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

受講生の感想は?


これらは生徒たちの意見の一部です。 高い評価をくれています!

What Is the Origin of the Letter Ñ? 2
Nataly Janacova Avatar
Nataly Janacova
Last year I attended a Spanish course in Valencia. Before I made my decision where to go to improve my language I had got very good references about Taronja school. I did not hesitate to go there. My experience with educational process, free time activities at school was very positive. All teaches were well-trained, friendly and very skillful. The classes were full of fun and plenty of new information. Tuesday paella parties were great. All the food prepared by Fernando those days and during the cuisine classes was really delicious! The cultural lessons, walking tours were very interesting. However, the best discovery I made in Valencia thanks to Taronja was the Micro Theatre, which I will certainly visit each time I am in this marvelous city again! I want to thank a lot all school staff for their enthusiasm and kind support! Looking forward to seeing you again in September! Natalia (Slovakia)
leer más
Christine Dowrick Avatar
Christine Dowrick
Super week learning new language, remembering forgotten fragments and updating old phrases. The course was really well structured and delivered and great fun. Everyone was very helpful and friendly. The Spanish cooking and singing sessions were the icing on the cake and the sun shone on the beautiful city of Valencia every day.
leer más
Alis F Avatar
Alis F
5 star rating
4 week intensive course I spent 4 weeks at Taronja on their intensive course (20hrs/week with 4hrs of lessons each day). Class times alternated between the morning and afternoon which meant plenty of free time to enjoy the city. The teachers made sure lessons were interesting and varied, and organised lots of different activities during the evenings at which you were encouraged to practice speaking Spanish. I would highly recommend Taronja!
leer más
Mezzofanti
5 star rating
Taronja y Valencia - la combinación perfecta para aprender español Los aspectos de Taronja que más me gustan:
- Los profesores creativos, enérgicos y profesionales.
- Un equipo administrativo excelente.
- Un programa social y cultural excepcional.
- Un fuerte sentido de comunidad.
Si buscas una escuela de español que te ofrece instrucción de alta calidad en un entorno eficaz y divertido, deberías pensar en Taronja School. Acabo de cumplir un curso de dos meses y el tiempo ha pasado demasiado rápido. Ha sido una experiencia muy recomendable.
Además de crear un ambiente educativo de alta calidad, Taronja fomenta un sentido de familia que refuerza aún más la experiencia. La comunidad Taronja abraza a los alumnos de todas las edades y todas los niveles de habilidad.
Taronja refleja muchas de las cualidades que me atrajo a Valencia. Es lo suficientemente grande para satisfacer todas las necesidades mientras sigue siendo personal y auténtica. Los profesores y el equipo administrativo son cálidos, abiertos y atentos. Desde mi punto de vista, Taronja y Valencia forman la combinación perfecta para aprender español.
leer más
Ashleigh E Avatar
Ashleigh E
5 star rating
Great experience! Taronja is a great school to study Spanish. The course includes a schedule of social events where you have the opportunity to meet new people, learn more about Spanish culture, and practice your Spanish. The teachers are wonderful, I highly recommend!
leer más
L9995XIandreash
5 star rating
klasse Sprachschule im schönen Valencia Ich habe einen 2-wöchigen Intensivkurs hier gemacht, eine tolle Erfahrung. Die Klassen sind recht klein, die Lehrer motiviert und sehr freundlich, so dass ich hier große Fortschritte gemacht habe. Auch nach dem Unterricht gab es interessante Aktivitäten. Die Lage der Schule mitten im Zentrum ist ideal, es gibt viele Caffee's und Restaurantes in der Nähe. Die zwei Wochen gingen leider viel zu schnell rum!
leer más
albina_kuligina
5 star rating
Лучшая школа для изучения испанского языка В июле 2019 года с подругой по рекомендации преподавателя из университета поехали в Taronja School, чтобы повысить уровень испанского языка. Я брала двухнедельный интенсивный курс + conversation workshop. Результат превзошёл все ожидания! Особенно важным для меня стало исчезновение так называемого "языкового барьера". Отдельно стоит отметить приятную атмосферу и дополнительные занятия, которые позволяют углубиться в культуру Испании, а также познакомиться с другими студентами Таронхи. Все возникающие проблемы решались очень быстро, не причиняя никаких неудобств. Без сомнений, вернусь сюда снова!
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
Instagram

Instagram Taronja School