What is a Spanish question mark?
The upside-down question mark
The only languages that use upside-down question marks (inverted question marks) are Spanish and Catalan. As Spanish is more widely spoken, we will look at all our examples in Spanish.
In Spanish, questions require both opening and closing question marks. The opener is upside down, the closing one a standard question mark.
The use of inverted question marks in Spanish was adopted in the 18th century to make the written word more clear and easy to understand. Spanish syntax does not always clearly demonstrate whether a sentence is, from the start, a question. It is a clever and extremely useful way to instantly recognise that a question is being asked.
¿Hay un banco cerca de la estación? (Is there a bank near the station?)
However, without the inverted and normal question marks, this sentence reads
Hay un banco cerca de la estación (There is a bank near the station)
This example demonstrates how useful – and at times essential – the inverted question mark is in the Spanish language.
It’s important to know when to place the inverted and standard question marks in Spanish text:
- Hola ¿como estas? (Hello, how are you?)
- Ella me pregunta ¿que hora es? (She asks me “what time is it?”)
Note that the question marks contain only the question, not the greeting or other surrounding information.
In Spanish informal writing, the opening inverted question mark is often omitted, but this is grammatically incorrect, and should be avoided.
How do you make an upside-down question mark?
If using a PC, hold down shift + ctrl + alt + question mark on your keyboard to get the upside-down question mark. Or, if using Word, go to Insert drop-down menu, then Symbol and you’ll find the inverted question mark there.
If using a Mac, hold down shift + alt (or option) + question mark.