¡¿Why Does Spanish Use an Upside Down Spanish Question Mark?!

You started learning Spanish, and then you’re suddenly faced with this: ¿

You’re astounded, because you didn’t see anything like this in your native language or in English. But you shouldn’t be too worried about it. A YouTube channel called Soundly Awake made an explanatory video about it:

In this informational blog post, we’ll simply explain the history of the Spanish upside down Spanish question mark, tell you how to use it, plus how you can type it!

Empecemos! (Let’s start!)

1. The history of upside-down question mark in Spanish

The upside-down question mark in Spanish appeared in the 18th century. It was added to the Spanish language by the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) to make the language clearer, easier to understand.

The purpose of the inverted question mark is to signal an interrogative sentence in written Spanish. By using this kind of Spanish question mark, it’s easier to understand the tone and the structure of the Spanish sentences.

Before this punctuation mark was introduced, Spanish text could be confusing. The same principle applies to the inverted exclamation mark (¡), which shows the beginning of an exclamatory sentence.

2. How to use the inverted Spanish question mark?

After learning about the history of the Spanish question mark, arises the question: how do you use it?

Effortless Answers

In Spanish, the inverted question mark is used to show the beginning of the interrogative sentences. Spanish has a(n inverted) question mark at the beginning of the sentences, and a regular question mark (?) at the end of these sentences.

If you think about it, it’s quite logical, and could be useful in other languages, too! It gives you immediate clarity that the sentence is in a question form: you know the tone of longer or more complex sentences.

The Spanish question marks are used in both direct questions (those ones that start with Spanish question words) and within complex sentences that have multiple clauses. Let’s see how they work!

Use upside-down Spanish question mark in direct questions

Interrogative sentences in Spanish often start with question words:

  • qué” (what)
  • quién” (who)
  • cuándo” (when)
  • dónde” (where)
  • por qué” (why)
  • cómo” (how)
  • cuál” (which)

A direct question is a straightforward question. We’re talking about questions, such as “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?).

Here are a few examples:

¿Cómo estás?How are you?
¿Qué hora es?What time is it?
¿Dónde vives?Where do you live?
¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños?When is your birthday?
¿Por qué estudias español?Why are you studying Spanish?
¿Cuál es tu color favorito?What is your favorite color?
¿Quién llamó?Who called?
¿Cuánto cuesta esto?How much does this cost?

Use the upside-down question mark in sentences with multiple clauses

It is also important that in complex sentences with multiple clauses, the question marks should only accompany the interrogative part of the sentence.

Like here:

  • ¿Sabes cuál es la capital de España?” (Do you know what the capital of Spain is?) – the question marks frame the entire question, even though it contains a subordinate clause.

By using the Spanish question mark like this, you can easily spot the difference between the different elements of the sentence. Check out these sentences:

¿Puedes decirme dónde está la estación de tren?Can you tell me where the train station is?
¿Sabes cuándo llegará el próximo autobús?Do you know when the next bus will arrive?
¿Me podrías explicar cómo funciona este aparato?Could you explain to me how this device works?
¿Te acuerdas por qué decidimos ir a esa playa?Do you remember why we decided to go to that beach?
¿Has averiguado quién organizó la reunión?Have you found out who organized the meeting?

3. How do I type a Spanish question mark?

Knowing the history of the Spanish question mark and learning how and when to use it is just one thing. But how can you use it if you don’t know how to type it?

an upside down spanish question mark in a notebook

Most physical and digital keyboards don’t have it put out out directly on their keyboard. Depending on the type of device you’re using, there are different ways. Let’s see!

Typing the upside down question mark on a PC (Windows):

On Windows, there are two ways to type it:

  1. Using the Alt code:
    • Turn Num Lock ON.
    • Hold down the Alt key.
    • Type 168 on the numeric keypad.
    • Release the Alt key: ¿
  1. Using the Spanish (Spain) keyboard layout:
    • Set the keyboard layout to Spanish (Spain) using the Languages & Keyboard settings in the Control Panel.
    • Press the “` key (located to the left of number 1 on the keyboard).
    • Press the Shift key and the + key simultaneously.

Typing the inverted question mark on a Mac:

There are also more than one options to type the inverted question mark on a Mac:

  1. Using the built-in keyboard shortcut:
    • Press Option (or Alt) + Shift + /.
  1. Using the Character Viewer:
    • Open the Character Viewer by pressing Control + Command + Spacebar.
    • Search for “inverted question mark” and double-click it to insert it where your cursor is.

Type the Spanish upside-down question mark on a Smartphone (Android & iOS)

On your smartphone, no matter if it’s and Android or an iOS operating system, you can either use the default keyboard and switch to the numeric and symbol keyboard, or use the long-press method.

Whatever suits you!

  1. Using the default keyboard:
    • Switch to the numeric and symbol keyboard by pressing the ?123 key.
    • Tap the = or #+= key to access additional symbols.
    • Find and tap the inverted question mark (¿).
  1. Using the long-press method:
    • Press and hold the question mark key (?).
    • A small pop-up will appear with additional punctuation options.
    • Slide your finger to select the inverted question mark (¿).

4. Other punctuation marks in Spanish

The inverted Spanish question mark isn’t the only interesting punctuation mark in Spanish. The exclamation mark also has its inverted counterpart, that is used at the beginning of an exclamatory sentence.

We made a complex table with all the punctuation mark that’s used in Spanish, showing you the symbol and explaining the use case of it.

SpanishEnglishSymbolUse case in Spanish
PuntoPeriod.Used to mark the end of a sentence.
ComaComma,Used to separate elements within a sentence, items in a list, or clauses.
Punto y comaSemicolon;Used to separate closely related independent clauses or items in a complex list.
Dos puntosColon:Used before explanations, lists, or quotations.
Signo de interrogación (inicio)Inverted question mark¿Used at the beginning of an interrogative sentence.
Signo de interrogación (cierre)Question mark?Used at the end of an interrogative sentence.
Signo de exclamación (inicio)Inverted exclamation mark¡Used at the beginning of an exclamatory sentence.
Signo de exclamación (cierre)Exclamation mark!Used at the end of an exclamatory sentence.
ComillasQuotation marks” ” (or ‘ ‘)Used to enclose direct speech, quotations, or to highlight words/phrases.
ParéntesisParentheses( )Used to include additional information or asides within a sentence.
CorchetesBrackets[ ]Used to include explanatory notes or corrections within quoted text.
GuionHyphenUsed to join words or to indicate word breaks.
RayaEm dashUsed to set off parenthetical information or to indicate dialogue in written text.
Puntos suspensivosEllipsisUsed to indicate an unfinished thought, a trailing off, or a pause.
ApóstrofoApostropheRarely used, primarily to indicate contractions or possessives in borrowed words.
Diéresis/cremaUmlaut/Diaeresis¨Used over the letters ‘u’ in “güe” or “güi” to indicate the ‘u’ should be pronounced.

A few examples can clarify the correct usage of these not-so well known punctuation marks in Spanish:

  • Semicolon: Tengo muchas cosas que hacer; sin embargo, empezaré por limpiar la casa. (I have many things to do; however, I’ll start by cleaning the house.)
  • Inverted exclamation mark: ¡Qué sorpresa verte aquí! (What a surprise to see you here!)
  • Brackets: El artículo fue escrito por López [el periodista favorito de la ciudad]. (The article was written by López [the city’s favorite journalist].)
  • Em dash: María—que siempre llega temprano—hoy se ha retrasado. (María—who always arrives early—was late today.)
  • Apostrophe: El libro es de John’s Bookstore. (The book is from John’s Bookstore.)

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