Master that sound forever: When ‘c’ is pronounced as /s/ or /k/

By Kelly Rwamapera

Letter “c” is pronounced differently in “certain” and “curtain”; “price” and “prickle”; “scent” and “scale” and many more.

There are rules that dictate what sound is taken of the same letter depending on its position or neighbour’s in a word.

We entirely credit English speakers who master the pronunciations even without noticing the rules that govern them but it is also clever of one who knows the rules because it will help one to read right, even unfamiliar words.

Letter “c” is pronounced as /s/ when followed by e, i, or y in a word. It is pronounced as /k/ elsewhere.

This is why “c” is /s/ in the word “certain” and the same letter is pronounced as /k/ in the word “curtain” and other examples as seen in the first paragraph.

At this stage, you will wonder why letter “c” is even pronounced differently in words where it appears twice.

Consider words such as “circus” and “cycle”. It is because of the “i” after the first “c” in “circus” that makes it sound as /s/ while the “u” after the second “c” makes it sound as /k/.

The same applies to the word “cycle”.

Remember letter “c” takes the sound /s/ when it is followed by e, i, or y, otherwise letter “c” takes sound /k/.

This is the same rule that dictates the adding of letter “k” to words that end in letter “c” when their changing of part of speech requires the adding of e, i, or y.

For instance, for the noun “picnic” to change into verb “picnicking”, you will have to place the “k” in the middle of “c” and “ing” and write “picnicking” instead of “picnicing”.

The reason is to prevent the “i” from coming next to “c” because it would automatically bring in sound /s/ which would be different from the word’s initial sound /k/.

If we do not add letter “k” between “c” and “y” in the word panicky (from panic), the word would sound /s/ at the end which would make it different from its root word.

Read and think widely and discover more on your own.

The writer is a professional English Language instructor


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