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The Great Mystery of the Spanish Upside-Down Question Mark

  • Post category:Grammar

Have you ever wondered why we use Spanish upside-down question marks (and exclamation marks) in Spanish?

It turns out that Spanish is the only language in the world that uses double symbols for questions and exclamations. Isn’t our language special?

How are the upside-down question and exclamation mark used in Spanish?

In a nutshell, we use the upside-down question and exclamation marks in Spanish to indicate the beginning of a question or exclamation. And, of course, at the end of the sentence we add the familiar exclamation or question mark. As simple as that! See some examples below:

Why do we use the upside-down question mark in Spanish?

It might surprise you to learn that it hasn’t always been this way. Originally, scholars and copyists only wrote these symbols at the end of sentences, like we do in other languages. So, yes, there was a time when we only used one symbol at the end.

The upside-down exclamation and question marks made their first appearance in the second edition of the Royal Academy’s Ortografía, published in 1754. But how did this change happen?

The truth is that scholars debated this topic for decades! Eventually, they concluded that exclamation and question marks at the end of questions and sentences were not enough, particularly in very long ones. This would allow people to use the appropriate intonation before reaching the end of the sentence.

In this way, according to the new orthographical rules from 1754, the opening symbols were restricted to long sentences. Short sentences and questions could just use final exclamation and question marks, as in the past.

However, this distinction led to another linguistic dilemma: How can we determine that a sentence is “long”? Scholars had been interpreting this rule in their own way as there wasn’t a clear limit.

In the end, the Spanish Royal Academy decided to end the debate in 1870, more than a century later! So, it was agreed that upside down question and exclamation marks should now appear both at the beginning and end of sentences to avoid confussion.

Can we get rid of the upside-down punctuation marks in Spanish?

Here, the answer is a big no! Unlike other languages, these punctuation marks are always double in Spanish. Therefore, removing the opening marks would make our question or exclamation incorrect in terms of punctuation. The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language takes this matter very seriously!

That’s all, amigos! Don’t forget your double marks and let’s embrace the uniqueness of the Spanish language!

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