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How can I tell whether "c" should be pronounced "s" or "k"? I always get confused and pronounce it like "s" because it looks like russian "с".

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Although I've never had to learn English as a second language, I imagine its vast array of pronunciation variations serves as one of the chief difficulties. I would also imagine that mastering all the pronunciations would yield an immense sense of personal pride and satisfaction. – Aerovistae Feb 6 '13 at 17:37
up vote 19 down vote accepted

c at the end of a word → k
c before L or R or Tkl or kr or kt (ex. clap, cross, connect)

ch at the beginning of a word and followed by a vowel → usually as in chalk, children (Ч in Russian)
ch in the middle of a word (ex. echo, archaic) → usually k
ch at the end of a word → almost always as in chalk, children (Ч in Russian)
ch followed by an rkr

tchvery similar to chalk, children. look up examples and listen. If you pronounce it the same as chalk or children you will be approximately correct.

ckk (c is essentially silent)

C can also be pronounced as sh sometimes, but this is rare. It is most often found in adjectives ending in -cious, such as conscious, precious, ferocious, etc, and also in adjectives ending in -cial, such as special, artificial, crucial, social, etc. One major exception where c is pronounced as sh is the word ocean.

There are many other exceptions to the above rules. You will learn them as you go.

As Jim points out, an excellent rule of thumb is "Except for ci, ce, and cy, it's pronounced as a k." With the exception of ch, of course.

There's also one or two words in English that begin with cn, in which case the c is completely silent. But they're very, very rare scientific words. There's also at least one that begins with cth, in which case the c is again silent.

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What about cu -> k? This answer reminds me of this clip: traileraddict.com/clip/my-life-in-ruins/sweaters – Jim Feb 4 '13 at 4:10
Oh god, I forgot a vowel. Oh god. Everyone stay away, it could spread. – Aerovistae Feb 4 '13 at 4:50
I don't think He is likely to care. I just found it amusing that most of the elaboration is unnecessary. ca, co, cu, cl, cr, ct, c at the end of a word, and ch (except when pronounced like children all fall nicely into into if it's not ci,ce, or cy it's pronounced 'k'. – Jim Feb 4 '13 at 5:03
Jim, imma let you in on a little secret... I did it for the rep points. – Aerovistae Feb 4 '13 at 5:14
There is no difference between the two ch versions of children and catch: the t is just an orthographic convention. It changes nothing here. – tchrist Feb 8 '13 at 14:20

Pretty much if c is followed by i, e, or y it's pronounced like s. Otherwise it's pronounced like k (except sometimes when it's followed by h and is pronounced like chalk or children)
It can also sound like "sh" as in artificial.
There are always exceptions like arciform where it is pronounced like k, but overall I think it's not a bad rule of thumb.

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@bytebuster- I changed the example word back to arciform because it properly demonstrates the exception 'c followed by i sounding as k'. Your suggestion of architecture is a 'c followed by h' and is already covered by the 'otherwise it's pronounced like k' clause. Thanks for the other typo fixes though. – Jim Feb 8 '13 at 0:17

Do you want to know if "c" and "k" sound the same? Think of some words like cliff, kitten, kettle, computer, camera, like. Pronounce these words and you will notice that both "c" and "k" are pronounced the same as "k".

It is the same case if "c" and "k" are put together and are pronounced as "k" - click, pluck, tickle, lucky, kick, yuck, wicker (and many words that have "c" and "k" together).

The difference between "c" and "k" is:

  • "C" is pronounced as "s" if it goes with the vowel letters, e and i.
  • The rest of the vowel letters goes with c and they are pronounced as "k".


  • Ca = pronounced as k Example: California
  • Ce = pronounced as s Example: Center
  • Ci = pronounced as s Example: City
  • Co = pronounced as k Example: Coke
  • Cu = pronounced as k Example: Cup

Want to review?

  • How to pronounce "circus" ? You can notice two c's in the word "circus". The first c is pronounced as "s" and the second c is pronounced as "k".

As for the letter "k", it has no other pronunciation, just "k". But be careful when the letter "k" goes with the letter "n" - know, knife, knowledge, knight. In this case, "k" is not pronounced.

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Welcome to ELU. As you see, attention to formatting, using the tools above the Answer box and reviewing the results in the display below it, can improve the readability of your answer. – StoneyB Jul 5 '13 at 13:25

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