Letter ñ

Ñ: Everything About the Ñ in Spanish

Ñ: You’ve probably seen this strange letter before. España. Piña. Jalapeño… There are lots of Spanish words that use ñ.

Where does it come from? Is it exclusive to the Spanish language? How do you use it? 

In this blog post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the letter ñ. From its history, to how to pronounce it, and example words.

Where Does the Ñ Come From? 

The origin of this letter dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, in 12th-century Spain.

Most of the Spanish language comes from Latin, but the letter ñ doesn’t. At least, not how we now know it. Back then, this let it was represented by “nn”, “ni”, or even “ng”. 

ProfeNy on reddit adds “the tilde on the ñ was not just “a small symbol” used to differentiate double nn from single n — which makes it sound like a random squiggle — but was originally a small version of the letter n itself. This is still obvious from its shape. So an n with a tilde, or ñ, was a logical shorthand for a double nn.

Early Spanish writers sometimes used the tilde as a substitute for n after vowels as well. For example, in Christopher Columbus’s first letter announcing his “discovery” of the Americas he substitutes corazõ for corazónveníã for venían for sonbãncos for bancostienẽ for tienen, and so on. It reminds me of Portuguese (although I don’t claim to know much about that language).”

It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that the letter as we know it made an appearance. People wished to save effort and time when printing texts. Using double letters had a higher cost. Instead of printing the double letters, they would print just one and add the symbol as shorthand for the double n. And so the need for the letter ñ came to be.

The Ñ Now

In the present day, the letter ñ is a unique symbol for the Spanish language. 

In 1991, Instituto Cervantes was established. This is a public Spanish organization, in charge of  promoting the study and teaching of Spanish. Their logo includes the letter ñ, to represent its special place in the Spanish language. 

Literature Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Marquez, once said, “The Ñ is not an archaeological piece of junk, but just the opposite: a cultural leap of a Romance language that left the others behind in expressing with only one letter a sound that other languages continue to express with two.”

Being the only letter in the Spanish alphabet to originate from Spain, the letter ñ is seen as a representation of Hispanic heritage and identity. 

How To Pronounce the Ñ

Now that you know the history behind the letter ñ and its importance for the Spanish language, you must learn how to pronounce it properly.

The letter is called eñe (enye). 

It is rather simple to pronounce. The sound is similar to the English “ny” combination, like in the word “canyon”.

Examples of Ñ Pronunciation

  • España (Spain) — ehs-pah-nyah
  • Español (Spanish) — ehs-pah-nyohl
  • Jalapeño (Jalapeno) — hah-lah-peh-nyoh 
  • Piña (Pineapple) — pee-nyah
  • Señor (Sir) —  seh-nyohr
  • Señora (Lady) — seh-nyoh-rah
  • Mañana (Tomorrow/Morning) — mah-nyah-nah
  • Baño (Bathroom) — bah-nyoh
  • Niño (Boy) — nee-nyoh
  • Niña (Girl) — nee-nyah

How to Type the Ñ on iPhone (iOS)

Typing Ñ/ñ on an iPhone is easy.
Hold the N/n key and the letter n with different accent marks will pop up.
Slide to choose Ñ/ñ.

How to Type the Ñ on Android Phone

Like on an iPhone, you can type Ñ/ñ on an android phone the same way.

Long press the N/n key.
Slide to choose Ñ/ñ on the options that pops up.

How to Type the Ñ on a Mac (Macbook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac)

Typing Ñ/ñ is easier on a Mac. Here are two options:

OPTION A: Press and hold the N button and it will show Ñ in a list of options. Just click Ñ and you’re done.
OPTION B: Hold the OPTION button then press N. When you do this, a tilde (~) would appear. Release the Option key and press n again to create ñ. For an uppercase Ñ, you should type an uppercase N as well (by holding shift as you press N).
To summarize, here are the keyboard shortcuts: Option N + N or long press N.
Microsoft Word

How to Type the Ñ on MS Word on Windows

When typing on MS Word on a Windows PC, you have two options on how to insert Ñ/ñ.

Type N0303 on the document and then press Alt + X. Remember that you shouldn’t press space when doing this. If you want to enter a lowercase ñ, type n0303 and then press Alt + x.
Press Ctrl + Shift + Tilde (~) and then type N for an uppercase Ñ. To create a lowercase ñ, press Ctrl + Shift + Tilde (~) and then type n.

How to Type the Ñ on a Windows Computer or Laptop

Using Numeric Keypad

If your keyboard has a numeric keypad, you can type Ñ/ñ by following these steps:

Enable the numeric keypad by turning on the Num lock key.

Hold the Alt key then type 164 on the numeric keypad to create a lowercase ñ. For the uppercase Ñ, hold the Alt key then type 165.
Note that this would only work if your computer/laptop has a numeric keypad located on the right side of the keyboard.

To easily remember, here are the keyboard shortcuts:

ñ: Alt + 164
Ñ: Alt + 165

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