Inverted question and exclamation marks

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Inverted question mark
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Inverted question marks (¿) and exclamation marks (Commonwealth English) or exclamation points (American English) (¡) are punctuation marks used to begin interrogative and exclamatory sentences (or clauses), respectively, in written Spanish and sometimes also in languages which have cultural ties with Spanish, such as in older standards of Galician (now it is optional and not recommended) and the Waray language.[1] They can also be combined in several ways to express the combination of a question and surprise or disbelief. The initial marks are normally mirrored at the end of the sentence or clause by the common marks (?, !) used in most other languages. Unlike the ending marks, which are printed along the baseline of a sentence, the inverted marks (¿ and ¡) actually descend below the line.

Inverted marks were originally recommended by the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) in 1754, and adopted gradually over the next century.

On computers, inverted marks are supported by various standards, including ISO-8859-1, Unicode, and HTML. They can be entered directly on keyboards designed for Spanish-speaking countries, or via alternative methods on other keyboards.


The inverted question mark (¿) is a punctuation mark written before the first letter of an interrogative sentence or clause to indicate that a question follows. It is an inverted form of the standard symbol "?" recognized by speakers of languages written with the Latin alphabet. In most languages, a single question mark is used, and only at the end of an interrogative sentence: "How old are you?" This was once true of the Spanish language.

The inverted question mark was adopted long[specify] after the Real Academia's decision, published in the second edition of La ortografía de la Real Academia (The Orthography of the Royal Academy) in 1754 recommending it as the symbol indicating the beginning of a question in written Spanish—e.g. ¿Cuántos años tienes? ("How old are you?"). The Real Academia also ordered the same inverted-symbol system for statements of exclamation, using the symbols "¡" and "!". This helps to recognize questions and exclamations in long sentences. "Do you like summer?" and "You like summer." are translated respectively as "¿Te gusta el verano?" and "Te gusta el verano." (There is no difference between the wording of a yes–no question and the corresponding statement in Spanish as there is in English.) These new rules were slowly adopted; there exist nineteenth-century books in which the writer does not use either opening symbol, neither the "¡" nor the "¿".

In sentences that are both declarative and interrogative, the clause that asks a question is isolated with the starting-symbol inverted question mark, for example: Si no puedes ir con ellos, ¿quieres ir con nosotros? ("If you cannot go with them, would you like to go with us?")

Some writers omit the inverted question mark in the case of a short unambiguous question such as: Quién viene? ("Who comes?"). This is the criterion in Catalan.[2] Certain Catalan-language authorities, such as Joan Solà, insist that both the opening and closing question marks be used for clarity.

Some Spanish-language writers, among them Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (1904–1973), refuse to use the inverted question mark.[3] It is common in Internet chat rooms and instant messaging now to use only the single "?" as an ending symbol for a question, since it saves typing time—using most keyboard layouts, it is easier to type the closing symbol than the opening, inverted symbol. Multiple closing symbols are used for emphasis: Por qué dices eso??, instead of the standard ¿Por qué dices eso? ("Why do you say that?"). Some may also use the ending symbol for both beginning and ending, giving ?Por qué dices eso? Given the informal setting, this might be unimportant; however, teachers see this as a problem, fearing and claiming that contemporary young people are inappropriately and incorrectly extending the practice to academic homework and essays. (See Internet linguistics: Educational perspective.)

Unspoken uncertainty is expressed in writing (informal notes, comics) with ¿?, and surprise with ¡!, but single interrogative ? and exclamatory ! symbols are also used.


