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What is the real purpose of the c-cedilla? (ç)

« Ç » should be pronounced like « s » , right? If so, then why do we have a regular "c" without a cédille pronounced like a "s" so much? « Ceci » , « Cela » , « Ces » , etc. ?

September 12, 2017



The cedilla is used to change the K sound into an S sound.

It is necessary when you need to keep an S sound in front of a hard vowel: a, o, u.

  • ça [sa], garçon [gaʁɔ̃], gerçure [ʒɛʁsyʁ] (chap)

The consonant C naturally sounds S in front of a soft vowel: e, i, y

  • ce, cet, ces, ceci, cela, celui, celle, ici, un cigare, un cycle ...


I forgot something:

In French the letter Y is a vowel as well and a soft one: un cycle [sikl]


Merci pour l'explication! Je comprends maintenant.


So now you may wonder why we need to make the c sound s at times. It happens when we derive a word from a word with a c followed with a soft vowel, and the new word has a hard vowel instead. I will explain that from the three examples given by Sitesurf: ça, garçon and gerçure.

'Ça' is actually short for 'cela' (which is formal, literary). It probably comes from the contracted form 'ç'la' (I had to use a cedilla, here, as you can see, otherwise it would look like it has to be pronounced 'kla'), which was eventually pronounced 'ça'.

'Garçon' is the masculine form of 'garce', which meant 'girl' in the Middle Ages but quickly also meant 'prostitute' (around the end of the Middle Ages, I believe) and is now very offensive, while 'garçon' ('boy') is not offensive at all. To replace 'garce', we now use 'fille' which originally only meant 'daughter' (now it both means 'girl' and 'daughter').

'Gerçure' is derived from the verb 'gercer'.

It was out of question to change the pronunciation of the c in these derived words, so we had to add a cedilla to it.

Sometimes we have to do the opposite, though: we have to keep the k sound to a c. In these situations, we will use 'qu'. Ex: 'Parc, parquer' 'Flic, fliquer'. But with older words, we actually changed the pronunciation of the 'c' to replace it with 'ch' (which sounds like 'k' in Italian but like 'sh' in French). Ex: 'Arc, archer'. 'Sec, sécher'.

We have the same problem with 'g': we need to replace it with 'gu' in front of a soft vowel to keep the g sound, and with 'ge' in front of a hard vowel to keep the j sound.


Maybe I should have mentioned that 'garce' is itself derived from 'gars', which originally meant 'boy' and now means 'guy'. From that word were created 'garce' (girl) and 'garçon' (little boy). All needed to have an s sound. 'Gars' is now pronounced only 'ga' but it is believed that all consonants were pronounced until the 17th century or even later, so it was possibly pronounced 'garss'. The feminine form was written 'garce' although 'garse' would have been acceptable (we have words like 'torse' and 'Perse', but the words ending in 'rce' are more common: 'perce, force, farce, tierce', etc.).


Merci Marc! J'ai aimé votre explication détaillée


Hi Sitesurf, the forum under my account LanguageButcher got disabled. Do you know why? Did I violate something? Thanks.


On your homepage, I can see your activity in the new format (when I click on the blue button), though. Are you not aware that the Activity Thread feature disappeared some weeks ago?


I think he meant his first account, LanguageButcher. Looks like he had to create a new one, ALanguageButcher, to be able to post on the forum.


Thank you for all the help you have ever given me, Marc and Sitesurf. You both are amazing and I owe a huge portion of my french knowledge to you. I guess I'll be off Duo for a while. I'm going to focus on my listening and speaking skills anyway. So this is a good time to do it. Hope to see you again in a few months.


You'll still be welcome then! ;-)


Bye, LB! I'll still be here in a few months, I think, because I'll need years to learn Turkish and German properly. :D

See you later. À la prochaine ! :)


I meant the Discussion. When I clicked on "Discussion," it sent me to this page https://www.duolingo.com/errors/403_forum_disabled.html

I still receive notifications when someone made a comment in one of the threads I followed, but I can't access the threads. All other parts of the account seems to work fine.


A temporary bug? Maybe take a look at the Trouble Shooting forum. Cheers!


Oh, ok. Thanks. As long as I wasn't blocked for doing something stupid, I'm ok. Hehe.


Like in English, e, i and y change the pronunciation of the previous c from hard (k-y sound) to soft (s-y sound). In French, ç is used to indicate a soft sound where the c would otherwise be hard. In other words:

  • ce, ci, cy, ça, ço, çu = s
  • ca, co, cu, c + consonant = k
  • ch = sh


To torture foreigners ;)


Probably, that's also why there are noun genders. :P


Cédille always make the 's' sound, never 'k' sound. The letter 'c' make both 's' and 'k' sound. 'Ç' softens a sound when if used 'c' could pronounced 'k'.


So why don't the words i mentioned have a cédille? Shouldn't they?


What do the numbers beside your language flags mean?


Your language level.


Merci Mark, pour votre explication en profondeur, je comprends maintenant.

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