I'm very much new to Spanish. I'm seeing exclamation and question marks are being placed on both the places, at the start and at the end of the sentence (the one at the start is upside down to the English one).

  • Why there are punctuation at start?
  • Is it important? Can't last one be enough?
  • Why is even there?

4 Answers 4


Intonation is different in English and Spanish.

Let's consider questions first. In English, the intonation of a declaration and a sentence are identical until you get to the last few words. At that point, the intonation rises for a question, and falls for a declaration. The question mark at the end of a sentence is sufficient to warn the person reading out loud to raise the intonation at the right time.

There is a particular form of questions in English that illustrate this intonation nicely. It's the form where a declaration has a negative question tacked on to the end of it. Example: "You went to the movies yesterday, didn't you?"

In Spanish, the intonation of a question can be different than it is for a declaration right from the beginning of the sentence. There could be a rise in intonation at the point of the main verb, with a lot of subordinate clauses to go before the end. In addition, two sentences that use excatly the same words can be a question in one case and a declaration in the other case. The only difference is the intonation.

Example: "¿Fuiste al cine ayer?" The first word of this sentence has to be intoned in the way that marks a question. The example isn't long enough to illustrate the problem, but you get the idea.

A person reading Spanish out loud needs to know that the sentence is a question right from the outset. Otherwise the intonation won't come out right, and the people listening to what is being read will not understand that it's a question. The upside down question mark meets this need. It's a need that doesn't exist in English, at least to the same degree.

The upside down exclamation mark is analogous, but I can't think of an exclamation that's long enough so that the final exclamation mark wouldn't do the job.

  • 1
    Most languages change the intonation from the beginning when asking questions and I think this answer is just a personal opinion rather than an explanation. Do you have any links or information supporting your answer?
    – user1025
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 18:57
  • 1
    Furthermore, the question tags at the end of sentences that you mention in English are exactly the same in Spanish regarding intonation. Even the question marks illustrate so. "You went to the movies yesterday, didn't you?" -> "Fuiste ayer al cine, ¿no?" Anyway, the correct answer is that the Spanish question marks are just a convention. There is no rationale behind. And frankly, I don't agree with you that Spanish is different from other languages when asking and intonation, neither linguists do.
    – user1025
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 21:50
  • I don't think so. It's a convention, to be sure. But hardly a convention with no rationale. Notice where the upside down question is in your example. It's at precisely the point where the intonation has to indicate a question. Coincidence? I'm not convinced. Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 1:38
  • 2
    Of course there is rationale behind: to mark the beginning and end of a question. But that's it. It's not related to the "unique difference in intonation" of questions in Spanish. Everything you said can be applied to virtually every language. In my example, the change in intonation happens exactly in the same point in Spanish and English: "didn't you?", "¿no?". Why does Spanish use "¿" and English doesn't? Convention. Actually every language would benefit from the "¿" sign, and a more interesting question would be "why don't other languages use opening question marks?".
    – user1025
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 8:19
  • Why there are punctuation at start?

This is just a convention established in 1754 by the Spanish Academy of Language. More info here.

  • Is it important? Can't last one be enough?

It's not important. It's absolutely mandatory in Spanish. Sometimes you will find only the last especially on the Internet, when texting, chatting, etc... but that's considered incorrect/vulgar Spanish. You won't find any newspaper article, book, etc... with that incorrect way of writing.

  • Why is even there?

As I said before, just a convention started in 1754 that still remains.


Punctuation in the form of ¡, !, ¿, ? is the proper way to let the reader take tone and mood into their interpretation of the sentence, since it is clear at the very beginning.

Important yes, if you merely place the last one, what would be an exclamative sentence would not be as evident until the end.

If your concern is that it seems redundant, I should say it is very useful, especially in exclamative sentences. :)

  • Is last one important? Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 4:24
  • You need some punctuation to mark the end of the sentence. Using the question mark or exclamation point completes the pair, and make them work like brackets. Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 6:25

The proper way to indicate an intonation is using "¿"/"¡" at the begin of the sentence, and "?"/"!" at the finish of it. But nowdays, with Internet and other languages influence, this is missing.

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