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What is the proper placement of the inverted question mark in sentences that are not completely questions? A common example:

Hello, how are you?

(¿)Hola, (¿)cómo estás?

Or:

That's great, isn't it?

(¿)Eso es maravilloso, (¿)verdad?

I believe I have seen both forms. Is one preferred over the other? And if the latter form is preferred, how does this affect punctuation before the inverted question mark? Should the previous phrase be turned into a stand-alone sentence with proper ending punctuation, or is it okay to use a comma? Likewise, should the second phrase be considered a separate sentence, and therefore capitalized?

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Possible duplicate: Inverted question marks –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 6:49
    
@Joze: With your edit to the original question they may be duplicates... but I think the body of the question needs to be updated, too, not just the title. –  Flimzy Nov 17 '11 at 6:55
    
I figured just copying the answer. I dunno if that is forbidden though. I guess they are different questions... –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 6:57
    
@Joze: I don't think it's forbidden... your answer may answer both questions, but the proper handling there is probably to mark this a duplicate (as you've already voted for). And/or update your answer to more directly address this question when you post it here. –  Flimzy Nov 17 '11 at 6:59
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I really think the origin and usage of ¿ should be two separate questions though they're obviously related and are fine mentioning other. Otherwise we risk the TL;DR effect. All the usage subtleties belong here. All the reasoning behind belong on the "origin" question. –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 7:15
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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Spanish suggests the open question mark but modern Spanish doesn't enforce its use. Anyway, be careful where it goes. Using your examples, you could say:

Hola, ¿cómo estás?

And also

Eso es maravilloso, ¿verdad?

You don't use the open question mark at the beginning because the entire sentence is not a question, actually Hola (within a greeting) is an exclamation, so the proper (and strict) way is:

¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?

So, answering your questions:

  1. It's kind of 'well-written' if you use opening question marks. But it is not strictly necessary UNLESS you are writing legal documents (then it's a must).

  2. Yes, it affects the punctuation. For this purpose you can just see the ¿ and ? as dots.

  3. In examples like yours it's not strictly necessary to use a comma but it's recommended UNLESS you are ending previous sentence with exclamation (as within ¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?).

  4. Considering the second phrase as separate sentence depends on the context, but take care of the capitalization. You capitalize only if it's considered as a separate sentence or if is preceded by an exclamation or another question mark.

¡Hola! ¿Cómo te ha ido?

Which translates as "Hi, how you doing?", and:

Eso es correcto, ¿verdad?

Which translates as "That's true, right?". In this case, "right" is interpreted within the context and therefore doesn't get capitalized.

Hope it helps.

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I'm sorry but it is enforced in official documents and articles. It is still important for the understanding of the phrase. It may be ignored talking to friends or SMS or messenger. But not while writing seriously. –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 6:51
    
Sure, I already wrote that on my answer - UNLESS you are writing legal documents (then its a must). - –  Randolf R-F Nov 17 '11 at 6:52
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I meant articles aswell, or a academic paper. Not really limited to legal documents. Anything that is outside of the informal must use them. –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 6:54
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I would say use them when you're writing formal stuff, things you want to be treated seriously. If there's an expectation of writing correctly, us it. In informal chatty stuff you can be as lazy as you want, like leaving out capital letters and apostrophes and full stops in English. –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 7:23
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The proper use of the inverted question mark is always at the beginning of the sentence. The example you provided would actually be : Hola! ¿Como esta? It would be considered two separate sentences as "Hola" is traditional greeting and therefore makes a statement, Como esta? is the actual question.

The inversion also holds true in the placement of the exclamation point as well, one inverted at the beginning of the sentence & one at the end.

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Not necessary roman. "Cómo estás" introduce the subject so it's unnecessary the use of "ousted". Also, the contraction "Ud." Isn't that common. Actually the use of "usted" or "tu" is prevalent. –  Randolf R-F Nov 17 '11 at 3:21
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Both the ¿? and ¡! signs encapsulate statements that make an exclamation or a question or both. Both signs have the same rules.

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 left 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.

Addressing your specific questions:

There is no preference between the statement form and the sentence form. There must always be a comma before the Question in a statement form, or it will change the tone of the sentence. Contrary to what Randolf said. The comma is required if the question is in a statement form, you can read the sources for a more specific explanation.

It is okay to use the comma, but you can also make it a stand alone sentence. Like this:

Eso es maravilloso. ¿Verdad?

Sources:

Profesor en línea

Uso de los signos de exclamación e interrogación

Signos de puntuación

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But the usage of both signs is relevant for the question, since both signs have the same rules. –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 7:00
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Then I'd suggest explaining that in the preamble... "Both the ¿ and ¡ use the same rules..." Because as written, it isn't immediately clear what "both signs" you're referring to in your opening sentence. –  Flimzy Nov 17 '11 at 7:03
    
Edit done. And I addressed your specific questions at the end. :-) –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 7:06
    
I wouldn't choose the word "statement" because that's usually considered to be the opposite of a question. Statements end in full stops (periods). I want to suggest instead the words "phrase" or "clause" but I'm not 100% sure what is best. –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 7:25
    
Hmmm.... I don't know either... english is not my native language so that nuance is a bit foreign to me. Feel free to edit the question as you see fit. :-) –  Joze Nov 17 '11 at 7:31
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