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In words which have the letters "sc" is the letter "c" always silent? (for example: Fascinate)

  • Here's a list of some words that have a silent "c" in them: abscess, ascend, ascent, conscience, conscious, crescent, descend, descent, disciple, fascinate, fluorescent, incandescent, isosceles, luminescent, miscellaneous, muscle, obscene, resuscitate, scenario, scene, scent, scissors – SovereignSun Dec 4 '17 at 15:17
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"sc" is pronounced as "s" before letters Y, I and E in the beginning or middle of a word, or at the end of a word followed by E:

  • scene, descent, scythe, science, convalesce...

In most other cases it is pronounced as sk:

  • scanner, scope, scratch, scream, scum...

There are exceptions where "sc" is pronounced as "sh":

  • Crescendo, fascist, conscious...
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    Funny you mention scythe, I have NEVER heard it pronounced as sythe, but always like skythe. Could be that I have heard this particular word only in in-game chat (Diablo3) were this is a popular weapon so people talk about it. And most people I play with are non-native speakers. Except for the Aussies I hang out with, but whether their English is exemplary in this case I'm not sure.... – Tonny Nov 17 '17 at 20:55
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    @Tonny: Merriam-Webster agrees with SovereignSun: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scythe – Kevin Nov 17 '17 at 21:25
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    Note that c alone also is (often) pronounced as s when it occurs immediately before e, i, or y: cede, cider, and cyan, but cat, cot, cut, clear, and cream. – David K Nov 17 '17 at 21:43
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    @Tonny - Even among native speakers, "scythe" is likely a word many might have never heard spoken aloud, only read, as it's not a common item anymore and there would be few conversations involving a scythe. Regardless, the 'c' is indeed silent. – PMV Nov 18 '17 at 0:54
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    Maybe I'm a sceptic, but I don't believe this answer is always true. – Peter Nov 18 '17 at 23:34
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No, "sc" does not always correspond to /s/.

As SovereignSun mentions, usually this pronunciation only shows up in the combinations "sce", "sci" and "scy". A somewhat common exception to this in British English is the word "sceptic", which is pronounced with /sk/. The prounciation /ʃ/ shows up in a few words where "sc" is followed by "i" or "e". Sometimes this is due to palatalization in English, and sometimes it is due to influence from Italian.

In the combinations "sca", "sco" and "scu", we usually have /sk/.

The combination "scr" is usually pronounced /skr/.

The combination "scl" is rare. It occurs at the start of some words from Greek like "sclera", "sclerosis", that are pronounced with /skl/ in educated speech (there many be other pronunciations in uneducated speech). The word "muscle" is pronounced with /sl̩/.

The combination "sch" is very variable and may be pronounced as /sk/, /ʃ/, /stʃ/, or even /s/ depending on various factors. Related ELU question: What effect do neighboring vowel-letters have on the pronunciation of the letters “sc” in a word?

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No, it is not always silent. "Scar" rhymes with "car, pronounced "kar."

English orthography is a mess. Virtually any rule you care to make will have exceptions. One reason for the frequency of exceptions is that English is happy to accept words from other languages, which have their own rules of orthography.

  • English indeed does have a lot of loan words. – SovereignSun Nov 17 '17 at 20:08
  • It's fundamentally the same as the rule in Spanish, which is usually regarded as having one of the simplest orthographies ever. One of its biggest irregularities is that C and G do one thing before I and E, and another before A, O, and U :) – hobbs Nov 17 '17 at 21:55
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    "'Scar' rhymes with 'car'" This would be true even if the c were silent (or pronounced as any other consonant). I don't think "rhyme" is the word you're looking for here. – eyeballfrog Nov 17 '17 at 22:06
  • @eyeballfrog You're correct. Saying that "scar" and "car" rhyme means nothing if you do not know how to pronounce "car." Among native English speaker, "car" is pronounced "kar." So you are strictly correct that my answer is insufficient for those who have not yet learned how to pronounce "car" properly in English. Thank you. I shall edit my answer to clarify how "car" is pronounced in standard English. (Yes, "rhyme" was exactly what I meant, but it was a poor choice without elaboration because it assumeds that readers know how car" is normally pronounced in English.) – Jeff Morrow Nov 18 '17 at 2:52
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    I think eyeballfrog's point was that "sar" would also rhyme with "kar"? So, saying that it rhymes doesn't tell you anything about the initial "sc" pronunciation, it only tells you about the vowel and the ending. – Ethan Kaminski Nov 18 '17 at 6:20

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