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What is the n with a tail?

The n with a tail, also known as ñ or enye, is a letter in the Spanish alphabet that has a tilde or accent mark over the top. It is considered a distinct letter from the regular n. The ñ has its own place in the Spanish alphabet, after n but before o.

Origin and History of the ñ

The ñ originated from the Latin alphabet, where the letter n was sometimes written with a tilde when it preceded the letters c or g. This was done to indicate that the n should be pronounced as a separate syllable, rather than blending into the following letter.

In old Spanish, the nn digraph was used to represent the ñ sound. But over time, the tilted form of the n became its own distinct letter. The ñ began being used in Spanish and Galician during the Middle Ages in the 13th century. It was first included officially in the Spanish alphabet in 1754.

The ñ is still found in most other Romance languages like Occitan, Catalan, French, Italian, and Portuguese. But only in Spanish and Galician is it considered an official letter of the alphabet.

Appearance and Pronunciation

The ñ is written just like a regular n, but with a tilde accent mark over the top. The tilde is always written in the same direction, from upper left to lower right. It is considered a letter in its own right, and appears between n and o in alphabetization.

In terms of pronunciation, the ñ makes a ny sound, similar to the ni in the English word onion. It has its own distinct sound in Spanish that does not correspond directly to any letter in English.

Example Pronunciations

  • España – eh-SPAHN-yah
  • Niño – NEE-nyoh
  • Uña – OO-nyah

The ñ sound cannot be substituted with just an n or an ny spelling. It is a core part of Spanish pronunciation and grammar.

Uses of the ñ

The ñ serves several important functions in Spanish:

  • Palatalization – The ñ is used to indicate palatalization of an original n sound before certain vowels. This means it slightly alters the pronunciation of the n.
  • Separating syllables – Placing a tilde over the n keeps it from blending into the next syllable, helping indicate where word breaks should fall.
  • Meaning differentiation – ñ serves to distinguish words like ano (anus) and año (year) or vino (wine) and vino (he/she came).


Here are some examples of how ñ is used in Spanish words:

Word Meaning Pronunciation
España Spain eh-SPAHN-yah
Niño Boy NEE-nyoh
Mañana Tomorrow mah-NYAH-nah

As you can see, the ñ affects the pronunciation and meaning of many common Spanish words. It is an integral part of the language.

The ñ in Other Languages

While the ñ is best known as a Spanish letter, it is not exclusive to Spanish. Here are some facts about how it’s used in other languages:

  • In Galician, ñ is the 16th letter of the alphabet and represents the same sound as in Spanish.
  • Portuguese uses ñ occasionally in words adopted from Spanish, like niño. But it’s not considered part of the main alphabet.
  • In Catalan, ñ appears in words derived from Latin but it has largely been replaced by the digraph ny, as in Catalunya.
  • Occitan uses ñ the same way as Spanish and Catalan. It’s the 14th letter of the Occitan alphabet.
  • In French, ñ appears mostly in borrowed words like canyon. French has its own digraph gn that represents a similar sound.
  • Italian and Romanian use n with a tilde over it in some loanwords from Spanish like jalapeño and piñata.

So while not as prominent in other languages, the ñ still makes occasional appearances outside of Spanish and Galician.

The ñ on Keyboards and in Computing

On Spanish and Latin American keyboards and typewriters, the ñ is always included as a single key. But on English keyboards, some special steps are required to type the character.

On most operating systems, you can type ñ by:

  • Windows: Holding down Alt and typing 0241 on the numeric keypad.
  • Mac: Holding down Option+N
  • Linux: Holding down Ctrl+Shift+U and then typing 00F1

There are also ways to add the ñ character to your keyboard layout through the language settings of your operating system.

In terms of encoding, ñ is represented by the Unicode character 00F1. In HTML entities it is ñ In ASCII and similar old encodings, there was no representation for ñ, which caused problems for Spanish text in early digital systems.

Fun Fact

In the 1990s, some hackers would include the ñ character in mass emails as a way to bypass filters looking for spam! Since many systems didn’t recognize ñ as a real character, it wouldn’t get blocked.

Significance of the ñ

While it may seem minor, the ñ is very important culturally for Spanish. It represents a sound that does not exist in English and changes the meaning of many words.

In fact, in 2010 the Puerto Rican senate campaigned to make ñ the national symbol of Puerto Rico and promote its use internationally. There is a sense of pride and cultural identity tied to this unique letter.

It can be challenging for English speakers learning Spanish to master the ñ sound. But it is a core part of vocabulary, pronunciation, and the history of the Spanish language.


The ñ – or “n with a tilde” – has a rich history dating back to Medieval Spain. It represents a distinct syllable and sound in Spanish that does not directly translate to English. While best known for its role in Spanish, the enye also appears in several other languages like Galician, Catalan, and Occitan.

Mastering the ñ is an essential part of achieving fluency in Spanish. It affects the pronunciation and meaning of many common words. With the dominance of English keyboards and computing, typing the ñ character can be tricky – but with the right alt codes or keyboard settings, it’s possible. For Spanish speakers, the ñ is a unique part of their linguistic identity.