Spanish punctuation

As a general rule the punctuation of Spanish and English is very similar. However, there are a number of conventions which are well worth bearing in mind. The first thing that most people would recognise is that Spanish direct questions always begin with an inverted question mark, ¿ . You can find this under Symbol in the Insert drop-down menu on the Word toolbar. Similarly exclamations in Spanish are always preceded by the inverted exclamation mark, ¡ . This symbol is also to be found in Symbol under Insert in the Word drop-down menu. It may also be worth remembering that if you press Number Lock on your keyboard; Alt + 168 gives ¿ and Alt + 173 gives ¡.

Abbreviations

Spanish, like English, uses many abbreviations. However, contemporary English writing tends to omit the point, or full stop, in many cases. The convention in Spanish is to use the point with abbreviations, so write etc. instead of etc in all cases.

Other common abbreviations are p.ej. (= por ejemplo), apdo. (apartado de Correos), Avda. (=Avenida). However, not all apparent abbreviations have points. Many are acronyms, the initials of an organization, product etc, and are pronounced as the sum of their letters like a word, examples are AVE for the high speed train, OTAN the Spanish for Nato and Renfe for the Spanish state railway company.

Direct speech

The most common way of indicating dialogue in Spanish is the use of the long dash:

— ¿Es Ud el nuevo empleado? — le pregunté.
— Sí — respondió.

Quotations

When quoting word for word what someone has said the use of double angle brackets is common: << >>. However, it is worth noting that the use of inverted commas is becoming increasingly common. As in English with inverted commas, << >> are also used to highlight a word within a text, where you may want to draw attention to it because it is strange or remarkable in some way.

The colon

The colon is used in Spanish in much the same way as in English. There is an important instance where conventions in Spanish differ from those of British English. When starting a letter with the equivalent of Dear Mr Smith, a colon must be used:

Estimado Sr Smith:
Estimada Sra González:
Querida Marta:

(In American English, of course a colon is used in exactly the same way as in Spanish.)

The comma

The use of the comma is similar in Spanish and English usage. But as in other European languages, there is an important difference in its use in numbers and decimals. (Mexico follows the American use of the point and comma in numbers.)

A point is used to indicate thousands; for example one thousand is written:

British and US Spanish
1,000 1.000

A comma is used to show a decimal:

British and US Spanish
1.275 1,275

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