French Pronunciation: Understanding “Ç” / Le c cédille

Le “ç” or “le c cédille” is a very strange, but elegant, French letter. It can be a little intimidating when you come across it for the first time!

What is the correct French pronunciation for this letter?
When should you use it?
Where does it come from?

It looks tricky, but don’t worry, it’s actually pretty simple.

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

  • Beginner: Know what “le c cédille” is, what it’s for, and the correct French pronunciation
  • Intermediate: Learn some examples of words that use the letter “ç” in everyday French
  • Advanced: Learn all the examples of words with “ç” in this lesson, and know where they come from

Bonjour c’est Géraldine.
Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) C

In French, the letter c (= which is pronounced “cé” = [“say”]) has two main pronunciations in a word or a sentence.

  • C = [“sss”] in front of e, i, y
    “C” sounds like “sss” in front of the vowels e, i, y

For instance:
c + e → “se” : cela (= [suh-lah] = “that”)
c + i → “si” : le citron (= [see – tron] (on is a nasal vowel) = “lemon”)
c + y → “si” : cyan (= [see-yan] = “cyan”)

  • C = [“k”] in front of vowels a, o, u + all consonants
    “C” sounds like “k” in front of all consonants, as well as the vowels a, o, u

For instance:
c + a → “ka” : le carrosse (= [karross] = “carriage”) ; la carte (= [kart] = “card” or “map”)
c + o → “ko” : la colombe (= [kohl – omb] = “dove”)
c + u → “ku” : la cuisine (= [kwee-zeen] = “kitchen”)

Or with a consonant:
Une crêpe (= [krayp] = a French thin pancake)
Une clé (= [klay] = “a key”)

At the end of a word, c can sound like [“k”] or… be silent!

It mostly sounds like [“k”] when it comes after a vowel:
Avec = [ah-vek] = “with”
Un mec = [mayk] = “a dude / a guy” (colloquial)

And it’s mostly silent when it comes after a consonant:
Blanc = [blan] = “white”
Un porc = [pohr] = a pig / pork
Franc = [fran] = “frank” (sincere) or “a Frank” (the first Barbarian Tribe on “French” territory after the fall of the Roman Empire) or “un franc” (former French currency)

2) Ç : Le “c cédille”

Ç is called “le c cédille” (and the little wiggly thing under the C is called “la cédille”)

Ç always sounds like [“sss”] !

So it’s a way to have a “c” letter that sounds like “sss” even in front of a / o / u.

For instance:
A : Ça = [sah] = “this” ; Français = [fransay] = French!
O : Un garçon = [gahr-son] = “a boy”
U : Déçu = [deh-suu] = “disappointed”

La cédille comes from Medieval Spain. You can learn more about its history with this episode of a great French TV broadcast from “Arte” channel:
Click here to watch Karambolage – La cédille

French pronunciation is hard to master, especially as a complete beginner. The language is full of strange spellings and special rules. And the worst thing is: you’ll feel dumb when practicing!

Are you really supposed to pronounce the nasal vowels like “on” and “en” with a straight face? How can you do it with confidence?!

These are the kinds of things I explain (and help you with, with fun and practical steps to improve) in my course French for Beginners, for complete beginners.
Click here to learn more about French for Beginners.

3) Words with c cédille

130 French words have a “ç”.

Why these words, specifically? Often, they’re words that derive from an old word with a “c” that sounded like [“sss”] – but with their new, modern endings, that “c” would now sound like [“k”].

For consistency, French language would rather change the c to ç, so it keeps a “c” and a [“sss”] sound and its rules about pronunciation.

