Letter N

We explain everything about the letter ñ, how it is pronounced and in which languages ​​it exists. In addition, its history and its limitations on the internet.

letter n
The ñ is a distinctive letter of Spanish and the languages ​​historically associated with it.

What is the letter N?

The letter ñ, for name jan, is the fifteenth letter of the Spanish alphabet and represents a consonantal palatal nasal sound (/ɲ/). Although this sound is common to different Romance languages, the ñ is a distinctive letter of Spanish and of the languages ​​that have been historically associated with it, such as Asturian, Galician, Filipino, Quechua, Chamorro, Aymara, Guarani, among others.

the letter n It had its origin in the Middle Ages, in the monasteries and the first printing presses.in which the repetition of the letter ‘n’ in Latin words (such as the voice annuswhere the word “year” comes from) by placing a small tilde over the letter.

Over time, the evolution of Latin led to the geminate n sound (nn) became the current sound of ñ, in which the air comes out through the nose, which eventually made it necessary to find new ways of transcribing it. Thus, while other Romance languages ​​used consonant blends to represent this new sound (such as “gn” in French or “nh” in Portuguese), Spanish retained the spelling ñthus giving rise to the letter eñe.

However, just In the 13th century, when King Alfonso X, “the wise”, proposed the first spelling reform in Spanish, the ñ ended up being accepted and imposing over the other ways of scoring this sound. This allowed Spanish speakers to have a common alphabet, and when Antonio de Nebrija published his famous grammar of 1492 in the 14th century, the letter ñ was already an unquestionable part of the Spanish language.

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In modern times, the ñ it has become a symbol of Hispanic culture and Hispanic heritage in the world. Therefore, it has been adopted as an emblem by different organizations and institutes dedicated to the dissemination of the Hispanic language and culture internationally.

For example, the Instituto Cervantes uses it to identify itself, as did the Spanish planes of the now extinct Spanish Republic, and it was even used to name American writers with a strong Hispanic imprint and heritage: the “Ñ Generation”.

There is a certain margin of controversy around the ñ on the internet and the 2.0 world, since the letter cannot yet be used in the construction of URL addresses, but is often replaced by the n. This is due to the predominance of English and other languages ​​in the digital world and telecommunications, and is a reason for debate and complaint by defenders of the Spanish language.

Continue with: Grapheme


  • “Ñ” on Wikipedia.
  • “Origin of the letter Ñ” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “What is the origin of the letter ñ and what other languages ​​use it?” on BBC News World.
  • “The letter ‘ñ’, the identity of Spanish in the world” in El País (Spain).