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’.


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

Another exception is muscle /mʌsəl/.


  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?


  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 .

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