Let’s see a few examples:

  • Cities/places

France → français [=French] → Comme une Française 🙂

Nice → niçois [=from Nice]

Provence → provençal [= from “la Provence”]

  • Nouns coming from a verb

Se balancer (= to swing) → une balançoire (= a swing)

Glacer (= to freeze) → un glaçon (= an ice cube)

Apercevoir (= to barely see, to glimpse) → un aperçu (= a glimpse)

  • Verbs that take a ç when you conjugate them

Se balancer Nous nous balançons (= we are swinging)

Glacer (= to glaze, here) → Nous glaçons (= we frost, as in a cake)

Remplacer (to replace) → Il remplaça (= he replaced)

  • Job titles coming from a verb

Remplacer un remplaçant / une remplaçante (= a substitute = a replacement)

Commercer (= to trade, for money) → un commerçant / une commerçante (= a shopkeeper)

  • Adjectives coming from a verb

Agacer (= to annoy) → Agaçant / agaçante (= annoying)

Menacer (= to threaten) → menaçant / menaçante (= threatening)

  • Other words with “ç” with more complicated etymology (that you can sometimes understand from the English spelling)

Une façade = a frontage, a facade

Un colimaçon = a spiral, especially for a staircase

Une rançon = a ransom

Un soupçon = a suspicion (or figuratively, “a pinch” – a very small amount)

When you learn a new word with ç, try to find out where it comes from!

4. Quizz! Did you understand everything?

How do you write the following in French… (bonus points if you know the correct French pronunciation):

  • “a boy” ?
  • “disappointed” ?
  • “this” ?
 
 
 
 
(Answers : un garçon / déçu / ça)

Pour résumer (= to recap) : → What did you learn today?

  • c + a → ka
  • c + o → ko
  • c + u → ku
  • ç + a → sa (une façade)
  • ç + o → so (un glaçon)
  • ç + u → su (un aperçu)

Et toi ?

Tu connais d’autres mots avec un “ç” ?
Do you know other words in French with a “ç” ?

For example, you can write: “Je connais le mot “hameçon”, très utile quand je vais à la pêche.” (“I know the word “hameçon” (= hook), very useful when I go fishing!)

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→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • Seen on your blog “Are you really supposed to pronounce the nasal vowels like “on” and “en” with a straight face?”. I’m suffering right now from a severe angina and pronouncing these nasals are simply impossible. “Les antibiotiques, c’est pas automatique” but they can help you get the right pronunciation !

  • Bonjour Géraldine merci pour cet leçon c’est très utile. Reçu une autre mot avec le cédille. Je trouve plus mots avec cédilles
    Anne

  • Bonjour Geraldine, Ça va?

    Je connais plusiers des mots avec C -cedille.
    Ils sont énumérés ci-dessous:

    Comme ça= Like that {so so;eg quand quelqu’un vous demande comment allez-vous, et vous lui reponde: comme ci Comme ça}
    Ça va?= It’s okay?
    Façon= Way {par exemple: de ce Façon-that way}
    Elle s’appelle Francois =Her name is Francois {a person’s name}
    Douceâtre= Sweetish
    La leçon es interessant=The Lesson is interesting.
    Le reçu=receipt
    je reçois=I receive{Present of « Recevoir »}
    j’ai reçu un cadeau =I received a gift (Passe compose} of Recevoir
    Caleçon= boxer shorts.
    Nous lançons quelque chose= we throw something{de la verbe lancer}

  • Salut Géraldine! je vous écris pour signaler une de mes expressions françaises préférées en raison de l’image qu’elle évoque: celle d’un escalier en colimaçon. ça me rappelle un peu (histoire d’animaux comme métaphores) l’expression française qui ne manque jamais de me faire rigoler: j’ai d’autres chats à fouetter!

  • Salut, et merci beaucoup pour cette leçon ! Je connais le mot “leçon”, très utile quand j’écrit cettes commentaires.

    Just curious, why do we use the ” ” quotation marks here instead of the French 《》 ? Thanks again!

  • Oh, I just discovered you can type le c cedille on a PC keyboard by holding down CTRL, typing a comma, then typing an ordinary c. Et voila ! (Doesn’t work in this block, though.)

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