Spanish Punctuation and Capitalization

Spanish punctuation is similar to English punctuation. Most of the punctuation marks and rules in Spanish are the same in English. However, there are exceptions which are designed to make general comprehension and intonation easier for reading and speaking Spanish. Below we'll explore each of the different Spanish punctuation marks and when and how to use them.

. punto, punto final (period)

The punto (period), as in English, is placed at the end of a sentence. However, in Spanish it's also used as a comma to indicate a pause is required, to separate items in a list, and in numbers in place of the comma, and vice versa as shown in the example below.

She earned $20,000.00
Ella ganó $20.000,00.

, coma (comma)

In Spanish, the comma is only used to indicate a short pause is required. It is not used as liberally as it is in the English language. The comma is omitted between the second-to-last item and the word "and" in Spanish, and other instances where it is commonly used in English.

When you go to the store, buy milk, carrots, and bread.
Cuando vaya a la tienda, compra leche, zanahorias y pan.

« » " " comillas (quotation marks)

Quotation marks (comillas) are used to indicate someone is talking. In Spanish, both angular quotation marks (« ») and regular quotation marks (" ") are used, however, angular quotation marks are more popular in Spain. In English, punctuation is always placed inside quotation marks, in Spanish punctuation is placed on the outside of quotation marks. Consider the following example. (Note: In Spanish, a simple dash — is often used to indicate spoken dialogue instead of quotation marks.)

Juan asked, "How much do you love me?" And Veronica said, "A little bit."
Juan preguntó, ¿"Cuanto me amas"? Y Veronica dijo, "Un poquito".

¿? signos de interrogación (question marks)

In Spanish, question marks (signos de interrogación) are placed at both ends of a sentence, or a statement within a sentence, to frame a question.

If you already had food, why did you go to the store?
Si ya tenía comida, ¿por qué fuiste a la tienda?

¡! signos de exclamación (exclamation points)

Exclamation points (signos de exclamación) are placed at both ends of an exclamatory phrase or sentence. If a phrase is exclamatory and a question, an exclamation point is added to the beginning of the phrase and a question mark at the end of the phrase. Consider the following examples.

Why did you do that?
¡Por qué hiciste eso?

— raya (dash)

In Spanish, a dash (raya) is used to indicated a pause or in place of quotation marks. Review the following examples.

— hey! Listen to me.
— ¡oye! Escuchame.
"Are you going to the supermarket?" he asked her. She responded, "I still don't know."
—¿Vas al supermercado?— le preguntó. Ella respondio —No sé.—

- guión (hyphen)

In Spanish, the main time a hyphen (guión) is used is to combine two adjectives or two nouns to create a compound word. Review the following examples.

She teaches a course that's theoretical and practical.
Ella enseña un curso teórico-práctico.
I'm going to take the Miami-to-Rio de Janeiro flight.
Voy a tomar el vuelo Miami-Rio de Janeiro.

Other Spanish Punctuation Marks

The following are additional punctuation marks used in Spanish that follow similar usage rules as their English counterparts.

  • ' — comillas simples — single quotation marks
  • ( ) — paréntesis — parenthesis
  • [ ] — corchetes, parénteses cuadrados — brackets
  • { } — corchetes — braces, curly brackets
  • * — asterisco — asterisk
  • ... — puntos suspensivos — ellipsis

Capitalization in Spanish

Capital letters are used far less in Spanish than they are in English. Below we'll explore when to use capital letters in Spanish, and when not to.

Capital letters are used when starting a sentence.

I like going to the movies.
Me gusta ir al cine.

Capital letters are used with proper nouns.

I'm going to the movies with Martha.
Voy al cine con Marta.

Capital letters are used with abbreviated personal titles.

Mr. Fernandez visits Dr. Lopez.
El Sr. Fernández visita al Dr. López.

Capital letters are NOT used with days and months.

The play starts this Friday.
La obra se inicia este viernes.

Capital letters are NOT used with nationalities.

I'm American and John is Canadian.
Soy estadounidense y John es canadiense.

Capital letters are NOT used with religions.

She is Buddhist but studies Christianity.
Ella es budista pero estudia el cristianismo.

Capital letters are NOT used with languages.

He can speak German, Spanish, and French
Él puede hablar alemán, español y francés

Capital letters are NOT used with personal titles.

Mister Fernandez visits Doctor Lopez.
El señor Fernández visita al doctor López.

Capital letters are NOT used with "yo" (I).

He said that I did it.
Él dijo que yo lo hice.