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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » MN to Ñ »

Sueño and In­som­nia

Sueño (Span­ish for “dream”) and in­som­nia come from the same root: the Latin som­nus, mean­ing, “sleep.”

The evo­lu­tion is easy to spot if we re­mem­ber that the ‑mn- sound in Latin usu­al­ly trans­formed in­to the ñ in Span­ish. See damn and daño, for ex­am­ple. Or au­tumn and otoño as well.

Thus, the s‑mn of in­som­nia maps to the s‑ñ of, sueño.

Daño and Con­demn, Damn

Daño, Span­ish for “dam­age”, comes from the Latin for the same: damnum. From the same root we get both the Eng­lish con­demn and damn. But what hap­pened to that miss­ing ‘m’?

In­ter­est­ing­ly, the Latin m‑n sound tend­ed to turn in­to a ñ sound in Span­ish. This ex­plains how au­tumn be­came otoño, for ex­am­ple.

We can still see this pat­tern pre­served in the per­fect map­ping of d‑ñ in daño to the d‑mn of damn, and the same with con­demn.

From the same root we al­so get the Eng­lish in­dem­ni­ty, as well as dam­age it­self, al­though the fi­nal ‑n was lost be­cause dam­age en­tered Eng­lish via French.

We can see the par­al­lel but be­tween daño, con­demn, dam­age, and damnum — but how did it come to mean the for­mer­ly-vul­gar, damn? Think of damn in the old sense of, sen­tenc­ing some­one for a crime they did: you are con­demned to hell. A whole slew of Eng­lish in­sults come from this same con­cept, in­clud­ing the word hell it­self!

Otoño and Au­tumn

Otoño does­n’t sound much like its Eng­lish trans­la­tion, fall (the sea­son). But if we think of the less com­mon syn­onym, Au­tumn, then the pat­tern be­comes a bit clear­er.

Both come from the Latin for the same, Au­tum­nus. But Latin words with an m‑n sound usu­al­ly be­came an ñ sound in Span­ish. Think of damn and daño, for ex­am­ple. So the a‑t-m‑n of au­tumn maps to the o‑t-ñ of otoño!

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