Korespa spanish La letra ñ Portada

The curious origin of the letter ñ

The letter ñ is a letter typical of the Spanish language. Its origin dates back to the Middle Ages and is very curious. Also how to write it on an English keyboard.


But, what is the origin of the letter ñ?

In Latin, neither the letter nor the sound corresponding to the ñ existed.

As Latin evolved and Romance languages ​​began to emerge, such as Spanish, French or Italian, this new palatal nasal sound /ɲ/ appeared, which in Spanish we identify as “eñe”.


As this sound did not exist in the Latin alphabet, the scribes had to invent new ways to reproduce that sound in the texts of the Romance languages.

And they invented three different forms: nn (anno-year), gn (lignu-leño) and ni (Hispania-Spain). Therefore, in the same text, we could find the three variants of the new phoneme.

The scribes who chose to use the form nn began to abbreviate it, leaving only one n and putting a virgula ~ on top (the little hat so characteristic of the ñ ).

Abbreviating the nn “was a solution to save parchment and facilitate the hard work of the scribe monks. That is why the use of abbreviations was very common at the time”, according to Gómez Asencio.

These three graphic forms ñ-gn-ni of the palatal nasal phoneme lasted until the reign of Alfonso X the Wise in the 13th century, in which the king carried out the first orthographic reform of Spanish in order to unify and economize the language. And of the three graphic variants of the nasal phoneme used up to that moment, the king opted for the letter ñ as the only letter for that sound.

Castilian and Galician opted for ñ (Spain), but each Romance language adopted its own graphic solution for the palatal nasal sound. Thus, Italian and French were left with gn (Espagne, Spagna), Portuguese with nh (Espanha) and Catalan with ny (Espanya).

The use of the letter ñ spread little by little, and in 1492 it was when Nebrija included it in the first grammar of Castilian, and thus its use was fixed in the Spanish language.


How to write the letter ñ on an English keyboard

Teclado inglés
English keyboard


If you want to write the letter ñ with an English keyboard you can do it this way:

ñ: Alt + 164 on the numeric keypad.

Ñ: Alt + 165 on the numpad.


On laptops, you have to use the Numpad inserted on the right side, if it is not activated you can activate it by pressing the Fn key, so to get a ñ you would have to press Fn + Alt + 164


Teclado con ñ
Spanish keyboard


More information and references:

  • Wikipedia.org -Ñ. Available Here
  • Aulahispanica.com -Origin of the “Ñ”. Available  Here
  • Redhispanistas.es -The origin of the letter Ñ. Available Here
  • Guirilandia.com -How to put ñes and tildes on an English keyboard. Available Here
  • pixabay.com- Clker-Free-Vector-Images. Original image available here
  • flickr.com- Tnarik Innael. With the ñ of ñoño. I original image is available here

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