What Is the Origin of the Letter Ñ?

The ñ is the most characteristic letter of the Spanish language. Even the Cervantes Institute has a hidden ñ in its logo. But what is its origin and when did it start to be used?

According to all sources, the letter ñ originated in the Middle Ages when monk copyists and scribes in monasteries, faced with a shortage of paper and parchment, were forced to abbreviate some letters to fit as many words as possible into each line of text.

Letter Ñ. Instituto Cervantes Logo.

Specifically, the ñ was originally a double n (nn).

To save space, what was done was to write a regular n and add a small one above it, resulting in the familiar tilde we all know (~).

This was not the only case of letter abbreviation: for example, the double v (vv) became its own letter (the w).

It is also possible that the ñ was created to « give voice » to certain phonemes inherited from Latin that Spanish speakers found complicated to pronounce.

the letter ñ originated in the Middle Ages

We are talking about the combination « nn » (as in « annus » or « donna »), but also others such as « mn » (in words like « somnus »), « gn » (in words like « pugnus »), « ng » (in words like « ringere »), or « ni » + vowel (in words like « senior »).

This would be the origin of Spanish words with Latin roots like « año » (year), « doña » (lady), « sueño » (dream), « puño » (fist), « reñir » (to scold), or « señor » (sir).

Even so, the Royal Spanish Academy did not officially incorporate the letter ñ into the Spanish alphabet until 1803!

Royal Spanish Academy

But Spanish is not the only language that uses the ñ. It is also included in the alphabet of other official languages of Spain, such as Galician, Asturian, and Basque, as well as Mapuche, Quechua, Kiliwa (these last three in Latin America), Breton, Nilo-Saharan languages, Filipino Tagalog, and Crimean Tatar.

Here are some words with ñ. Do you know what they mean? Do you know any more?

  • Acuñar (To coin)
  • Albañil (Bricklayer)
  • Añil (Indigo)
  • Bañador (Swimsuit)
  • Buñuelo (Fritter)
  • Castaña (Chestnut)
  • Mañana (Tomorrow/Morning)
  • Champiñón (Mushroom)
  • Aliño (Dressing)
  • Cariño (Affection)
  • Dueño (Owner)
  • Aguileño (Aquiline)
  • Sueño (Dream)
  • Alimaña (Vermin)
  • Apaño (Fix)
  • Campiña (Countryside)
  • Caña (Cane/Rod)
  • Empuñar (To grasp)
  • Engañar (To deceive)
  • Escrudiñar (To scrutinize)
  • Hogareño (Homey)
  • Isleño (Islander)
  • Montaña (Mountain)
  • Leña (Firewood)
  • Otoño (Autumn)
  • Pañal (Diaper)
  • Rapiñar (To plunder)
  • Piñata (Piñata)
  • Muñeca (Doll/Wrist)
  • Patraña (Hoax)
  • Señal (Signal)
  • Ponzoña (Poison)
  • Desteñido (Faded)

So, that’s the fascinating story of the letter ñ, a unique and integral part of the Spanish language and other languages around the world.

Would you like to study Spanish? Write to us and we will send you information about our courses.

Información de contacto
Política de privacidad / Privacy policy

Dernières nouvelles de l’école Taronja


Grâce à nos cours, tu peux améliorer ton expression orale et apprendre de manière amusante et divertissante notre mode de vie, à nous les Espagnols.

Que pensent nos étudiants de nos cours d’espagnol?


Voici quelques-unes des opinions de nos étudiants. Vous nous donnez les récompenses!

What Is the Origin of the Letter Ñ? 2
Hana Zemcik Avatar
Hana Zemcik
Had a GREAT time and improved my spanish a LOT in Taronja. The lecturers were pros and the out-of-school program was very entertaining. Without doubt, I recommend Taronja and Valencia (y)
leer más
Floor de Laat Avatar
Floor de Laat
Taronja is a really nice school to learn Spanish. I would definitely recommend this when you are looking for a opportunity to study Spanish in Spain. The atmosphere is very chill and friendly, teachers like teaching and helping you. They also offer lots of fun activities everyday which you can participate in voluntarily. This helps you in meeting so many new people. I really enjoyed my time at Taronja, and I would like to return if I can 😉
leer más
Kitty Durinck Avatar
Kitty Durinck
Heel leuke ervaring, een super team leerkrachten en medewerkers, heel veel bijgeleerd....een aanrader !
leer más
Ruth Weinheimer Avatar
Ruth Weinheimer
Liebevoll und leidenschaftlich geführte Sprachschule mit qualitativ sehr hohem, abwechslungsreichem Unterricht und sehr engagierten Lehrern. Man kann schnell und intensiv mit viel Spaß unheimlich viel lernen. Vielen Dank!
leer más
Natalie Hotchkiss Avatar
Natalie Hotchkiss
I thoroughly enjoyed my 4 weeks at Taronja ( intensive course sept.-nov. 2017). After two years of studying Spanish at university, I by far made the biggest jump in my level of Spanish at Taronja. The classes are a good mix of grammar and culture, taught by enthusiastic teachers. In a short period of time, my speaking and understanding of grammar improved dramatically, as well as my general confidence using Spanish. The school also arranges a wide variety of interesting and fun activities that all involve present the opportunity to practise Spanish, to some extent. Valencia itself is the perfect city, with something for everyone of all ages. I could not speak higher of the school and my time there, I really do recommend Taronja, and I cannot wait to go back later on this summer!
leer más
Will Douglas Avatar
Will Douglas
La escuela estaba muy divertida, había actividades cada día y los personas que vienen son muy simpática. De verdad la experiencia estuvo fantástico y mi español ha mejorado mucho, yo sé necesito mejorar más pero si yo pude quedar más tiempo en esta escuela yo tendría fluidez español rápido.
leer más
Nathalie B. Avatar
Nathalie B.
I am student who just finished high school and decided to take a gap year and learn a language. One of my friends was in Taronja School last year for 3 months and she loved it, so she recommended me to spend some time there in Valencia. I spent 6 months in the school and had one of the best times of my life. I arrived with a very low spanish level, and weeks after weeks, I could see my progress. Later in October, I felt confortable enough with my spanish to take the DELE-B2 preparation lessons at the school as well. Coming to Valencia, I never thought I would improve that fast. Even more, the teachers are very nice and pay attention to every student in the class. Finally, what makes the school also so special are the activities, they make it very easy to meet other students and make friends as soon as you arrive. I definitely wanna come back again!
leer más
45marieh_l_nek
5 star rating
excellente école d'espagnol à Valence Taronja est une véritable école de langue espagnol pour les étrangers du monde entier, avec non seulement des cours de langues mais toute une série d'activités organisées gratuitement par l'école, d'autres seront payantes aussi selon l'activités en question.
très bonne ambiance et supers profs
leer más
Instagram

Instagram Taronja School