Last Sourced: 2017-08-01
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N (named en /ɛn/ ) is the 14th letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.
One of the most common hieroglyphs, snake, was used in Egyptian writing to stand for a sound like the English ⟨J⟩, because the Egyptian word for "snake" was djet. It is speculated by many that Semitic people working in Egypt adapted hieroglyphics to create the first alphabet, and that they used the same snake symbol to represent N, because their word for "snake" may have begun with that sound. However, the name for the letter in the Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic alphabets is nun, which means "fish" in some of these languages. The sound value of the letter was /n/—as in Greek, Etruscan, Latin and modern languages.
Use in writing systems
⟨n⟩ represents a dental or alveolar nasal in virtually all languages that use the Latin alphabet, and in the International Phonetic Alphabet. A common digraph with ⟨n⟩ is ⟨ng⟩, which represents a velar nasal in a variety of languages, usually positioned word-finally in English. Often, before a velar plosive (as in ink or jungle), ⟨n⟩ alone represents a velar nasal. In Italian and French, ⟨gn⟩ represents a palatal nasal /ɲ/. The Portuguese and Vietnamese spelling for this sound is ⟨nh⟩, while Spanish and a few other languages use the letter ⟨ñ⟩. In English, ⟨n⟩ is generally silent when it is preceded by an ⟨m⟩ at the end of words, as in hymn; however, it is pronounced in this combination when occurring word medially, as in hymnal.
⟨n⟩ is the sixth most common letter and the second-most commonly used consonant in the English language (after ⟨t⟩).
In mathematics, the italic form n is a particularly common symbol for a variable quantity which represents an integer.