How to Pronounce the Letter C in English

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How do you pronounce scent? Do you pronounce the letter C in scent as the soft C [sen] or as the hard C [sken] ?

English learners can have a hard time choosing which sound to use in words containing the letter C, but the rule is actually very simple – with the usual few exceptions.

HARD C – The letter C is pronounced [k] :

— when followed by a, o, u or a consonant at the end of a word

Examples:

ca-: car, cast, recall;

co-: coat, copper, accomplish;

cu-: cut, acute, accurate;

c + consonant: article, acros

SOFT C – The letter c is pronounced [s] :

— when followed by e, i or y

Examples:

ce-: celebrate, recede, peace;

ci-: cigar, Cinderella, principal;

cy-: cymbal, fancy, Lucy;

Hard C and Soft C
Hard C and Soft C

Exceptions:

There are very few exceptions to this rule, not counting foreign words which have been borrowed into English.

One notable exception is Celt [kelt], describing e.g. the Irish and Scots. More exceptions are soccer [sokker]; we don’t pronounce it as soser and muscle [musle]; we don’t pronounce it as muskle.

Mixed sounds

Some words have both of the features explained above. Apply the rule for each C separately.

Examples:

conceal [konseel] – ‘co’ is hard, ‘ce’ is soft

reconcile [rekonsīl]

recycle [reesīkl]

This also applies to words with two c’s together.

Examples:

access [aksess] – c + consonant (the second c) is hard, c + e is soft

accent [aksent]

vaccine [vaksīn]

Other exceptions

A Note on “c+h”

You know all about the [tsch] sound of “ch” in words such as church, match, choice, cheer, arch, achieve, chief, and children.

However, the combination c+h is not always pronounced this way. Sometimes the H is there between A C and A “soft vowel” to indicate that the hard [k] sound is needed, e.g. architecture, ache, scheme, anarchist, archive, catechism, schism, chiropodist, monarchy, psychiatric, chasm, chemical.

Sometimes “ch” in words of foreign origin is pronounced [sh], e.g. in mustache, cache, niche, chic, machine

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