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This varies from language to language, and may vary from case to case within a language.

In some cases, letters are used as "in-line diacritics", with the same function as ancillary glyphs, in that they modify the sound of the letter preceding them, as in the case of the "h" in the English pronunciation of "sh" and "th".

Examples are the diaereses in the borrowed French words naïve and Noël, which show that the vowel with the diaeresis mark is pronounced separately from the preceding vowel; the acute and grave accents, which can indicate that a final vowel is to be pronounced, as in saké and poetic breathèd; and the cedilla under the "c" in the borrowed French word façade, which shows it is pronounced .In Gaelic type, a dot over a consonant indicates lenition of the consonant in question.In other alphabetic systems, diacritical marks may perform other functions.Vowel pointing systems, namely the Arabic harakat ( ), which, respectively, mark abbreviations or acronyms, and Greek diacritical marks, which showed that letters of the alphabet were being used as numerals.In abugida scripts, like those used to write Hindi and Thai, diacritics indicate vowels, and may occur above, below, before, after, or around the consonant letter they modify.

The tittle (dot) on the letter i of the Latin alphabet originated as a diacritic to clearly distinguish i from the minims (downstrokes) of adjacent letters.The Scandinavian languages, by contrast, treat the characters with diacritics ä, ö and å as new and separate letters of the alphabet, and sort them after z.Usually ä is sorted as equal to æ (ash) and ö is sorted as equal to ø (o-slash).Depending on the keyboard layout, which differs amongst countries, it is more or less easy to enter letters with diacritics on computers and typewriters.Some have their own keys; some are created by first pressing the key with the diacritic mark followed by the letter to place it on.Also, aa, when used as an alternative spelling to å, is sorted as such.