What Is the Upside-Down Question Mark in Spanish?
Have you ever doubted the necessity to use the upside-down question mark in Spanish?
Many people writing in Spanish, especially on social media or text messages, avoid the upside-down Spanish punctuation marks to save typing time. Let me tell you today why you shouldn’t skip it.
I’ll teach you to love and appreciate this weird little sign to the point that you’ll even want to use it in English.
You’ll also learn how to type the upside-down punctuation marks in Spanish in all keyboard layouts.
Ready? Let’s go.
What is the Upside-Down Question Mark in Spanish?
To put it simply, the inverted question mark—¿—is the punctuation mark that starts Spanish questions. Same as the inverted exclamation mark—¡—starts the exclamatory sentences. Both are mirror images of the typical question and exclamation marks.
They exist in Spanish and in some other languages related to it: Galician and Asturian in Spain and Waray in the Philippines.
How to Use the Upside-Down Question Mark?
It’s easy. You just write the inverted question mark right before the first letter of the sentence or clause.
If you want to make your whole sentence a question, a capital letter will follow, and you’ll close with a normal question mark.
¿Te gusta mi carro?
Do you like my car?
If you want to write just one clause as a question, put the inverted question mark at the beginning of it and follow with a lowercase letter. This way, you’ll make part of your sentence declarative, and the other interrogative.
Si no puedes hacerlo, ¿no quieres intentar otra cosa?
If you can’t do it, don’t you want to try something different?
It’s helpful in longer sentences!
One more thing that you should notice when handwriting—the inverted question mark, and the exclamation mark, descend below the baseline of the text. On the other hand, the typical ones at the end are written along the baseline:
Why Is the Upside-Down Question Mark Critical in Spanish?
Why are Spanish question marks upside down? Are they that important? Yes, and I’ll explain why.
Let’s start with English first. In most cases, it’s easy to recognize an English question.
Do you like me?
Are you hungry?
English questions tend to start with auxiliary verbs, and they often have different word order from declarative sentences.
Now, let’s look at these three Spanish declarative sentences:
You like me.
Now, let me change them into questions.
Do you like me?
Are you hungry?
Can you spot the difference?
As you can see, the only thing that indicates the distinction between the declarative and interrogative sentence is the punctuation. You wouldn’t be able to guess if the sentences above are interrogative or declarative without the punctuation marks.
Even in questions that start with question words in Spanish, the inverted question mark comes in handy:
- ¿cómo? (how?)
- ¿dónde? (where)
- ¿quién? (who)
- ¿qué? (what?)
- ¿cuándo? (when?)
Why? These words can also start a relative clause—not necessarily a question—if you take off the accent mark.
Como me dijiste que no lo quieres, se lo di a mi hermano.
Since you told me you don’t want it, I gave it to my brother.
¿Cómo me dijiste?
What did you say?
To learn more about the topic, check out The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need to Use Question Words in Spanish.
Now, in longer sentences, the initial upside question mark is crucial. From the beginning, you know how to modulate your voice when reading a text.
Why English Should Have Inverted Punctuation (Really!)
Inverted punctuation marks at the beginning of a sentence are a great idea. ¡I would love to be allowed to use them in English!
When you read this sentence, you knew from the beginning that you had to mentally raise your voice to interpret my excitement. Why?
In the Western world, we all read in the same way: from left to right. We start at the capital letter at the beginning, read word by word and finish with the punctuation mark. This is when we may encounter a surprise.
Even in English, sentences that appear declarative may turn out interrogative. Really? Really.
There is a Spanish writer that doesn’t use upside-down question marks?
This sentence seems like a declarative sentence until you get to the end since (also in English), not all the sentences start with question words.
What happens when you get to the end? You realize that you read it all wrong and you read it again. This time with the correct intonation.
Having an inverted question mark at the beginning, same as an inverted exclamation mark, would give you a warning sign and prepare you to read the sentence correctly.
If Spanish could introduce it, why not in English. The upside-down question and exclamation marks became obligatory just in 1870 according to the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy).
They were first only recommended in 1754, but only for long sentences. Slowly, people realized how helpful they are.
How to Type a Flipped Question Mark
Now, you understand how important the upside-down question mark is and you would like to use it but you don’t have a Spanish keyboard. How? There are some options.
1. iOs and Android Devices
Phones and tablets make it easy for you. Just press the traditional question mark (or exclamation mark) for longer and the flipped punctuation mark option will appear.
2. Gboard keyboard
If you type a lot on your iOs or Android phones and use many languages at the same time, download “Gboard,’, the Google keyboard that enables you to switch between the languages while typing and immediately displays all the national typing options.
3. Online Typing Tools
You can type your Spanish text directly into an online typing tool such as Spanish.typeit.org, with easy access to the inverted question mark and Spanish accents, and later copy it to your Google doc or Word processor.
4. PC or Mac
Both on PC and Mac keyboard, you can use shortcut keys to type the inverted question mark:
- Microsoft Windows: Alt + 0191
- Microsoft Word: Ctrl + Alt and hold while pressing Shift + ?
- MacOS platform: Shift + Option + ?
Do you need more Spanish keyboard tips? Check out:
- Spanish Alt Codes: Shortcuts to Writing in Spanish
- The Spanish Keyboard: How to Type Anything in Spanish
5. Chrome Extension for Spanish Special Characters
You can also add an extension to your Chrome navigator that allows you to easily copy and paste Spanish special characters.
If you feel like you want to know more about the upside-down question mark and your Spanish is intermediate to advanced, take a look at the detailed explanation by the Royal Spanish Academy.
To learn more about Spanish punctuation and other issues, read
Paying special attention to Spanish punctuation marks may be helpful if your goal is to become, for example, a bilingual teacher or a translator. And according to the US News, there has been a shortage of bilingual teachers for some time.
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