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?

Me estaba preguntando cuál 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.

¿Existe alguna explicación para esto?

  • 5
    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. Nov 16, 2011 at 1:01
  • 2
    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 Nov 17, 2011 at 7:31

5 Answers 5


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 it 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.


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.


  • 6
    Aha now this is a great answer! It covers both origins and usage, ties them together, and provides dates and references for them! Nov 16, 2011 at 10:00
  • My pleasure! :-)
    – Jose Luis
    Nov 16, 2011 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, 2012 at 19:01
  • 1
    @pferor Hmm I had never seen that mark. Do you have a reference?
    – Jose Luis
    Feb 7, 2012 at 19:08
  • 1
    Great answer. You may want to add in that the mark was originally intended for disambiguating, but then later on people used them so much that it because standard even when there existed no ambiguity. Dec 12, 2014 at 21:45

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.

  • 8
    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, 2011 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. Nov 16, 2011 at 9:57
  • 1
    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. Nov 16, 2011 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. Nov 16, 2011 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, 2011 at 21:14

En español marcamos las interrogaciones exclusivamente con la entonación. No tenemos marca sintáctica, como en inglés que tienen el auxiliar do/did y cierta inversión del orden.

Por lo tanto para los hispanolectores es realmente útil el signo de apertura, pues nos permite captar la intención del emisor apenas comienza la oración, tal como lo hacen en inglés.

Entonces en este caso la norma no es sólo otro "abuso de poder" de la RAE, sino que es una auténtica herramienta de buena redacción, que facilita y perfecciona la comunicación.

  • In Slavic languages you can also make a question from a sentence just by intonation, and nobody is confused. Your explanation is biased. Sep 15, 2021 at 21:12

The most usual theory about the origin of question marks, according to several sources, may have derived from an abbreviation of the latin quaestio, shortened to "Qo" and then the curve of the Q adapted to a single character (much as the French/Latin "et" became &). However, the initial question mark is most likely an invention of the Real Academia Española for the reasons previously cited in other answers. The "flipping" of the initial sign was most likely done to distinguish its initial character. The origin of the exclamation point, according to an online article in the Smithsonian magazine website, is also Latin, a superimposed writing of the expression of joy "io" and again, the adaptation to Spanish was by a fiat of the RAE.


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?!

Source - http://lema.rae.es/dpd/srv/search?id=bH8aKhoE1D6eF5Wp4C#3

3. Usos especiales
b) 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?!

  • 4
    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. Nov 16, 2011 at 9:56
  • 1
    In that case I like to use the interrobang and the gnaborretni (⸘Que ha dicho qué‽)
    – pferor
    Feb 7, 2012 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. Jun 23, 2014 at 6:54
  • 6
    @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, 2014 at 0:51

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