One of the biggest mistakes a Spanish speaker can make when writing in English is to assume the Spanish punctuation is the same as in English (and vice versa!). 


Therefore, this article will help you understand the basic rules of English and Spanish punctuation and avoid making mistakes in the future.


1. The Serial Comma


This is probably one of the most common mistakes among Spanish speakers. We, as Spanish speakers, have been taught throughout our lives to use commas when separating words in a list, much like in English; however, in Spanish, a serial comma is never used before the word “and” when you have a list of items. This rule differs from the English punctuation rules because a serial comma is used before the word “and”. The same rule applies for the word “or”. (English punctuation is highlighted in yellow)


Example #1:


Mi madre me encargó comprar tomates, zanahorias, pepinos y papas.

My mom asked me to buy tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and potatoes.


Example #2:


Puedes estudiar matemáticas, ciencias o literatura.

You can study math, science, or literature.


2. Numbers


In English punctuation, the comma is used when a number is four to more digits, placing the first comma by counting three spaces to the left, and continuing placing a comma every three digits. The Real Academia Española - RAE (Spanish Royal Academy) voids its use and recommends instead to separate the number with space.


Example #1:


Ganó S/. 456 000 677 el año pasado.

He won $ 567,667,789 playing the lottery.


The second English rule with numbers states that a period is used with decimal numbers; but in Spanish, the Real Academia Española suggests the use of the comma (Spanish punctuation is marked in green).


Example #2:


El valor del número Pi es 3,1416.

The value of Pi is 3.1416.


3. Colon vs. Comma


English punctuation rules state that a comma must be used after salutation in a personal or business letter. Throughout the years, Spanish speakers have been adapting this rule to the Spanish punctuation but the Real Academia Española establishes that the right way is to use a colon after the salutation in a personal or business letter.




Estimado Director:


Dear Hiring Manager,



4. Quotation


In American English – when quoting – the period, comma, question, and exclamation marks go inside the quotation marks. This rule defers from Spanish because the period and comma go outside the quotation marks. (The question and exclamation marks stay inside the quotation marks).


Example #1:


Recuerda lo que dicen: “Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda”.

According to Mr. Radley, “they didn’t choose to be like this.”


In American English, quotation marks are used for citation and dialogues; in Spanish instead, quotation marks are only used for citation. Dialogues in Spanish use the dash instead of the quotation marks.


Example #2:


Sócrates dijo: “Habla para que yo pueda conocerte.

And Aristotle said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”


Versus Example #3:


Tengo miedo de perderteme dijo. No puedo vivir sin ti

I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive you,” she said, “It’s better if we don’t talk anymore.


5. Dialogue


In English, you start a dialogue with quotation marks. If it’s direct speech and has a dialogue tag between two lines, use commas to separate them from the lines. In Spanish instead, a dash is used to open a dialogue, also a dash is used to enclose the dialogue tag. You don’t need to use quotation marks to open and close the dialogue lines.


Example #1:


Cuando siento que no tengo fuerzas para continuardijo María. Me acuerdo de mi padre.

I never thought I would be standing here today,” he said, I owe this to my family.”


In English – when the dialogue tag opens the sentence – you use a comma before opening the line with quotation marks. In Spanish, when the dialogue tag opens a dialogue or a sentence, you use a colon before opening the line.


Example #2:


–Ella sugirió: Cuídate de andar sola en lugares oscuros, nunca sabes con quién puedes encontrarte.

She said, “I don’t think you should be partying tonight; you have a test to take tomorrow.”


6. Ellipsis


In English, when quoting an unfinished direct citation that is grammatically complete, you use ellipsis to indicate there’s been omitted part of the text. In this situation, you also use a period before the ellipsis; these four dots will be inside the quotation marks. However, Spanish rules establish that the period must go outside the quotations marks.




Y tanta razón tuvo Hamlet al decir: ¨Ser o no ser, esa es la cuestión.

And Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do….



7.  Adverbial Clause


In English, when a main clause is followed by an adverbial clause–that is a dependent clause and a type of subordinate clause–we don’t use commas to divide the clauses

In contrast, Spanish punctuation says that when a main clause is followed by an adverbial clause, it must be divided by a comma.


Example #1:


Te presto mi libro, si es que prometes devolverlo en una semana.

I’d be burning my brains out if I were you.


Example #2:


No llegué tarde porque quise, sino porque me quedé dormido.

She answered the phone as soon as it rang


Example #3:


Las entrevistas de trabajo miden tus habilidades, así como tus capacidades y conocimiento.

Job interviews measure your abilities as well as your skills and knowledge.


8. Question & Exclamation Marks


In English, the question mark goes at the end of a question. In Spanish instead, there’s an upside-down question mark opening the question. The same thing happens to the exclamation marks.


Examples #1:


¿Qué es lo que estás haciendo?

What are you doing?


Example #2:


¡Qué alegría me da verte!

I’m so happy to see you!


9. Capitalization


Even though capitalization is not part of punctuation, it’s important that you know the differences between English and Spanish capitalization.

The first difference is that the days of the week and the months are capitalized in English; nevertheless, we don’t capitalize them in Spanish.


Example #1:


Celebraremos la Navidad este miércoles 25 de diciembre.

We are celebrating Christmas on Monday, December 25th.


The first person singular pronoun is always capitalized in English, while in Spanish it is not.


Example #2:


Tú y yo somos el equipo perfecto.

You and I are the perfect team.


In English, languages as well as nationalities must be capitalized; in Spanish, the rule says that it must not.


Example #3:


Mi novio es mexicano.

My boyfriend is Mexican.


Example #4:


Yo hablo alemán.

I speak German.



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