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I've started learning French recently, and I've been having a hard time knowing when to use ça or ca in sentences. What are the differences between these two words and how did they etymologically become different?

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    Just want to add that 'ça' is more or less familiar. The right word, not abbreviated, is 'cela'. – user9943 Apr 9 '16 at 19:54
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ca is not a word in French. It can only be used as an abbreviation:
- of centiare
- of circa
and these two abbreviations are rarely used.

Only ça exists as a word in French. What you might have encountered is "Ca", with a capital 'C'. When typing, some people omit the cedilla on capital 'C', but it is considered as a mistake. This post about accents on upper-case letters is also valid for cedillas.

The cedilla modifies the pronunciation of the letter 'c'. Ça is pronounced /sa/; without the cedilla it would be pronounced /kɑ/.

A word pronounced /kɑ/ exists in French, it is spelled cas, it is invariable and takes an 's' even in the singular.

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    Il y a aussi "ka" (kaon), très utile au scrabble ;-) – Marc Glisse Apr 10 '16 at 11:09
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    Et il y a aussi « çà », notamment dans l'expression çà et là. – Benoit Apr 12 '16 at 13:05
  • The Ç is not on the french keyboard so we skip it on computers (its a little more practical on smartphone since there is autocorrect) – Rigop Aug 18 '16 at 11:17
  • By the way if you guys want to type the Ç on a keyboard, hold alt and type 0199 then release alt. – DRz Feb 3 '17 at 15:01
  • @DRz Sorry but this comment is valid only on a PC. On a Mac it's alt+ç. Much simpler. – KPM Feb 21 '17 at 1:03
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When people do not have French keyboards available, they sometimes write ça as ca. This is becoming much less common as more and more systems are adapted to work with the French alphabet.

The standard spelling is ça. As a learner you should always use ça unless you really have no way to type it.

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If you don't have this character on your keyboard, ç, you can almost always write "cela" instead of "ça", although "cela" is more formal than "ça", so you should prefer "ça" in vulgar sentences. The meaning is exactly the same, it's just a matter of style. Ça me semble trop cher = Cela me semble trop cher.

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    "Ça" is not vulgar, not even informal (which is probably what you meant anyway). Plenty of cases where "cela" would not stand for "ça". And by the way you can type ç and Ç on any keyboard. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Apr 12 '16 at 18:18
  • On a Windows system, if the keyboard layout is set to US, you can type Ç by holding down an Alt key and typing 0199 on the numeric keypad with Num Lock turned on. If the keyboard layout is set to US-International, you must use the left Alt key. (The number keys to press to get ç are 0231.) That said, if you do have the keyboard set to US-International, it's easier to use "dead" keys: just press the key for an apostrophe (') and then type either an upper-case C or a lower-case c. – Animadversor Apr 14 '16 at 22:26
  • So we can replace "Comment ça va ?" by "Comment cela va ?"? – Destal Aug 13 '16 at 18:55
  • @SimonDéchamps Technically yes, and I once heard "Comment cela a été", which is similar. – Carlos2W Aug 14 '16 at 2:44

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