Spanish Words That Start with Ñ: 23+ Uniquely Spanish Terms
If Nyan Cat were a Spanish creation, would it be spelled Ñan Cat? Well… yes, actually!
You likely already know words that contain the letter ñ—consider año (year), mañana (morning, tomorrow) and bañarse (to have a bath).
But Ñan Cat actually starts with the letter ñ, and it’s certainly not the only Spanish word that does.
In fact, many of my students are surprised when I tell them there are some words that start with this letter that are used every day!
So without further ado, here are 23+ Spanish words that start with ñ that are either commonly used or have a particularly interesting history.
- 1. Ña
- 2. Ño
- 3. Ñu
- 4. Ñoño
- 5. Ñaño
- 6. Ñato
- 7. Ñuzco
- 8. Ñoñez / Ñoñería
- 9. Ñoqui
- 10. Ñongo
- 11. Ñaque
- 12. Ñandú
- 13. Ñáñara
- 14. Ñomblo
- 15. Ñatear
- 16. Ñangazo
- 17. Ñamería
- 18. Ñandubay
- 19. Ñampearse / Ñampeado
- 20. Ñacurutú
- 21. Ñeembucú / Ñeembuqueño
- 22. Ñañiguismo / Ñáñigos
- 23. Ñangotarse
- The History and Pronunciation of the Letter Ñ
- And One More Thing…
The form Ña is a shortened version of the word Doña, used in front of the names of elderly women. Ña is especially used in rural South America.
A shortened version of Señor, used in front of the name of elderly men in rural South America.
English: Wildebeest, gnu
This is one of the words in this list almost every Spanish-speaking person knows.
I remember they taught us this word in school when we were learning the alphabet. From that moment on, I never forgot it.
El ñu azul es hervívoro. (The blue wildebeest is a herbivore.)
English: Bland, dull, blah, boring, drippy, namby-pamby
Ñoño is another word that is very commonly used, especially in Spain.
It can refer to both things and people, and it has quite a wide range of meanings, but they all have something in common: blandness, boredom, lack of life.
This word is an adjective, so it has to agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies:
Eres una persona muy ñoña. (You are a very boring person.)
¡Qué ñoño eres! (You’re so drippy!)
English: Close friend; spoiled; homosexual; brother; kid
According to the DRAE, ñaño can be used as an adjective and a noun.
I had personally never heard of it before, but it is widely used in some South American countries:
- In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, it refers to a close friend.
- In Colombia and Panama, it means “spoiled,” as in a spoiled child.
- In Panama, it is also used to refer to a homosexual person.
- In parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador it means “brother” (same mother and father).
- In Peru, it is also used to refer to a child.
English: Pug-nosed; boxer
Having grown up watching telenovelas means I heard the word ñato a lot as a child, even though now I don’t generally use this word.
Ñato is a mainly Latin American word used to refer to people who have a pug nose. The equivalent in Spain is chato.
It was funny for me to discover this word also means “boxer” in Uruguay. It must be because most of them get their noses smashed sooner or later!
English: The Devil
This is how people in Honduras refer to the devil. Creepy.
8. Ñoñez / Ñoñería
English: Inanity; insipidness; spinelessness
Both of these Spanish words are nouns that come from the word ñoño (see above). They are both used to refer to people who either are ñoño or are simply acting like it.
Right here you can see the love we have for “Spanishizing” every word we can. The whole world pronounces this word practically the same, but we decided to also write it in Spanish.
(It reminds me of the word fútbol (football), and I still don’t know how to feel about it!)
English: Intrusive, indiscreet
This word is used mainly in Cuba to refer to a person who wants to know way too much.
This is one of the words on this list that is not commonly used anymore.
It originally referred to a touring theater company consisting of only two people. Later on, it began to mean “junk” or “stuff,” as in “a lot of impractical, useless things.”
English: Rhea (South American ostrich)
The ñandú is the second animal on this list.
I remember learning this word when I was a kid, and we actually used to refer to it as the ostrich whose name starts with ñ.
