spanish
Whether you need to write an essay in Spanish for your college, or an application for this dream job close to a Mexican beach, knowing how to use commas in Spanish will always come in handy.
Not surprisingly, punctuation is just a small part of what you learn to improve your writing skills. You will also benefit from learning how to structure your essay in Spanish and packing it full of powerful adjectives and adverbs.
If you’re looking for practical tips to improve your writing skills, read these 15 Simple Tips to Improve Your Writing in Spanish!
It’s Time to Practice in Real Time!
It’s always good to have somebody check out your written work for college or job and to give you some advice on how to use commas in Spanish. Two pairs of eyes are better than one. If you’re looking for a certified, native Spanish-speaking instructor to help you improve your writing skills (and conversational skills!), sign up for a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy where we offer student-tailored classes for K-12 students and adults who wish to improve their fluency in a flash!
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