We are only three letters into the alphabet and already we’re in trouble. The letter C. Dear letter C, you are such a lovely letter, all soft and round. But please make up your mind. Are you an /s/ or a /k/ sound?

Examples

So it seems unpredictable but there are rules about the letter C. Let’s work it out. Look and listen to these words – is C a hard /k/ or a soft /s/?

Did you get it? Cake, packet, cook, bacon are hard /k/. Celebrate, pencil, cell, cinema and fancy are soft /s/.  Hint: look at the letter after C. Can you see some rules developing?

The Rules

When C is followed by E, I or Y the sound is a soft /s/.
When C is followed by a consonant, A, O, or U the sound is usually a hard /k/.

Quiz

Which sound is it? Choose hard k or soft s, and click continue for the next question. All the answers will show up at the end of the quiz

How was that? You can listen and check your pronunciation.

The Exceptions

Now, we gotta have some exceptions to the rule. Chef for example, a word nicked from French, so English kept the soft /s/ sound even though it disobeys our rule. Many words that English has borrowed from other languages keep their foreign pronunciation. For example…

  • cello (it’s from Italian, where ce is a hard /ch/ sound)
  • broccoli (again from Italian but the double C is followed by an O which makes it hard /k/)
  • accent, accept, access (here the double CC is treated as two sounds, the first C is hard /k/ as its followed by a consonant, the second a soft /s/ because it’s followed by E.
  • soccer (Originally this word comes from Association Football. Association gets abbreviated to Assoc, usually in writing. Words with c at the end make a hard /k/ sound, like clinic or pacific. Then the suffix ‘er’ was added by public school boys in a similar way to rugby becoming rugger. Read more about that here. And so soccer gets a hard /k/ sound

Which C words trip you up? Can you think of any more exceptions? Let me know below.

2 thoughts on “The letter C

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