Ñáñara is an amazing word with two ñ’s, and it’s a colloquial way of saying pereza (laziness) in Honduras.
The word ñomblo is how Nicaraguan people say obeso (obese).
English: To snort
Ñatear is how they say esnifar (to snort) in Nicaragua.
Do you remember the word ñato (pug-nosed)? They belong to the same family of words!
A ñangazo is a mordisco (bite) in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
Pay attention to the ending -azo, which is a Spanish suffix mainly used as an augmentative.
I have loved this word ever since I learned it. They use it in Panama to say locura (madness), as in when someone loses their mind.
¡Qué ñamería! (What a madness!)
English: A type of tree in the pea family
The ñandubay (Latin name prosopis affinis) is a flowering tree of the pea family native to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
It is a melliferous tree. Yummy!
19. Ñampearse / Ñampeado
English: To go crazy / Crazy
Ñampearse is a pronominal verb used colloquially in Panama to say someone has gone crazy (has lost their mind).
The past participle ñampeado is normally used as an adjective meaning loco (crazy).
English: Great horned owl
The last animal on this list in the great horned owl, or the ñacurutú.
I personally had no idea this animal existed, but if you ever travel to Argentina, Paraguay or Uruguay, you are probably in for a treat.
21. Ñeembucú / Ñeembuqueño
English: Department in Paraguay / People born in this Department
This is a very specific pair of words, but I wanted to add them because they sound so graceful to me.
Ñeembucú is a Department (administrative region) in Paraguay. People born there are called ñeembuqueños.
22. Ñañiguismo / Ñáñigos
English: A Cuban secret society / People in this society
I am including these two words because when I discovered them I was absolutely fascinated.
The Ñáñigos are members of a Cuban secret society for men, similar to the Freemasons. If you have some time, you can read a little bit about them here.
Ñañiguismo is the word that refers to practicing the canons established by this society.
English: To squat; to humiliate onself; to be disheartened
Ñangotarse is a verb mainly used in Puerto Rico and some parts of the Dominican Republic.
It has three main meanings, which in standard Spanish would be ponerse en cuclillas (to squat), humillarse (literally “to humiliate oneself”) and perder el ánimo (to be disheartened, literally “to lose one’s spirit”).
The differences in meaning are big enough for me to wonder how people are able to understand what’s being said… but then again, I live in a country (Poland) where the same word can mean a lock, a castle and a zipper. It’s all about context!
The History and Pronunciation of the Letter Ñ
Before the printing press was invented, Latin scribes had to copy books by hand in order to distribute them to multiple people. This was very time-consuming work, so around the 12th century, some scribes created a system to save time and effort.
They started adding a tilde ~ (not to be confused with the Spanish tilde or accent mark) over some letters to indicate that the letter was, in fact, doubled.
A couple of centuries passed and this system was somehow forgotten—except for one double letter: nn. Scribes kept using the tilde when they encountered a double n, and so, with time, the letter ñ became a letter in its own right.
More often than not, the letter ñ in Spanish indicates that the original Latin word contained a double n. There are, however, other letter combinations, like gn and ni, that would also become an ñ with time:
signa → seña (sign)
Hispania → España (Spain)
A search on Palabrasque lists 13,573 Spanish words containing the letter ñ. Nowadays, it is not only an independent letter that can be found in Spanish dictionaries, but also a symbol of the Spanish language.
Sometimes, the pronunciation of ñ is a source of stress for Spanish learners, especially when it appears at the beginning of a word.
Assuming you know English, however, you can use some fairly common English words to practice this sound. Say “canyon” or “onion” and focus on the bolded sound—that’s the ñ we were looking for.
So, Spanish contains a lot of words that include the letter ñ, but only a fraction of them start with it. Use the FluentU program to learn more about these words and how to use them naturally thanks to hundreds of Spanish videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s now your turn to learn them and use them with your Spanish-speaking friends—I bet they don’t know them all!
And One More Thing…
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