Exclamations in Spanish

They start with inverted punctuation

colorful spider
¡Qué bonita araña! (What a cute spider!).

Alastair Rae / Creative Commons.

As in English, an exclamation or exclamatory sentence in Spanish is a forceful utterance that can range from a single word to almost any sentence that is given extra emphasis, either by using a loud or urgent voice, or in writing by adding exclamation points.

Types of Exclamations in Spanish

However, in Spanish, it is very common for exclamations to take particular forms, the most common of which is starting with the exclamatory adjective or adverb qué. (Qué also functions elsewhere as other parts of speech, most often as a pronoun.) When used that way, qué can be followed by a noun, adjective, an adjective followed by a noun, or an adverb followed by a verb. When it is followed by a noun, an article is not used before the noun. Some examples:

  • ¡Qué lástima! (What a shame!)
  • ¡Qué problema! (What a problem!)
  • ¡Qué vista! (What a view!)
  • ¡Qué bonita! (How cute!)
  • ¡Qué difícil! (How difficult!)
  • ¡Qué aburrido! (How tedious!)
  • ¡Qué fuerte hombre! (What a strong man!)
  • ¡Qué feo perro! (What an ugly dog!)
  • ¡Qué lejos está la escuela! (The school is so far away!)
  • ¡Qué maravillosamente toca la guitarra! (How beautifully she plays the guitar!)
  • ¡Qué rápido pasa el tiempo! (How time flies!)

If you follow the noun after qué with an adjective, más or tan is added between the two words:

  • ¡Qué vida más triste! (What a sad life!)
  • ¡Qué aire más puro! (What clean air!)
  • ¡Qué idea tan importante! (What an important idea!)
  • ¡Qué persona tan feliz! (What a happy person!)

Note that the más or tan doesn't have to be translated directly.

When emphasizing quantity or extent, it also is common to begin an exclamation with cuánto or one of its variations for number or gender:

  • ¡Cuántas arañas! (What a lot of spiders!)
  • ¡Cuánto pelo tienes! (What a head of hair you have!)
  • ¡Cuánta mantequilla! (What a lot of butter!)
  • ¡Cuánto hambre hay en esta ciudad! (What a lot of hunger there is in this city!)
  • ¡Cuánto he estudiado! (I studied a lot!)
  • ¡Cuánto te quiero mucho! (I love you a lot!)

Finally, exclamations aren't limited to the above forms; it isn't even necessary to have a complete sentence.

  • ¡No puedo creerlo! (I can't believe it!)
  • ¡No! (No!)
  • ¡Policía! (Police!)
  • ¡Es imposible! (It's impossible!)
  • ¡Ay! (Ouch!)
  • ¡Es mío! (It's mine!)
  • ¡Ayuda! (Help!)
  • ¡Eres loca! (You're crazy!)

Using Exclamation Points

Although this rule is commonly violated in informal Spanish, especially in social media, Spanish exclamation marks always come in pairs, an inverted or upside-down exclamation point to open the exclamation and a standard exclamation point to end it. The use of such paired exclamation marks is straightforward when an exclamation stands alone, as in all the examples above, but it gets more complicated when only part of a sentence is exclamatory.

The upside-down exclamation mark doesn't exist in languages other than Spanish and Galician, a minority language of Spain.

When an exclamation is introduced by other words, the exclamation points surround only the exclamation, which isn't capitalized.

  • Roberto, ¡me encanta el pelo! (Roberto, I love your hair!)
  • i gano el premio, ¡yupi! (If I win the prize, yippee!)

But when other words follow the exclamation, they are included inside the exclamation marks.

  • ¡Me encanto el pelo, Roberto! (I love your hair, Roberto.)
  • Yupi si gano el premio! (Yippee if I win the prize!)

If you have several short connected exclamations in a row, they can be treated as separate sentences or they can be separated with commas or semicolons. If they're separated by commas or semicolons, the exclamations after the first aren't capitalized.

  • ¡Hemos ganado!, ¡guau!, ¡me sorprende!
  • (We won! Wow! I'm surprised!)

Special Uses of Exclamation Marks

To indicate strong emphasis, you can use up to three consecutive exclamation points. The number of marks before and after the exclamation should match. Although such use of multiple exclamation points isn't used in standard English, it is acceptable in Spanish.

  • ¡¡¡No lo quiero!!! (I don't want it!)
  • ¡¡Qué asco!! (That's disgusting!)

As in informal English, a single exclamation mark can be placed within parentheses to indicate that something is surprising.

  • Mi tío tiene 43 (!) coches. (My uncle has 43 (!) cars.)
  • La doctora se durmió (!) durante la operación. (The doctor fell asleep (!) during the operation.)

An exclamation mark can be combined with a question mark when a sentence expresses incredulity or otherwise combines elements of emphasis and questioning. The order doesn't matter, although the sentence should begin and end with the same type of mark.

  • ¡¿Pedro dijo qué?! (Pedro said what?)
  • ¿!Viste Catarina en la jaula!? (You saw Catarina in jail?)

Key Takeaways

  • As in English, exclamations in Spanish are sentences, phrases, or even single words that are especially forceful.
  • It is common for Spanish exclamation to begin with qué or a form of cuánto.
  • Spanish exclamations begin with an inverted exclamation mark.