History of Upside Down Punctuation in Spanish Language
Updated: Jul 19
When studying Spanish one of the basic topics you will learn early on in your Spanish journey is about upside down punctuation. You will be introduced to it on lesson one, when you are learning Spanish essential expressions. You are probably familiar with the following examples, these are typical expressions that you will come across when learning basic Spanish:
What is happening?.....¿qué tal?
You may have noticed the unique punctuation in these expressions. Spanish uses upside down punctuation at the beginning of a question or exclamation.
Unlike what happens in other languages, exclamation and question marks are double signs in Spanish. Therefore, it is incorrect not to use them at the opening of an interrogative or exclamatory sentence.
This is one of the many differences between English and Spanish. As an English speaker, this would be a new concept for you and it will take a little practice to get used to. Especially when writing the graphemes “¡” and “¿”. You will find yourself rewriting them at the beginning because they won’t look right. However, if you keep up your practice, you will soon be writing the upside down punctuation as a native.
Who determined the use of upside down punctuation?
As a Spanish student, you have probably heard of La Real Academia Española (RAE). If you haven’t, then this is a start point for you to start learning about this important institution in the Spanish language.
The RAE was founded in 1713 in Madrid, Spain. Under the reign of Felipe V and at the initiative of Juan Manuel Fernández Pacheco y Zúñiga.
Its main mission is to safeguard the changes experienced by the Spanish language in its constant adaptation to the needs of its native speakers.
This institution works at the service of the Spanish language and determines what becomes Spanish grammar and orthography rules.
When did it all begin?
In 1738, the RAE made the decision to publish “Ortografía Española”, which elaborates on the rules, criteria of pronunciation, etymology and usage of the language, and it already teaches all aspects of current spellings.
In 1754, the RAE published the second edition of the “Ortografía de la Real Academia”. It is here when it was formally established the rule of adding an upside-down question and exclamation mark at the start of the sentence to questions and exclamations.
The use of upside down punctuation has been part of the language since then. And as it has been mentioned before, the mission of this institution is to ensure that the natural evolution of the language is preserved.
What about now?
Nowadays, with the advancements of technology, and the new and fast ways of communicating we have available to us. We are seeing a much more relaxed way of Spanish written communication. This translates into the omission of the upside down punctuation, which has become an informal way of writing in Spanish. Its only purpose is to write/communicate faster. However, this isn’t a formal or accepted Spanish written communication by the RAE
As a Spanish native speaker, I can relate to not always wanting to use the upside down punctuation or even accents sometimes. It is so much easier and faster to type or write without them! However, as a Spanish teacher, I can tell you, it is crucial we don’t fall into these bad habits when learning Spanish. It is important to correct your practice early in your journey, this way you are building a strong foundation to continue to learn Spanish.
How do I type the upside down punctuation?
If you are a Mac user you can press the following key combinations at the same time:
Option + 1 = upside down exclamation point (¡)
Shift + Option + ? = upside down question mark (¿)
If you are a Windows user:
Alt + 0161 = upside down exclamation point (¡)
Alt + 0191 = upside down question mark (¿)
I encourage you to visit La Real Academia Española website to learn more about this topic, the history of this beautiful language and to learn the latest about the evolution of Spanish. They also have a very trusted online dictionary that I highly recommend to all students.
I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about the history of upside down punctuation in Spanish. Remember you are learning a new language and it is important to speak and write it in a proper manner. After all, Spanish is different than your own native language and that is what makes it exciting!
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