Question Mark (?): Meaning, Origin, Others

The question mark (?)  Is a graphic used to represent the manifestation of a question or doubt in a sentence. Unlike other languages, Spanish requires the presence of an opening sign (¿) that will go to the beginning of the question mark. For example, what time is it?

The main function of this symbol is to highlight the special character of an interrogative type in a direct way, although depending on the formulation of the sentence, it is possible to indicate this feature even if the signs are not present.

Regarding pronunciation, language experts recommend that it is important to give it the correct intonation so that it does not pass through a statement (at least not directly).

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that thanks to the new era of communications, the use of question marks has been distorted, so that on many occasions the true meaning of what you want to express can be lost.


As noted above, the (?) Is the sign that denotes question or doubt in the sentence. In other languages, only this symbol is enough, but in Spanish it represents the closing sign, so it must be accompanied by an opening sign.


  • When did you go to school?
  • Where you live?
  • Why do you like movies so much?

According to records, it was necessary to include an initial symbol when asking a question in the mid-18th century. However, its use did not become general, until a century later when a series of grammatical rules were established in this regard. This was even extended with exclamation marks.

However, it is important to note that thanks to the digital age, the (?) Has been partially suppressed, for reasons of energy and time saving.

Although for some purists this may predict the loss of the value of the language, some indicate that there is no seriousness, since they are informal conversations.


The graphic originates from the Latin expression “quaestio” which means question. Formerly, it was placed at the beginning of the sentence to imply that it was referring to a question.

However, with the passage of time, the word was shortened to “Qo”, which would eventually transform to the symbol we know today.

In view of the above, at this point it is worth mentioning some important aspects that determined the use of these signs:

-The first appearances of this graphic were glimpsed for the first time in medieval Latin manuscripts. In fact, it is estimated that this was a legacy of the Carolingians, a dynasty of French origin.

-The (?) Became common in Spanish, although in 1754, the Royal Spanish Academy indicated that it was necessary to place an opening sign.

-Despite the rule, the use was still not very clear, since they were only used when they were long sentences. The same happened with exclamation marks.

-At the end of the 19th century, the use of both symbols (?) Was also included in short sentences. Later it would be known as a double sign.

-On the other hand, Galician is another language that makes use of both symbols, although it is optional as soon as the intentionality of an expression needs to be clarified.

Intonation of question marks

The correct intonation and pronunciation of the signs allow you to have clear ideas about the intention behind what is being expressed. Therefore, for this case there are two types that must be taken into account:

-Total: it is ascending type and is used especially when dealing with questions whose answers are yes or no.

-Partial: unlike the previous one, it is descending and refers to a type of question that is not limited to yes or no answers.

Basic rules

For the use of question marks, it is necessary to keep in mind the following:

-They are double signs: one must go to the beginning of the sentence and the other to the end.

-They are written glued to the letter that precedes or precedes them.

-A space must be left between the words that precede or precede.

Uses of question marks

Some authors include other types of uses that are worth mentioning:

 -Vocatives: when the vocative goes before the interrogative expression. Example: “Raúl, will you come to eat?”

-Informative appendix: they are intended to confirm or deny something. Example: “After the presentation, what is your opinion about it?”

-With introductory expressions: they are accompanied by expressions such as “regarding”, “in relation to” or “with reference to”. Example: “Regarding the trip you did, what did you think of Europe?”

-Likewise, they can also be used after adverbs or adverbial speeches, in sentences with dependent expressions, and later to discursive connectors.

Other uses

-When several questions are written, it is necessary to take into account if the sentences are independent or if they are part of the same sentence.

Example with several questions: “What is your name? Where are you from? Where do you live?”.

Example when the questions are part of the same statement: “When we met, he asked me how have you been? Are you still living in the city?”

At this point, Spanish allows a melting pot of meanings and intonations according to the intention that one has. Although some of them can be difficult to express in writing, question marks are a channel to communicate these nuances:

-They are enclosed in parentheses and can mean doubt or irony. Example: “Yes, he seems to be a smart boy (?)”.

-There are cases where exclamatory and interrogative intent can be combined at the same time. Example: “What are you doing here ?!”

-In certain literary works it is possible to find double question marks to emphasize the expression. Example: “Did he really tell you that?”

-Another frequent use has to do with doubtful dates or data. This is especially the case when the exact time of a particular event is unknown. Example: “This Renaissance painter (1501? -1523) was little known in his time.”

Other punctuation marks

Other punctuation marks can be named:

-Signs of exclamation (!): They serve to indicate exclamation and can also be present in imperative and exhortative sentences.

– Ellipsis (…): are used to generate doubt, expectation or the feeling of continuation.

-Hyphen (-): it is used to join words, show the division of a word at the end of a line and in dictionaries as a way to mark the separation of the syllables composed in a word.


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