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What’s Up With The Upside Down Question Mark?

by Rosetta Stone
What is the upside down question mark?

Inverted punctuation such as upside-down question marks or exclamation points are found in the languages of Spain and Latin American Spanish. This punctuation marks the beginning of interrogative or exclamatory sentences or clauses and is mirrored at the end with standard punctuation. While the standard punctuation is printed along the baseline of a sentence, inverted punctuation marks such as the upside down question mark descend below the line.

Inverted punctuation is especially critical in Spanish since the syntax of the language means that both statements and questions or exclamations could have the same wording. It’s also important to note that the inverted punctuation goes at the beginning of the clause, which means it won’t always be at the front of the sentence. The following example illustrates this point of usage. In the first sentence, the name of the person proceeds the interrogative clause and is not included in the inverted punctuation. Because the interrogative clause comes first in the second sentence, it begins with an upside-down question mark.

Cristina, ¿adónde vas? (Cristina, where are you going?)

¿Adónde vas, Cristina? (Where are you going, Cristina?)

This inverted punctuation also allows for the combination of both question marks and exclamation points, something for which there is sadly no equivalent in other languages such as English. In fact, Spanish language learners often remark that inverted punctuation is so useful, they wish other languages would adopt the practice.

Which languages use upside down question marks?

Upside down punctuation is a relatively recent development in Spanish. The Spanish language began using inverted punctuation in the 18th century upon the recommendation of the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy).

You can find upside down question marks, and exclamation points used not only in Spanish but also in related Iberian languages such as Galician and Catalan.

What about upside down exclamation points?

Many of the same languages that use inverted punctuation like the upside down question mark also use upside down exclamation points. This symbol goes at the beginning and end of an exclamation to signal to the reader the intent of the exclamatory statement. An exclamatory statement is anything communicated forcefully, whether it is a statement intended to communicate surprise, a declaration, or a forceful order.

You can type upside down exclamation marks by using the following shortcuts:

  • In Windows, press “Alt + 0161.”
  • On a Chromebook, you can press “Ctrl + Shift” followed by “u + 00a1.”

On an Android or iOS device, long hold the “?” symbol and drag your finger up to select the upside-down exclamation point from the menu.

How can I make an upside-down question mark on my device?

Making an upside-down question mark or exclamation point can seem daunting, but it doesn’t require special equipment or keyboards. If you have a Spanish language keyboard or access to one online, that’s fantastic. If not, you can quickly grab an upside-down question mark with a few simple commands or methods depending upon the device you’re using. 

Inverted punctuation on an iOS device

You can call up an upside-down question mark by accessing the traditional question mark, usually located under the 123 button on your mobile keyboard. Simply hold the question mark down and a little bubble will pop up with the upside down version that you can then select to insert into your text.

Inverted punctuation on an Android device

Accessing upside-down punctuation on an Android devices requires selecting the “sym” (short for symbols) page on the mobile keyboard and then navigating to page 2. Both upside-down question marks and exclamation points can be selected from this menu.

Inverted punctuation on a PC or Mac

Insert special characters

In both Google Docs and Microsoft Word, you can use the insert tab to find special characters. To add upside down question marks or exclamation points, simply select punctuation from the menu of special characters. You’ll find there are several filters in the special characters menu that will allow you to select characters common to different languages.

Use a shortcut key

Inserting individually can get cumbersome for writing in Spanish long-term, so it’s also best to know a few shortcut keys. The key that will work for you will depend upon your keyboard and operating system. Here are a few common ones that should help you quickly insert an upside-down question mark.

  • English (US) keyboards with Microsoft Windows: Press Alt+0191
  • Microsoft Word: Press Crtl+Alt first, then hold while pressing Shift+? 
  • MacOS platform: Press ⇧ Shift+Alt/⌥ Option+/

Switch your keyboard to US-International layout

Windows users with a US keyboard can switch to a US International layout that will convert the right-hand Alt key. Once engaged, the right-hand Alt key will call up characters not usually found on a standard keyboard when pressed in combination with other keys.

Use Unicode code point entries

You can use Unicode entries on any keyboard as long as the software you’re running supports them. Press Ctrl+⇧ Shift+u, then type BF to call up the inverted question mark and press enter to confirm.

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