In 1668, John Wilkins proposed using the inverted exclamation mark "¡" as a symbol at the end of a sentence to denote irony. He was one of many, including Desiderius Erasmus, who felt there was a need for such a punctuation mark, but Wilkins' proposal, as was true of the other attempts, all failed to take hold.[4][5]

Mixtures of question marks and exclamation points[edit]

Although it has now become rare, it is correct usage in Spanish to begin a sentence with an opening inverted exclamation mark ("¡") and end it with a question mark ("?"), or vice versa, for statements that are questions but also have a clear sense of exclamation or surprise such as: ¡Y tú quién te crees? ("Who do you think you are?!"). Normally, four signs are used, always with one type in the outer side and the other in the inner side (nested) (¿¡Y tú quién te crees!?, ¡¿Y tú quién te crees?! [6])

Unicode 5.1 also includes U+2E18 INVERTED INTERROBANG, which is an inverted version of the interrobang (also known as a "gnaborretni"), an nonstandard punctuation mark used to denote both excitement and a question in just one glyph.

Computer usage[edit]


"¡" and "¿" are both located within the Unicode Common block, and are both inherited from ISO-8859-1. "¡" has Unicode codepoint U+00A1 (decimal entity reference ¡) and HTML named entity reference ¡. "¿" has Unicode codepoint U+00BF (decimal entity reference ¿) and has HTML named entity reference ¿. In both cases, the "i" in the named entity reference is an initialism for "inverted".[7]

Input methods[edit]

The ¡ character is accessible using AltGr+1 on a modern US-International keyboard. It is also available using a standard US keyboard by switching to the US-International keyboard layout.

"¿" is available in all keyboard layouts for Spanish-speaking countries.

Users of English (US) keyboards under Microsoft Windows can obtain the inverted question mark "¿" using the Alt code method by holding down the Alt key and pressing 0191, 6824, or 168 on the number pad and the inverted exclamation mark "¡" with number pad code 0161 or 173. In Microsoft Word, the inverted question and exclamation marks can be typed by holding down the Ctrl, Alt, and shift keys while typing a normal question or exclamation mark, or by typing either mark at the start of the sentence whilst in the Spanish language mode.

Windows users with a US keyboard layout are able to switch to the US-International layout. Among other changes, this converts the "Alt" key to the right of the space bar into the "Alt-Gr" (graphics) key. (The left Alt key remains unchanged.) When the Right-Alt key is held down and other keys are pressed, the combination produces other characters not found on the standard US keyboard. For instance, the keystroke Right-Alt-1 produces an inverted exclamation mark, while Right-Alt-/ yields the inverted question marks. Another way of inputting "¡" on Windows is to hold Alt and type 173 on the numeric keypad.

Input methods for OS X[edit]

On the OS X platform (or when using the "US International"/us-intl keyboard layout on Windows and Linux), "¡" and "¿" can be entered by pressing Alt (option) + 1 and Shift + Alt (option) + / respectively. With a compose key, for example, <LEFT SHIFT> + <RIGHT CTRL>, they can be entered by pressing the compose key and ! or ? twice. And for AZERTY keyboards, the shortcut is: fn + alt + ! (number 8).

Input methods for LaTeX[edit]

In LaTeX documents, the "¿" is written as ?` (question mark, backtick) or \textquestiondown, and "¡" as !` (exclamation point, backtick). (This may require including "\usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}" at the top of the document.)

Use in filenames[edit]

In Windows, an inverted question mark is valid in a file or directory name, whereas the normal is a reserved character which cannot be so used.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ De Veyra, Vicente I. (1982). "Ortograpiya han Binisaya". Kandabao: Essays on Waray language, literature, and culture. 
  2. ^ Institut d'Estudis Catalans (1996), "Els signes d'interrogació i d'admiració (Acord de l'11 de juny de 1993)", Documents de la Secció Filològica, III, pp. 92–94 
  3. ^ Pablo Neruda, "Antología Fundamental".  (556 KB), (June 2008). ISBN 978-956-16-0169-7. p. 7 (Spanish)
  4. ^ Keith Houston (24 September 2013). Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. W. W. Norton. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-393-24154-9. 
  5. ^ Popova, Maria. "Ironic Serif: A Brief History of Typographic Snark and the Failed Crusade for an Irony Mark". Brain Pickings. Retrieved 1 Sep 2014. 
  6. ^ RAE's Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas (Spanish)
  7. ^ Character entity references in HTML 4, W3C. [year missing]

External links[edit]