What’s the Deal With the Upside-Down Question Mark in Spanish?
If you’re new to learning Spanish, you’re probably curious as to what the upside-down question mark is all about. And more importantly, you may wonder how to use it correctly.
As you may have noticed, the inverted question mark (¿) is a punctuation mark written before the first word of a question. Since it’s an inverted version of the standard question mark (?), it’s easily recognized by speakers of languages written with the Latin alphabet, such as English.
Whose Idea Was This?
The upside-down question mark is critical in Spanish because the syntax of the language allows statements, questions, and exclamations to use the same wording.
The Real Academia’s decision to implement the upside-down question mark was published in the second edition of the Ortografía de la lengua castellana (Orthography of the Castilian language) way back in 1754. Here’s how it looks in action:
¿Cómo estás? – How are you?
The Real Academia also ordered the same inverted-symbol system for statements of exclamation (using ¡ and !). Both inverted punctuation marks help readers identify questions and exclamations. However, change takes time. These new rules were slowly adopted; in many Spanish texts written in the 19th century, the writer uses neither ¡ nor ¿.
¿Te gusta el té verde? – Do you like green tea?
Te gusta el té verde. – You like green tea.
As you can see, the wording of a yes/no question and the corresponding statement in Spanish is the same.
Some writers omit the inverted question mark in the case of a short unambiguous question such as: Quién viene? (“Who’s coming?”). While certain Catalan-language authorities insist that both the opening and closing question marks must be used for clarity, some famous Spanish-language writers (like the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda) refuse to use it.
You can find upside-down question marks (and exclamation points) not only in Spanish but also in related Iberian languages including Galician and Catalan.
Common Uses of the Upside-down Question Mark
We live in a digital world. When sending text messages or chatting online, the majority of Spanish speakers use only the single question mark at the end of the question. On the other hand, Spanish language learners often find the upside-down question mark so useful that they wish their native language would adopt the practice, too!
Here are the three common ways to use the upside-down question mark in Spanish.
1. Indicate a Question
Clearly, the upside-down question mark is a sign of what’s to come: una pregunta. This punctuation mark’s primary function is to relay that a question is being asked.
¿Quieres un poco más de tiempo? – Would you like some more time?
¿A qué hora cierra el banco? – What time does the bank close?
2. Replace an Interrogative Word
The upside-down question mark can sometimes take the place of interrogative words. The most commonly used Spanish question words include:
¿Cómo? – How?
¿Cuál? – Which?
¿Cuándo? – When?
¿Cuánto? – How much?
¿Dónde? – Where?
¿Por qué? – Why?
¿Qué? – What?
¿Quién? – Who?
Often, you use an interrogative word at the beginning of a question. But shortening a question can convey the same message without an interrogative word at its beginning. The tone of voice will indicate that a question is being asked and the missing question word is implied.
¿Dónde está la salida? becomes ¿La salida? (The exit?)
¿Me puedes pasar la sal? becomes ¿La sal? (The salt?)
3. Signal the Need to Raise Intonation
Finally, raising the pitch of your voice near the end of a statement transforms it into a question. The upside-down question mark indicates that you should do so.
Enrique va a la biblioteca. – Enrique goes to the library.
¿Enrique va a la biblioteca? – Is Enrique going to the library?
Hablas español. – You speak Spanish.
¿Hablas español? – Do you speak English?
El avión llegó temprano. – The plane arrived early.
¿El avión llegó temprano? – Did the plane arrive early?
The Upside-down Question Mark in the Middle of a Sentence
A lot of the time, the upside-down question mark is placed at the beginning of a question. Nevertheless, it sometimes appears within a sentence instead. The key is to place it at the start of the actual question within the sentence.
One of the most common times you’ll see upside-down question marks in the middle of a sentence is with tag questions.
Eres la amiga de Juliana, ¿no? – You’re Juliana’s friend, aren’t you?
Ese vestido es nueva, ¿verdad? – That dress is new, isn’t it?
You can use your tone of voice to determine where the question mark belongs in the sentence. Locate the part of a sentence that reads like a question, and surround it with question marks.
Si voy, ¿ella también va? – If I go, will she go too?
Vamos a comer tacos, ¿te parece bien? – We’re going to eat tacos, does that sound good?
How to Type an Upside-down Question Mark
Typing an upside-down question mark is easy! You can quickly create one with a few simple commands depending on the device you’re using.
iPhone or iPad
You can call up an upside-down question mark by accessing the traditional question mark. Simply hold the question mark down and a little bubble will pop up with the upside-down version that you can then select to insert into your text.
Accessing upside-down punctuation on an Android device requires updating your system settings. From the menu, select “Language and Input” and then make your language English and Spanish and your default keyboard “Gboard” for multilingual typing. Both upside-down question marks and exclamation points can then be selected from the phone or tablet keyboard.
PC or Mac
Insert special characters
In Google Docs and Microsoft Word, you can use the insert tab to find special characters. To add upside-down question marks, select punctuation from the menu of special characters.
Use a shortcut key
Inserting individually can be cumbersome, so it’s good to make note of a few shortcut keys.
- Microsoft Windows: Press Alt + 0191
- Microsoft Word: Press Crtl + Alt and hold while pressing Shift + ?
- MacOS platform: Press Shift + Option + ?
Want more Spanish keyboard tips? Check out:
- Spanish Alt Codes: Shortcuts to Writing in Spanish
- The Spanish Keyboard: How to Type Anything in Spanish
Congratulations! You’ve learned the key elements of the upside-down question mark in Spanish.
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