Punctuation




The Academia de la Lengua Española offers guidelines to punctuate a text. Many times, several options are offered to the same case. When punctuating a text, the coherence should lead; i.e. always keep the options taken in the same text.

1 Comma

The comma usually shows a short pause in the clause.

  • A comma is needed in enumerations of elements not linked by conjunction.

La camisa tiene flores azules, verdes y amarillas.

Llegaron, se quitaron los zapatos y se estiraron en el sofá.

A comma is advised before y and o when they link elements with these conjunctions.

Compramos y vendemos pisos, y aconsejamos a nuestros clientes sobre la mejor inversión en cada momento.
Puedes enviarlo hoy o mañana, o esperar un par de días.

You may also use comma before conjunction when separating clauses with different subject.

El camino está cortado, y no podemos pasar.

  • A comma is needed before and after a pause.

Mi madre, que tiene más de ochenta años, le pegó.

El perro, ese noble animal, daría la vida por su amo.

Juan, el hijo mayor, se fue de casa antes de cumplir 18.

Also, with pronominal expressions: lejos de esto, en lugar de esto, con todo and con eso.

Él quería que vendiese mi casa. Yo, lejos de esto, me negué.

With explanatory expresions like: o bien, es decir, esto es, a saber, o sea, etc.

Compré una docena, esto es, uno para cada uno.

But after o sea que the comma is are usually omitted.

El coche es grande, o sea que cabemos los siete.

  • A clause maybe inserted between commas or without them, also after conjunctions, adverbs and conjunctive or adverbial phrases as: pues, así pues, por consiguiente, por tanto, por lo tanto, sin embargo, por el contrario, al menos, si acaso, además, así y todo, generalmente, etc. . In this case the comma represents a pause.

Todo está claro. No hay, por tanto, motivo para seguir discutiendo.
Todo está claro. No hay por tanto motivo para seguir discutiendo.

  • When an element does not refer to the word immediately precedent, but to another word or to the whole clause, that element appears preceded by comma. In this case, a comma changes the meaning of the clause.

Hay que distinguir el talento, de la juventud. (= One thing is the talent and another youth.)
Hay que distinguir el talento de la juventud. (= Young talent has to be rewarded.)
Mandé investigar, discretamente. (= I order something discreetly.)
Mandé investigar discretamente. (= This research has to be discreet.)

No se lo dije, por piedad.(= I took pity and I didn’t say something.)
No se lo dije por piedad.(= I said something, the reason was not pity, there was another reason.)

El padre abrazó al hijo emocionado. (= El hijo estaba emocionado.)
El padre abrazo al hijo, emocionado. (= El padre estaba emocionado.)

Él es bravo y fuerte como un toro.(= He and a bull are brave and strong.)
Él es bravo, y fuerte como una mula.(= He is brave and strong; a mule is just strong.)

El profesor pidió silencio durante el examen.(= Before starting the test, the teacher asked for silence; while doing exams is forbidden to speak.)
El profesor pidió silencio, durante el examen.(= During the exam someone said something and the teacher asked for silence.)

Me preguntará si he hecho los deberes.(= Have you done your homework?) (Indirect speech)
Me preguntará, si he hecho los deberes.(= Only if I have done my homework, he would ask me.) (Conditional)

  • When an element is omitted, because it is understood, it is necesary to replace it by acomma. Verbs are usually omitted in Spanish.

A mucha gente le gusta el chorizo; a mí, (me gusta) el jamón.

  • When como introduces an example, it is necessary to make a pause, that may be marked by a comma, however in othercases, semi-colon or colon are used.

Aquí es preferible plantar árboles resistentes, como el roble o la encina.

  • Many times, some elements appear moved from its normal place. This motion is indicated by a comma. The natural place of the adverbial expressions is after the verb; so, when they head the clause, are followed by comma.

Por la mañana, tengo tanto sueño que no hay quien me levante de la cama.
Tengo tanto sueño por la mañana que no hay quien me levante de la cama.

It is quite common to use a comma behind a clause, despite the Academia considers more orthodox omit it.

Si te gusta la bufanda de lana verde, te la doy ahora mismo.

With a short clause is not necessary to indicate the motion.

Si tienes dos déjame uno.

  • In the case of por ejemplo the comma may follow the word ejemplo or be placed at the last word of the complement. It depends on the type of pause.

Dame uno cualquiera, por ejemplo, este.

Este material aislante es muy bueno. Por ejemplo en una habitación pequeña, las temperaturas oscilarán entre…

  • Before etcétera or its abbreviation etc. is necesary to put a comma.

