When to pronounce the letter ‘c’ as /s/ or /k/

In English the letter ‘c’ is mostly pronounced as a /k/ sound.

We can also pronounce ‘c’ as an /s/ sound.

Click on a word to hear the difference:
car  car  /k/ sound
city  city  /s/ sound

The rule

Here’s the rule:

  • When ‘c‘ comes directly before the letters ‘e‘, ‘i‘ or ‘y‘ we use the /s/ sound.
  • in other cases we use a /k/ sound.

 

Words containing the letter ‘c’ pronounced as /k/

pronunciation why?
car It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
cut It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
cool It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
curtain It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
carpet It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
confuse It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.
caught It’s not followed directly by ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’.

 

Words containing the ‘c’ pronounced as /s/

pronunciation why?
city It comes directly before ‘i’.
cent It comes directly before ‘e’.
dancing It comes directly before ‘i’.
ice It comes directly before ‘e’.
certain It comes directly before ‘e’.
face It comes directly before ‘e’.
receive It comes directly before ‘e’.

Exceptions

One notable exception is the word soccer. (We pronounce both the letters ‘c’ as a single /k/ sound /sokə/.)

Another exception is muscle /mʌsəl/.

5 Comments

  1. Michael S. - September 19, 2017, 7:09 am Reply

    The word Cephalexin is in my book pronounced incorrectly by phamacists. Surely it should be a soft ‘C’ not a ‘K’ sound. This bugs me.

  2. LEO F ONEIL - February 4, 2018, 7:24 pm Reply

    What about C pronounced as Q?

    cute
    cupid
    prosecutorial

    • Anonymous - February 28, 2018, 7:53 am Reply

      C is not pronounced as Q in those words. The C sounds like K and the U is long, which means it says its name.

  3. Anonymous - February 18, 2018, 9:06 pm Reply

    What about ch , cea and cia ?
    we can’t pronounce C here as K or S .

    • Nizte Nitze - April 2, 2018, 5:47 am Reply

      Ch is a completely different sound, there is no way to make a ch sound using any other word, so look at ch not as ‘c’ and ‘h’ but rather CH, one letter.

      In that case, C makes no sound, it just makes ch sound when with h.

      Cea and Cia are both pronounced with long C and are similar sounding. Meaning the sound C makes in “Cia” or “Cea” is its own name “cee-yea”.

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