If Nyan Cat were a Spanish creation, would we spell it Ñan Cat? Well.. yes, actually!
After all, the palabrasque.com search option lists 13,589 Spanish words containing the letter ñ.
Plus, over 350 of them actually start with this letter.
That’s a whole lot of words for a letter that did not even exist in Latin!
But let’s be real. The letter ñ is not in the “top three most important and most often used letters in the Spanish language” list, though we native speakers love it.
I am sure you already know a bunch of words that contain the letter ñ, and most likely you use them quite often in your conversations or essays in Spanish.
Take the word año (year) as an example. What is one of the first questions you all learn when you start your adventure with the Spanish language? Exactly!
¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)
I bet you also know words like niño (child), araña (spider), mañana (morning, tomorrow) and bañarse (to have a bath), but they all include this letter in the middle of the word, not at the beginning.
Many of my students are surprised when I tell them there are indeed Spanish words that start with ñ, some of which are used every day! They all start trying to produce the ñ sound at the beginning of a word, and it is hilariously cute.
Native speakers of English have plenty of words with the ñ sound in the middle of a word. This sound is almost identical to the sound you produce when you say the words “canyon” or “onion” in English.
However, there are way fewer words starting with this very same sound in English, so students tend to get stressed over the fact that they have to produce that sound (much as in happens to many of you when you see a Spanish word with lots of s, c or z letters like secesión) right from the start.
There is no need for you to stress over this. You are actually able to produce this sound perfectly well in English.
Try to say the word “nuke” or, better yet, “Nyan Cat.” That’s it, that’s the ñ we were looking for!
So, as I said before, there are plenty of Spanish words starting with ñ, and you are about to learn the most important ones.
A Brief History of the Letter Ñ
Once upon a time around the 12th century, scribes were tired of writing and copying books over and over again and they decided to create a system to save them 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 got 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, but there are other letter combinations like gn, mn and ni that would also become ñ with time:
signa→ seña (sign)
canna→ caña (cane)
annu→ año (year)
Hispania → España (Spain)
Nowadays, the letter ñ is not only an independent letter that can be found after n in Spanish dictionaries, but also a symbol of the Spanish language.
It is not strange to see Spanish language schools around the world use this letter or its tilde one way or another, the most universally known example being the different logos of the Instituto Cervantes.
So now that you know where ñ comes from and how much we love it, let’s start learning a few Spanish words that actually start with it.
Some of these words are used throughout the 21 countries where Spanish is an official language, while others are only used in some specific regions.
I have added information regarding usage when available. The information regarding the usage of a number of these words has been extracted from the DRAE.
23 Spanish Words That Start with Ñ You Never Knew Existed
Of all the Spanish words that start with ñ, I have chosen 23 that are either commonly used or interesting for some reason.
Usage information is included for each word. To see how words like these are used by actual native Spanish speakers in context, check out the authentic videos of FluentU.
The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable. Experience it for yourself with a free FluentU trial.
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.
Ñu (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.)
Ñoño (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!)
Ñaño (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 apparently it is widely used in some South American countries:
1. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, it refers to a close friend.
2. In Colombia and Panama, it means spoiled, as in a spoiled child.
3. In Panama, it is also used to refer to a homosexual person.
4. In parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador it means “brother” (same dad and same mum).
5. In Peru, it is also used to refer to a child.
Ñato (Pug-nosed, Boxer)
Even though I normally do not use this word myself, having grown up watching telenovelas made the word ñato a common one since I was a child.
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!
Ñuzco (The Devil)
This is how people in Honduras call the devil. Creepy.
Ñoñez / Ñoñería (Inanity, Isipidness, Spinelessness)
Both these words are nouns that come from the word ñoño (see above). They are both used to refer to people who either are ñoño or act like one.
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 do not know how to feel about it.
Anyway, bon appetit!
Ñongo (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 in this list that is not very 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, non-useful things.
The ñandú is the second animal on this list.
I remember also learning this word when I was a kid, and we always used to refer to it as the ostrich whose name starts with a ñ.
Ñáñara is an amazing word with two ñ’s and it is a colloquial way of saying pereza (laziness) in Honduras.
The word ñomblo is how Nicaraguan people say obeso (obese).
Ñatear (To Snort)
Here’s one word you should only know in theory: ñatear.
Ñatear is how they say esnifar (to snort) in Nicaragua.
Do you remember that the word ñato means 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 heard it for the first time. They use it in Panama to say locura (madness), as in when someone loses their mind.
¡Qué ñamería! (What a madness!)
Ñandubay (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!
Ñampearse / Ñampeado (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).
Ñacurutú (Great Horned Owl)
The last animal on this list in the great horned owl, a.k.a. 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.
Ñeembucú / Ñeembuqueño (Department in Paraguay / People Who Are Born in This Department)
This is a very specific pair of words, but I wanted to add it because they sound so gracious to me.
Ñeembucú is a Department in Paraguay. People born there are called ñeembuqueños.
Ñañiguismo / Ñáñigos (A Freemason-like Cuban Society / People Who Are Part of This Society)
I am including these two words because when I discovered them I was absolutely fascinated.
The Ñáñigos are some kind of Cuban secret society for men, similar to the Freemasons. If you have some time, read a little bit about them.
Ñañiguismo is the word that refers to practicing the canons established by this society.
Ñangotarse (To Squat, To Humiliate, 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 is being said, but then again, I live in a country (Poland) where the same word can mean a lock, a castle and a zipper.
And that’s all for today!
As you can see, even weird letters like ñ can and should be worshiped and used.
Spanish contains a lot of words that include the letter ñ, but only a fraction of them start with it.
It is now your turn to learn them and use them with your Spanish-speaking friends.
I bet they do not know them all!
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!
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