In this article, we’ll be discussing five cases in which punctuation in English and Spanish slightly differs. Here they are:
1. The dash (—), for breaks / La raya (—), para incisos
In English, the dash is frequently used for breaks in the sentence. It can have a space on both sides (text — text) or no space on either side (text—text). In English, we can use a single dash…
Peter ate an apple—he didn’t like apples when he was a kid.
…or use two dashes, an opening and a closing one:
Peter ate an apple—he hadn’t eaten apples in a long time—and he thought it was delicious.
In Spanish, however, we always have to use two dashes, and we'll always have a space before the opening dash and after the closing dash (if there is more text after), and no space between the dashes and the break denoted by them:
Peter comió una manzana —no le gustaban las manzanas cuando era niño—.
Peter comió una manzana —no había comido manzanas en mucho tiempo— y pensó que estaba deliciosa.
In English, we use quotation marks for dialogues, and we close them before the attribution and open them again if there is more dialogue after the attribution:
“This apple is delicious,” Peter said. “I’m going to eat two more.”
In Spanish, we always use a dash at the beginning, with no space:
—Esta manzana está deliciosa.
And then, for the attribution, we add an opening and a closing dash (with no space between the dashes and the attribution). Commas or periods will always be placed after the closing dash:
—Esta manzana está deliciosa —dijo Peter—. Voy a comer dos más.
3. Quotations marks:
In the US, we usually use double (“) quotation marks for all kinds of quotes, and we can use single (‘) quotation marks for a quote within a quote:
“Peter stated that ‘the apple was delicious,’ and then he ate two more,” John said.
In Spanish, we traditionally use angular quotation marks («») for quotes, and then we can use double (“) quotation marks for a quote within a quote and single (‘) quotation marks for a quote within a quote within a quote. Periods and commas always go after the closing mark:
Del libro Los Atardeceres: «John dijo que “a Peter le gusta mucho la palabra ‘manzana’ porque suena muy bonita”».
4. The Oxford comma
Even though a lot of people really like it (and we agree that it has a point, as it can often resolve ambiguities)…
I'm heading there with my friends, Peter and Mary. (Peter and Mary are my friends.)
I'm heading there with my friends, Peter, and Mary. (Peter and Mary are not my friends.)
…in Spanish, it’s just incorrect to place a comma before y in a list:
Voy para allá con mis amigos, Peter y Mary.
So there is no way to resolve the ambiguity. We would have to rewrite the sentence in a different way:
Voy para allá con mis amigos Peter y Mary. (Peter y Mary son mis amigos).
Voy para allá con mis amigos, y también con Peter y Mary. (Peter y Mary no son mis amigos).
5. Parentheses and periods
When enclosing a whole sentence, in English, we place the period before the closing parenthesis. (We do this.)
In Spanish, we place it after the closing parenthesis. (Hacemos esto).