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The use of the cedilha

The cedilha (also called cê-cedilha or cê cedilhado) is a hook placed under the letter “c” to indicate that it is pronounced like an [s]. So, for example, if we take the word “faca” (knife), where the letter “c” sounds like a [k], and add a cedilha under the “c” it becomes “faça”, the imperative of the verb fazer (to make) and it is pronounced like an [s].

Note: The cedilha is never used at the beginning of a word and it is only used when followed by the vowels a, o and u never before e or i because with these vowels the c is already pronounced as an [s].
For example:
bagunça (mess, disorder) / bagunceiro (disorderly, the person who makes the mess)
braço (arm) / bracinho (little arm)

Other examples of when the cedilha is used:
  • Words of Indigenous, African or Arabic origin:
Indigenous origin:
açaí (acai berry, fruit of the cabbage palm),
araçá (Brazilian guava)

African origin:
caçula (the youngest child of a family)
miçanga (bead, glass pearl)

Arabic origin:
açúcar (sugar)
muçulmano (Muslim)
açafrão (saffron)

  • After diphthongs (union of two vowels pro­nounced in one syllable)

feição (feature, aspect, appearance, look)

 louça (crockery)
traição (betrayal)

  • In nouns derived from the verbs ending in ter

 abster (v. to abstain) > abstenção (n. abstention)

obter (v. to obtain)  > obtenção (n. obtainment)
conter (v. to contain)  > contenção (n. contention)
deter (v. to detain)  > detenção (n. detention)
 reter (v. to retain) >retenção (n. retention)

  • In the suffixes (endings of a word)  açaaçonçaiçaiçouçauço.

barcaça (barge)

ricaço (coloq rich person, moneybag, loaded)
criança (child)
carniça (cattle for slaughtering, meat, bloodshed)
caniço (fishing-rod)
dentuça (female with big teeth, big-toothed)
buço (fluff on the upper lip)
  •              In the correlation t > ç

absorto (absorbed) > absorção (absorption)

       canto (song) > canção (song)
       exceto (except) > exceção (exception)
       isento (exempt) > isenção (exemption)
       ato (act) > ação (action)
  •  In the suffixes –ação and –ção in nouns derived from verbs.

exportar (v. to export) > exportação (n. exportation, export )

reparar (v. to repair) > reparação (n. reparation, repair)
construir (v. to construct) > construção (n. construction)
destruir (v. to destruct) > destruição (destruction)
 formar (v. to form) > formação (n. formation)

Further reading: 

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