Origin and history of the letter ñ

Today we are going to talk about the origin and history of the letter ñ. It is the most curious and genuine letter in Spanish.

There are many words that contain this letter in Spanish. It is an emblem of the language and culture of Spain. Niño, muñeca, moño, meñique, mañana, cariño... are just a few examples.

However, what do you really know about the letter ñ? Do you know when and why it started to be used? Are there other languages that also use it, apart from Spanish? Let's answer these questions.

All about the letter ñ

The origin of the letter ñ can be found in the Middle Ages, when the copyist monks and scribes, due to the lack of parchment and to save time, were forced to abbreviate some letters in order to fit the greatest number of words in each line.

One of the first letters eñe is found in a text dated 1176. However, the letter was not incorporated into the dictionary of the Real Academia Española until much later, in 1803.

In all this time (more than eight centuries), the letter ñ has undergone many changes. And more recently, it has even been on the verge of disappearing.

As you know, not all keyboards have the ñ key. For this reason, at the end of the 20th century, and at the request of the European Union, it was decided to eliminate the ñ in order to promote the uniformity of writing keyboards.
Moreover, the Internet also excludes this letter, which does not appear in e-mail addresses or websites. And yet Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
There are almost 472 million native Spanish speakers, according to the Cervantes Institute, and many people are interested in learning this beautiful language. Even the logo of this institution (Instituto Cervantes) has a hidden letter Ñ.


Give voice" to some phonemes inherited from Latin. These include combinations of the letters "NN" (in words like annus), "MN" (in words like somnus), "GN" (in words like pugnus), "NG" (in words like ringere) or "NI" + vowel (in words like senior).

Introducing these letters meant a greater investment of time on the part of the monks, and ways had to be found to economise. Thus, words such as año, sueño, puño, reñir or señor arose.

And while Spanish opted for this formula, Portuguese created the combination "NH" (Espanha), French and Italian opted for "GN" (Espagna) and Catalan introduced the formula "NY" (Espanya).

The letter was used interchangeably with the previous phonemes until the orthographic reform of King Alfonso X the Wise, in the 13th century. Following his policy of linguistic unification, this monarch, reader, writer and intellectual, introduced the ñ as the "preferred" option for reproducing the sounds we have explained.

As early as the 15th century, Antonio de Nebrija included the ñ in the first Spanish grammar, published in 1492.

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