Take the 2-minute tour ×
Spanish Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Spanish language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

English

I was wondering what the reason is that the inverted exclamation mark ¡ and the inverted question mark ¿ were introduced into the Spanish language and not into most other languages.

Any explanations for this?


Spanish

Me estaba preguntando cual es la razón por la que el signo invertido de exclamación ¡ y el signo invertido de interrogación ¿ fueron introducidos en el idioma español pero no en la mayoría de los otros lenguajes.

¿Alguna explicación para esto?

share|improve this question
4  
I don't know about Spanish, but the inverted exclamation mark was proposed as a symbol for irony by John Wilkins in 1666. Perhaps he borrowed the symbol from Spanish or perhaps Spanish borrowed it from him or perhaps this is a case of convergent evolution. –  Jon Ericson Nov 16 '11 at 1:01
    
I would recommend against trying to include everything about these symbols in one question. Origin and usage are better served as individual separate questions. Obviously some usage needs to be here but we don't want to suffer from TL;DR –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 7:31
    
@JonEricson Not exactly. The irony mark (؟) is not the same as the Spanish inverted question mark (¿). –  pferor Dec 13 '11 at 13:32
1  
@pferor: If you peruse the article I linked to, you'll see that something like the mirrored question mark was first proposed by Marcel Bernhardt, a French poet, in 1899. There have been a large number of proposed irony and sarcasm marks. But these comments are much less about Spanish and much more about typography. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Dec 13 '11 at 16:54
    
@JonEricson Thanks for the clarification and also thanks for the link to a great site. (your name sounds very familiar to me for some reason) –  pferor Dec 13 '11 at 23:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 44 down vote accepted

Both signs encapsulate statements that make an exclamation or a question or both.

In the usage of both it is very important to have the following considerations:

  • They have to be used at the beginning and the end of the statement.
  • It is mandatory in spanish to use them. It will not be ignored as in the spelling of other languages that use only the ending mark because they have other grammatical rules that help identify the beginning of the statement (question or exclamation) For example in spanish you can ask: ¿Estás comiendo en el restaurante? and the equivalent in English would be Are you eating at the restaurant? In this case, in English, you have the word order that lets you know that it is a question. You can formulate exactly the same sentence in spanish Estás comiendo en el restaurante. that would have another meaning and tone.
  • You never put a point at the end of the statement. The question or exclamation mark already delimits the end.

It was implemented in 1754 on the second edition of Ortografía de la real academia because there are many cases in which you can't tell if the statement is a question or not, even if the ending has a mark, you won't know where the question begins. For instance:

Susana se fue de la casa muy tarde y después se fue a donde sus amigos por la noche?

In this case what is the question? Did Susana leave the house late? Did she go to her friends house? Did she go at night?

Possible Fix:

Susana se fue de la casa muy tarde, después, ¿se fue a donde sus amigos por la noche?

There are other alternative fixes. But I'm too lazy to write them.

Nota: Please remember that is important to know that these are statements when inside a sentence, and sentences when on their own!!! Examples:

Statement form:

Susana, ¿has decidido qué vas a hacer?
Pepe, ¡cuánto me alegro de que hayas venido!
Si no responde, ¿qué le vamos a decir?

Sentence form:

¿Has decidido qué vas a hacer, Susana?
¡Cuánto me alegro de que hayas venido, Pepe!
¿Qué le vamos a decir si no responde?

There are other uses for the inverted question marks, for instance to express irony or doubt, but in those cases it is mandatory the use of parentheses.

Examples:

José Pérez Segovia es el presidente (?) de la asociación.

Tendría mucha gracia (?) que llegara a la cita con un día de retraso.

And exclamation marks to express surprise or irony:

Un joven de treinta y seis años (!) fue el ganador del concurso de composición.

Está más gordo que nunca, pero dice que sólo pesa ochenta kilos (!) en la báscula de su casa.

If someone finds better examples don't hesitate to edit the answer.

Sources:

Profesor en línea

Uso de los signos de exclamación e interrogación

Signos de puntuación

share|improve this answer
3  
Aha now this is a great answer! It covers both origins and usage, ties them together, and provides dates and references for them! –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 10:00
    
Thanks a lot @Joze for your complete answer. –  dusan Nov 16 '11 at 12:07
    
My pleasure! :-) –  Joze Nov 16 '11 at 13:05
    
Concerning irony, the irony mark (؟) is also valid: Tendría mucha gracia que llegara a la cita con un día de retraso؟. –  pferor Feb 7 '12 at 19:01
1  
@pferor Hmm I had never seen that mark. Do you have a reference? –  Joze Feb 7 '12 at 19:08

It was introduced in the Grammar in 1754 but was not generally used until years later.

You can start with one sign (¡) and close with the other (?) if the meaning is mixed, but using both is preferred.

¡Que ha dicho qué?

!¿Que ha dicho qué?!

share|improve this answer
3  
This would be a really great answer if you can provide a reference to back up this date. A web link or a book will do. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 9:56
    
In that case I like to use the interrobang and the gnaborretni (⸘Que ha dicho qué‽) –  pferor Feb 7 '12 at 18:57
    
This is incorrect. The correct (and only correct) way is to use different marks on either side. Hence both ¿que ha dicho qué! and ¡que ha dicho qué? are correct. Doubling them is not correct. –  guifa Jun 23 at 6:54
    
@guifa please, read the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, interrogación y exclamación (signos de), point 3.b where it states that: "Cuando el sentido de una oración es interrogativo y exclamativo a la vez, pueden combinarse ambos signos, abriendo con el de exclamación y cerrando con el de interrogación, o viceversa: ¡Cómo te has atrevido? / ¿Cómo te has atrevido!; o, preferiblemente, abriendo y cerrando con los dos signos a la vez: ¿¡Qué estás diciendo!? / ¡¿Qué estás diciendo?!" –  Serabe Jun 25 at 0:51

Let's take these two sentences as in before 1754:

Estás herido y necesitas ayuda.

Estás herido y necesitas ayuda?

We can't know if it's a question or affirmative sentence until we read the question mark or full stop at the end. In long sentences it would be quite confusing to understand the meaning of them as in Spanish there are no auxiliary verbs or changes on the order in question sentences, using both signs makes clear from the beginning which kind of sentence it is. For the exclamation mark is the same, the reader can know the tone of the sentence since the first word or it.

share|improve this answer
1  
I really love this rule in Spanish, in other languages sometimes it's just painful to rethink the whole long sentence in your mind after finding that the character was not just talking but yelling. –  JoulSauron Nov 16 '11 at 8:32
    
I'm only voting this down because it's not answering the OP's question about the origin of the symbols but answering a different question about their usage. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 9:57
    
But I'm voting it up because it does provide an explanation for the need of the symbols, i.e. why would the symbols originate in the first place. –  Juan A. Navarro Nov 16 '11 at 10:07
    
@JuanAntonio: Yes I did hesitate before downvoting for that reason. But then Joze's answer covered it all in a great answer. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 10:27
    
@hippietrail his question was "what was the reason the inverted exclamation mark ¿ and the inverted question mark ¡ were introduced" and that's what I tried to answer somehow.@ Joze's answer takes my point and extends it. –  JoulSauron Nov 16 '11 at 21:14

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.