Spanish Punctuation and Capitalization
Using punctuation in Spanish is mostly same as English with a few significant differences. Moving from most common to least common:
Called a punto or a punto final in Spanish, the period is the easiest punctuation mark. When you finish a sentence, add a period:
Juan Carlos es mi mejor amigo.
Juan Carlos is my best friend.
Note: While there is some debate in English as to whether you should include a comma before "and" or "or" in a list, you should not do it in Spanish.
The comma, coma, is used the same way in Spanish as it is in English. Some common situations where you should use a comma are lists, clauses, and parenthetical phrases. For example:
Necesito naranjas, leche, pan y huevos.
I need oranges, milk, bread and eggs.
Si estudiara japonés, viajaría a Japón.
If I studied Japanese, I would travel to Japan.
El senador, un hombre respetado, fue elegido por un amplio margen.
The senator, a respected man, was elected by a wide margin.
In many Spanish-speaking countries, periods and commas are used in the exact opposite way as they are in English when writing numbers:
3.000 personas murieron.
3,000 people died.
Recibió un 90,5 en el examen.
She received a 90.5 on the exam.
Note: In the case of the last example the number would be read "noventa punto cinco."
The Spanish question mark, signo de interrogación, is pretty conspicuous. Like English, every question ends with a question mark, but in Spanish questions begin with a question mark as well. An upside-down one that is:
¿Quién es el rey de España?
Who is the king of Spain?
Note: Technically the initial question mark isn't upside-down, but rather rotated 180 degrees.
Before you complain about the difference, think about how much easier it is to read a sentence out loud when you know ahead of time whether it's a question or not.
The exclamation point, signo de exclamación, works just like the question mark. An upside-down exclamation point starts the sentence and a right-side-up one ends it:
¡Qué viva el rey de España!
Long live the king of Spain!
Again, it's much easier to read an exclamatory sentence in Spanish because you know from the outset that you need to change the inflection in your voice.
The initial upside-down question mark or exclamation point may actually come in the middle of the sentence if the first part of the sentence isn't a part of the question or exclamation:
Héctor, ¿me pasas el azúcar?
Héctor, would you pass me the sugar?
Entré en el concurso y
¡yo gané el premio!
I entered the contest and
I won the prize!
In sentences where there is both a question and an exclamation, you may even mix and match the punctuation:
Mariana, ¿dónde estuviste ayer!
Mariana, where were you yesterday!?
There are many ways to indicate that someone is talking in Spanish. The characters used depend mainly on which region you're in. In some places you may see the double quotation marks (comillas) you're used to:
"Quiero ir a la playa", dijo Julio.
"I want to go to the beach," said Julio.
However, you're much more likely to see angular quotes (comillas angulares) in Spanish writing:
«Quiero ir a la playa», dijo Julio.
Note: When rayas are used for spoken words, double quotes are used to indicate thought: —Hola Julio—dijo Antonio. "¿Porque está aquí?" pensó Elena.
And you may also see a simple dash (raya) used to indicate spoken dialogue:
Quiero ir a la playadijo Julio.
To quote a book or movie, you may use either character:
Yo quiero ver "Hombre de Hierro". / Yo quiero ver «Hombre de Hierro».
I want to see "Ironman."
Note: It's possible to use three different quotation marks in the same sentence: «Él dijo, "Ella me llama 'chico tonto' mucho"», dijo Antonio.
To place a quote within a quote, start with angular quotes and then switch to double quotes:
«Elena me llama "chico tonto" mucho», dijo Julio.
"Elena calls me 'dumb kid' a lot," said Julio.
Notice that commas and periods fall outside of quotations in Spanish where they typically come inside the quotes in English.
Note: Angular quotes are special characters that are not found on the typical keyboard. Typing the less than sign (<) or greater than sign (>) twice is not equivalent.
Though they are less common, the colon (dos puntos), the semicolon (punto y coma), the hyphen (guión), parenthesis (paréntesis), and the ellipsis (puntos suspensivos) are mainly used the same way in Spanish as they are in English:
Él tiene tres amigos: Rafael, Carlos, y Ana María.
He has three friends: Rafael, Carlos, and Ana María.
No salí; quería mirar más.
I didn't leave; I wanted to watch more.
Los problemas son socio-económicos.
The problems are socio-economic.
Adolfo (el heroe) regresa para salvarla.
Adolfo (the hero) returns to save her.
Pero pensaba que
But I thought that
Unnecessary Punctuation: Apostrophes
There are several "extra" Spanish punctuation marks, but one English mark you won't be needing in Spanish is the apostrophe. Apostrophes are used with the letter "s" to indicate possession or in contractions to indicate omitted letters. We don't do either of these things in Spanish:
Mark's house is very small.
La casa de Mark es muy pequeña.
It's a wonderful city.
Es una ciudad maravillosa.
We've learned a lot this year.
Hemos aprendido mucho este año.
Spanish uses capital letters far less often than English. Let's start with the situations you're familiar with:
Do Use Capital Letters
when starting a sentence:
Me gusta helado. Mi tío también.
I like ice cream. My uncle too.
with proper nouns:
Note: With proper nouns, only the name itself is capitalized, not descriptive words: Quiero subir el monte Everest.
Voy a conducir a Canadá con Sara en su Mazda.
I'm going to drive to Canada with Sara in her Mazda.
with abbreviated personal titles:
El Sr. Montero conoce a la Dra. Rodríguez.
Mr. Montero knows Dr. Rodríguez.
But there are many situations where a word that would be capitalized in English is not in Spanish.
Don't Use Capital Letters
with days and months:
Hoy es viernes, el 22 de mayo.
Today is Friday, May 22.
Note: El Islam is often capitalized in Spanish.
Él es cristiano pero estudia el budismo.
He is Christian but he studies Buddhism.
Soy estadounidense y Sara es canadiense.
I'm American and Sara is Canadian.
Pueden hablar inglés y francés.
They can speak English and French.
Ella dijo que yo lo hice.
She said that I did it.
with personal titles:
El señor Montero conoce a la doctora Rodríguez.
Mister Montero knows Doctor Rodríguez.
Titles of Books, Movies, Etc.
When writing out the titles of books and movies capitalize only the first word (and any proper nouns):
Cien años de soledad
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Lo que el viento se llevó
Gone with the Wind
Note: Book covers and movie posters will not necessarily follow this rule.