María, Luisa, etcétera.

If the clause follows after etcétera, a comma is necesary.

María, Luisa, etcétera, vinieron a casa.

  • It is allowed to write a comma before an adversative, causal, etc. conjunction, despite the Academia considers more orthodox omit it.

Te comprendo, pero no tienes razón.

Te comprendo, porque yo también he vivido esto.

  • Before y followed by conjunction and y eso, a comma may be used.

Iré un rato, y porque no quiero quedar mal.

Aprobé con un ocho, y eso que no estudié.

  • A comma is needed with an explanatory que .

Marcelino, que no es tonto, se dio cuenta del engaño.

  • A comma may be put after a relative clause in subject function.

“Quien bien te quiere, te hará llorar.”

In the spoken language sometimes a clause’s element is emphasized by pauses. In written Spanish, this emphasis is translated into comma.

Yo, era quien te saludaba.

In this case, the comma separates subject from predicate, as an exception and against the general rule.

  • The comma not always shows a pause of the spoken language. For instance, behind a mí or a tidoes not appear comma, although when speaking there is as light pause.

A mí me gusta.

A ti no te he dicho nada.

And the other way round, sometimes a written comma does not correspond to a pause of the spoken Spanish. This is the case of the vocatives, always shown with commas.

, señor.

Ven, Hernando.

  • The comma separates units from decimals.

4,5.

2 Semi-colon

  • The semi-colon replaces the comma when the pause is made.This is the case of the clauses not linked by conjunction.

Yo no quiero ir allí; él no quiere venir aquí; me parece que no vamos a arreglar las cosas.

It is also used to distinguish within the components of a longer series with a comma already included; the question is setting a hierarchy.

Nos dieron de comer una ensalada verde con aceitunas rellenas, cebolletas y pepinillos en vinagre; un estofado de cordero con ciruelas, y un helado de fresa.

Semi-colon may be put instead of comma to represent the pause done before disjunctive, causal, comparative, concessive, adversative and consecutive conjunctions; specialy in long clauses.

El fallo es bastante grave; pero creo que podremos arreglarlo si trabajamos toda la noche.

  • The semi-colon may replace afull-stop to separate two clauses closely related.

El correo no ha llegado todavía; es temprano; hasta las diez y media no pasa el cartero.

3 Full-stop

The full-stop at the end of the clause may mark the end of the paragraph or just that the speech goes on after the full-stop.

Full-stop is also used behind abbreviations: et.al., etc., etc. Or behind a number, letter or word sorting out an enumeration of things. Also separates thousands from hundreds

23.000

However it is not used full-stop in years.

En 1775

4 Colon

Colon is used (:) in the next cases:

Los planetas del Sistema Solar son: Mercurio, Venus, etc.

  • Before a quote the comma is also possible.

Entonces le dije: “vete de aquí”.

  • Behind expressions as ahora bien, en efecto, a saber, por ejemplo, en otras palabras or other expressions introducing an explanation.

Las partes del huevo son tres, a saber: la clara, la yema y la cáscara.

  • Before a consequence also may be used colon.

No podemos seguir así: es mejor que nos separemos.

  • After the letter’s heading. The speech goes on in the next line with a capital letter.

Querido Jacinto:

  • In administrative documents after ordeno, suplico, fallo, etc. Although is also common the use a comma or a semi-colon. Behind colon may be used capital or small letter; the small letter is more common.

5 Suspension points

  • If the sentence goes on after the suspension points small letter is used (…). On the contrary, if another sentence begins, capital letter is used.

Se lo dije, pero no quiso escucharme.

Tiene muchos problemas: la familia, el trabajo Es mejor no molestarlo para esta tontería.

At the end of a clause, the suspension points make redundant the final full stop.

  • They are used in unfinished clauses; we know the rest.

No por mucho madrugar(= We all know the saying is: “no por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano”.)

Sometimes the suspension points hide an insult or a curse.

Me dijo que era una hija de

  • The suspension points may represent a pause of the spoken language corresponding to hesitation, doubt, surprise, indecision or fear.

Yo creo que sí…, pero, no sé.

  • In exclamations with si and tan there is sometimes a pause; with the pause the second part of the clause is omitted, because is known.

¡Si me ayudaras! (= If you help me, we would end before!)

  • In an enumeration means that the list might go on. Here it is equivalent to etcétera.

Hay tomates, lechugas

However, suspension points are not used after the word etcétera.

  • (…) means omission in a quotation.

6 Diaeresis (¨)

The diaeresis indicates that the u behind a g has to be pronounced: vergüenza, pingüino, etc.

