Diacritical marks are extra symbols that are placed above or below a letter to modify the pronunciation or clarify the meaning of a word. Their usage in Portuguese will be described in more detail as we come across them later, but to give you an overview, here is a list of all of the diacritical marks that are used in written Portuguese:

Portuguese diacritical marks


Tilde (or ‘squiggle’). Used to denote a nasal sound.


Acute. Stress is placed on this syllable, and the vowel sound is open (more about this in a minute!).


Circumflex (or caret, or ‘little hat’). Stress is placed on this syllable and the vowel sound is close (also explained below).


Grave (pronounced ‘grahve’ - rhymes with ‘halve’). Usually denotes 2 words squashed into 1 with the loss of a letter (typically a + as = às), but does not really affect pronunciation.


Diaeresis (or ‘two little dots’). Also known as an umlaut, although technically that is wrong in this case (but the symbol is the same). Appears over a ‘u’ to denote that the preceding ‘q’ should be pronounced ‘kw’ instead of ‘k’, or that the preceding ‘g’ should be pronounced ‘gw’ instead of ‘g’ (see consonant pronunciation section). Never used in Portugal, and now officially removed from the language in Brazil (since the orthographic agreement went into effect in 2009), except for personal names and imported words and their derivations - still, is still sometimes used by Brazilians, so you need to be aware of it.


Cedilla (or ‘little 5’). Only appears on the letter ‘c’ to denote soft pronunciation – like an ‘s’ rather than a ‘k’.

Acutes and circumflexes indicate that the syllable on which they appear should be stressed (grave, diaeresis and cedilla do not indicate stress, tilde only indicates stress (as well as nasal pronunciation) in words ending with ã).