A Guide to Spanish Punctuation, Capitalization, and Accents

A Guide to Spanish Punctuation, Capitalization, and Accents

Are you a grammar whiz in your native language? The same may not be said about your second language. In this article, you'll master Spanish punctuation, capitalization, and accents.

It’s easy to think that Spanish punctuation will be the same as it is in English. There are, however, a few differences that a language learner should keep in mind. All the same parts will make an appearance. They use commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points just like we do. A few minor alterations in how these punctuation marks are used will be what sets your Spanish apart. Read on to take your Spanish to the next level with proper Spanish punctuation.

Cast metal type pieces of varying letters

Upside Down Marks

One symbol that we don’t see in English is an upside down question mark and exclamation point. Both appear in Spanish. They simply mark the beginning of a question or exclamation. These marks can be helpful because they allow a speaker to indicate where a question or exclamation starts. This eliminates any guess work or confusion. The beginning mark can be placed at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle of one. Here are some examples.

¿Cómo estás? - How are you?
¡Estoy bien! - I’m great!
Y tú, ¿cómo the llamas? - And you, what is your name?
No me reconoces, pero, ¡soy Pedro! - You don’t recognize me, but I’m Pedro!

As you can see in the examples above, it is possible to begin a question or exclamation in the middle of a sentence using the upside down mark. In this instance, there is always a comma placed before the mark.

An open dictionary with the word 'focus' in focus

Comma Similarities

Luckily, with commas, there are a few similarities that make the work of learning Spanish punctuation a bit easier. Here are some ways we use commas in English that you can also expect to find in Spanish.

-With introductory clauses or phrases
When she finished the work, she sat on the couch.
Al terminar el trabajo, se sentó en el sofá.

-To set off clauses or phrases
Sarah, a talented painter, finished the painting.
Sara, una pintora talentosa, terminó el cuadro.

-With two or more coordinate adjectives describing the same noun
He’s a smart, funny guy from a good family.
Es un tío inteligente, cómico y de buena familia.

- With compound sentences and before conjunctions
We’ll go to the store, and we’ll buy milk.
Vamos a la tienda, y compramos leche.

-When addressing others
Diego, can you meet me there at 6:00?
Diego, ¿podríamos encontrarnos allí a las 6:00?

-With quotes
“I don’t know,” he said.
—No sé, dijo.

In Spanish, it is more common to see an em dash (—) to introduce dialogue or «guillemets».

Books standing next to one another

Comma Differences

There are a few subtle differences with how we use commas in English and Spanish. Knowing them will make your Spanish seem elevated and sophisticated. Here are some comma rules in Spanish.

-The Oxford comma is never used
We went to the store for bread, milk, and eggs.
Fuimos a la tienda por pan, leche y huevos.

-Before an upside down question mark or exclamation
As explained prior, if your beginning question mark or exclamation point falls in the middle of a sentence, it should have a comma before it. This is something we don’t have in English since we don’t use these special punctuation marks.

-As decimals in numbers
When writing out numbers in Spain, the comma is used where a decimal point would be in English. Spaniards place a decimal point where we would put a comma in English. In Latin America, they use the same system as we do. In case you’re traveling to Spain, here are some examples:

$9.99 - 9,99 €
$1,000.00 - 1.000,00 €

An old schoolbook open to a page about the alphabet


Spanish capitalization rules can take some getting used to for native speakers of English. Here are some general guidelines:

-Capitalize proper nouns
All names are capitalized, as in the case of Javier, Francisco, Brenda, or Lola, for example.

-Capitalize cardinal directions
North, south, east, and west are capitalized in Spanish if referring to directions. As an adjective, we would use a lower case letter.

Go north!
¡Ve hacia el Norte!

I want to see the north of Spain.
Quiero conocer el norte de España.

-Use lowercase letters for names of streets and other generic monuments and landmarks
In this case, however, the name of the monument, street, or landmark should have an uppercase letter. This rule also extends to geographic phenomena like rivers and lakes.

Turn on San Antonio Street.
Gira en la calle San Antonio.

I visited Saint Mary’s Church.
Visité la iglesia de Santa María.

Let’s go to Lake Titicaca.
Vamos al lago Titicaca.

-Do not capitalize days of the week or months of the year
In Spanish, these are never capitalized. For example, March will be written marzo and Tuesday, martes.

-Capitalize the names of countries but not languages or the people who live there
All countries should be capitalized in Spanish, such as España (Spain). The language español (Spanish) is not capitalized, and when speaking about españoles or españolas (Spaniards), those words should not be capitalized either. Consider the following example:

En Francia, los franceses hablan francés.
In France, the French speak French.

-Capitalize only the first word of titles
The first word of books, movies, and other works are capitalized, but each word after that is to start with a lower case letter. The only exception would be if there is a proper noun elsewhere in the title. Here are some examples:

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cien años de soledad

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland
Las aventuras de Alicia en el país de las maravillas

Keyboard with a key that has the Spanish flag on it


Knowing when to use accent marks plagues Spanish students everywhere! I often tell my students to memorize words that have and do not have accents, and I do believe that this is the easiest way to tackle the issue. There are, however, rules that you can use to tell whether a word will have an accent. It depends on the type of word we are dealing with. There are 4 types.

1. Aguda
If your spoken emphasis occurs in the last syllable of the word, it’s aguda. These words will have a written accent if they end in a vowel other than y or the letters n or s. If there is a consonant before the n or s, this word will not have a written accent mark. Here are some examples of aguda words with and without written accents.

Avión - Plane
Inglés - English
Hablar - To speak
Bailar - To dance

2. Llana
If your spoken emphasis occurs in the second to last syllable of the word, it’s llana. These words are opposite the aguda words. They get a written accent if they do end in a vowel or the consonants n or s. Here are some examples of llana words with and without written accents.

Azúcar - Sugar
Césped - Grass
Rojo - Red
Puerta - Door

3. Esdrújula
If your spoken emphasis occurs in the antepenultimate syllable of the word, it’s esdrújula. These words always have a written accent. Here are some examples of esdrújula words.

Sábado - Saturday
México - Mexico

4. Sobresdrújula
If your spoken emphasis occurs before the antepenultimate syllable of the word, it’s sobresdrújula. These words always have a written accent. Here are some examples of sobresdrújula words.

Rápidamente - Quickly
Cuéntamelo - Tell me it

In addition, there are words that are spelled the same that have written accents to differentiate their meanings. Here are a few examples:

Spanish English Spanish English
Yes Si If
You (pronoun) Tu Your (possessive)
Tea Te You (pronoun)

Scrabble tiles that say 'Choose your words'

Now It's Your Turn!

Learning a new language always presents a unique set of challenges. Punctuation can be tedious, and it’s easy to get discouraged. With a little practice, you can master this concept and set your Spanish apart! Reading is a great way to expose yourself to punctuation and grammar. Finding a pen pal to practice writing can also help. It is equally important to train your ear to hear where accents might fall and where pauses naturally happen in sentences. Speechling offers a curriculum based on speech training that will ultimately help you speak and write with greater fluency. Give it a try!