I have come across several Spanish sentences in various contexts where they put the opening bang (¡) or opening query (¿) in the middle of a sentence. Some examples below:

Cuando tropiece, ¿me ayudará a ponerme en pie?

En el caso de que no puedas ir con ellos, ¿quieres ir con nosotros?

Pablo, ¿adónde vas?

Sin embargo, ¡tengo frío!

Quiero saber ¿cuándo es tu cumpleaños?

Estoy cansado, ¿y tú?

To me, it looks like the unspoken rule is to just identify the question or exclamation "clause" and bracket just that part instead of the whole sentence but I am not sure. Is that the rule? If so, are there any exceptions? How do I identify where to place such an "in-sentence" inverted query or inverted bang?

If my assumption is correct, how would I punctuate the Spanish for "Wow, are you serious?" Like this:

¡Guau!¿Estás serio?

Or like this:

¡Guau! ¿Estás serio?

Or some other way?

  • Generally I don't think most people outside of the IT world won't recognize bang (pling in UK) or query. You may want to change the title to just "inverted punctuation (¿¡)..." or similar. – guifa Dec 25 '14 at 5:53
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's not an unspoken rule, it's actually the set rule. Because Spanish declarative and interrogative phrases are otherwise indistinguishable, the inverted marks came to be used. But oftentimes, the entire sentence isn't actually interrogative or exclamatory. In English, those sentences —in common with embedded questions— can cause people to question (ha) whether they need a question mark or a period because neither seem to be a great fit. Spanish solves this program by only encoding the relevant parts in the marks, just like we only enclose what someone said with quotation marks on either side to avoid ambiguity.

The rule of thumb to go by is ask yourself when the intonation changes to indicate a question/exclamation. Immediately before that word is where you'll use the inverted mark. If used mid-sentence it does not require a capital letter afterwards. When the intonation finishes, close it with a standard mark.

There should always be a space after any closing mark, so in your last example you need a space.

Wow, are you serious? translates to:

¿Vas en serio?

"¡Guau! ¿Estás serio?" means something like "Wow. Are you feeling grave?" but honestly makes no sense. The opening marks just go at the beginning of a sentence. If it's a compound sentence, the marks shall enclose the question/exclamation.

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