7 Interrogation

The interrogative clause is preceded by ¿ and followed by ?

¿Cómo te llamas?

The first question mark is placed where the question begins.

Si tú lo sabías, ¿por qué no me lo dijiste?

When several short interrogative clauses follow one another, are separated by commas. The first clause begins with capital letter, the rest in small letters.

¿Lo sabía?, ¿por qué no me has dicho nada?, ¿crees que soy tonto?

Full-stop is never put after a question mark. The only sign of conclusion is the capital letter at the beginning of the next sentence.

When a question is followed by a clause, a comma or a semi-colon is used to separate these two elements.

¿Estás seguro?, preguntó él.

The question mark in bracket (?) indicates doubt.

8 Exclamation

The exclamatory clauses are preceded by ¡ and followed by !

¡Qué bonito!

Full-stop is never written after exclamation mark. If a sentence follows an exclamation, it will begin by capital letter.

The first exclamation mark is placed at the point where the exclamation really begins, even thoughth is point does not coincide with the beginning of the clause.

Se ha roto la pierna, ¡pobrecito mío!

The exclamation mark (!) in brackets indicates amazement.

La trucha pesaba cincuenta kilos (!).

When a clause is exclamatory and interrogative at the same time, it is opened with exclamation and closed with interrogation.

¡Quién?

9 Brackets

The brackets introduce some types of asides.

  • Asides grammatically not related with the main clause. Also, the commas and the dashes perform this function.

Mi madre (lo sé, porque me lo dijo ella) le pegó.

  • Explanations or extra data.

El descubrimiento de América (1492) es importante para la historia de España.

It follows a town or a village to clarify in which province, region or country is placed.

Nací en Sant Boi de Llobregat (Barcelona).

10 Square brackets

The square brackets ([]) indicate the adding up of absent elements in the original text; it is used in transcriptions.

J[uan] R[amón] Jiménez

11 Quotation marks

The quotation marks (“”), like the interrogation or the exclamation marks, have opening and closing. In printed texts, the quotation marks are usually replaced by italic. The quotation marks are used in these cases:

  • To quote someone’s words or to copy a piece of text.

Hay un refrán que dice: Perro ladrador, poco mordedor.

If the quote is very long, quotation marks are put at the beginning of each paragraph.

  • To use a word or expression with a meaning different from the originary. This is acommon resourceof the irony.

Si tratas así a todo el mundo, harás muchos amigos. (= As you treat people badly, you make enemies.)

  • To emphasize a cliché.

Una buena persona nunca haría lo que tú haces.

  • To mention a word or expression.

Dime un sinónimo deabrir.

  • To quote a title of a chapter or article; quotation marks are used in print and handwritten texts.

El primer capítulo se titula Mi Gran Amigo.

The work’s titles in manuscripts are underlined; while in printed texts are written in italic letter. All the titles begin by capital letter.

  • To include barbarisms in the speech.

Nos reunimos para hacer un brainstorming.

  • To introduce nicknames:

Juan Gracia, el Patoso.

There are several types of quotation marks:

  • ” “ double quotation marks (inglesas o dobles).
  • ‘ ‘ single quotation marks for quotations within a quotation.
  • << >> square quotation marks (francesas o angulares).

12 Dash

The dash (–) has several uses.

  • It heads the words of every interlocutor. The dash is pasted to the first letter of the speech, without space.

–Levántate de ahí.

  • The dash is used with those asides that could be between commas, but notice that the dash is more emphatic than the commas.

Él quedó demostrado en el juicio estaba allí a esa hora.

  • It is also used to mark asides within brackets.

No hubo ningún problema (el barco zarpó a la hora prevista las cinco y media).

13 Hyphen

The hyphen (-) is used as follows.

  • At the end of a line, to show that the last word is unfinished and goes on in the next line.
  • The hyphen links compound words.

Teóricopráctico.

A distinction between the attachment by hyphen and without it could alsobe done. Some people keep the hyphen to focus onthe two different parts of something.

Los acuerdos hispanoargentinos (= The agreements between the two countries)

The attachment without hyphen refers to a whole.

La comunidad hispanoargentina (= People of Spanish origin living in Argentina)

14 Slash

The slash (/) is used in these cases:

  • In fractions.

3/4 (Read: tres cuartos.)

  • In legal texts and industrial models.

Decreto 30/87 (Read: decreto treinta barra ochenta y siete.)

  • In poems and songs, to show that the verses are written in different lines.

“Y que yo me la llevé al río / creyendo que era mocita, / pero tenía marido.” (F. García Lorca)





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