Mañana. Español. Señor. Señora…
What do these words all have in common? I’ll give you a hint — there’s a certain letter that appears in all three of them.
Have you got it yet? They all contain the letter ñ.
Now, if you’re a beginner, it’s likely you’ve seen this letter before in a few Spanish words, or a Spanish course introductory session related to the alphabet, and thought to yourself — what is that strange Spanish letter?
How do I pronounce it?
If that’s the case, keep reading to find out all you need to know about the Spanish letter ñ.
What is the Spanish letter ñ?
The Spanish letter ñ is referred to as the eñe (enye).
It is the fifteenth letter of the Spanish alphabet. We also have to mention something important about this letter — the Spanish letter ñ is not the same as the letter n.
It is a separate letter that is independent of the ene (letter n) in the Spanish dictionary and the RAE (Real Academia Española).
The difference between the n and the ñ makes a difference to the way certain words are pronounced.
What is the squiggly line above the Spanish letter ñ?
The squiggly line that you can see above the ñ is called a tilde or, in Spanish, a virgulilla.
The tilde is what distinguishes the ñ from the ene. It also indicates how you should pronounce particular words that feature the letter ñ.
You might think of it as a similar mark to the Spanish accent marks that you see floating above various vowels, which indicate where the stress of the word falls.
For this reason, it is an important orthographic sign, which brings us to our next point about pronouncing the ñ.
How is the ñ pronounced in Spanish?
To pronounce the letter ñ, it might be helpful to imagine that the letter contains a ‘y’ in the middle. Ñ is pronounced eh-nyeh.
So, for words that contain an ñ, you’ll want to keep this pronunciation in mind.
For instance, to pronounce the word señor, imagine that the letter ‘y’ comes after the ñ and you’ll get the pronunciation spot-on:
To sound like a native when pronouncing words that contain the ñ, here’s a quick tip. Try to blend the ‘n’ and the ‘y’ seamlessly, and while saying the word place your tongue behind your top front teeth when you reach the letter ñ.
How to type ñ in Windows, Mac and Linux
Typing ñ on most computers is very easy to do.
- Toggle NumLock on.
- Hold down Alt key and type 164 (lowercase ñ) or 165 (uppercase Ñ).
- Hold down Option key + N
- Type N again for lowercase ñ or Shift + N for uppercase Ñ.
- Switch to US International keyboard
- RightAlt + N
Note: Linux instructions work on Ubuntu distros but may be different on others. You can use the character map in most cases. For non-X, see xmodmap.
What are some other Spanish words that contain the letter ñ?
Aside from señor, mañana and español, here are a few more Spanish words that contain the letter ñ:
What are the origins of the Spanish letter ñ?
Though it originally didn’t feature in the alphabet, historically the letter ñ was first used during the 12th century.
It was used instead of the double n to save space on documents written by scribes.
It stuck around well into the 14th century and beyond, and is now frequently used in over 13,573 Spanish words.
How to get used to the pronunciation of the Spanish letter ñ in a range of words
We’re not going to bend the truth — mastering the pronunciation of certain sounds in Spanish, such as the notorious rolling erre (letter r) for English speakers can be a challenge — and it’s the same for the ñ.
Though we’ve already touched on how to pronounce it, you’re going to want to get used to the pronunciation of this letter in various words.
With this in mind, here are four top tips to help you pronounce the Spanish letter ñ.
Practice the letter ñ on its own first
As a beginner, you will want to get the pronunciation of every Spanish letter correct, as they are the foundation of phonetic pronunciation for whole words — and this includes the Spanish letter ñ.
Take a look at the phonetic break down for the letter ñ (included above), and repeat it until you have mastered how to pronounce it.
Consult lists to help you practice a wide selection of words with the ñ
Practice pronouncing the Spanish letter ñ in isolation is a good first step, but you’ll want to use it in a range of words as well to take things up a notch.
Consulting lists can help with this.
Work your way down the list, pronouncing each word as you reach it and then check the phonetic pronunciation to see whether you have pronounced it correctly.
Use flashcards to randomise the list of words that contain the Spanish ñ
Now, you’re going to want to randomise your word list to see if you can pronounce them all perfectly despite the random order.
See if you can get the pronunciation right and check your pronunciation as you progress.
Take a look at Spanish YouTube channels to help you
Listening to Spanish YouTube channels that are aimed at children and beginners is the ideal way to practice the pronunciation of the Spanish letter ñ.
Look, listen and repeat to consolidate your learning.
Master the Spanish ñ with a little practice: the key points
So, that’s it. That’s the letter ñ in a nutshell.
To summarise the main points, remember:
- The Spanish letter ñ is separate from the n.
- The squiggly line is called a virgulilla.
- It was first used by scribes in the 12th century in place of the double n.
Keep practising to get your pronunciation perfect, use the tips we’ve provided here and you’ll soon master the Spanish ñ. Before you know it, you’ll be speaking like a native!
Got any other tips for pronouncing the Spanish letter ñ?
Share them below!