Lesson #226: Two simple rules to help pronounce words beginning with ‘c’

Have you ever been reading aloud and come across a word you don’t know how to pronounce? 🤔

I can imagine that this happens to a good many students who are studying English. English pronunciation can be difficult to predict, partly because English words are derived from (they come from) many other languages with different pronunciation rules of their own.

One set of words that can pose challenges is what I call ‘c words’: words that begin with ‘c’ followed either by a vowel or by the letter ‘y’. Words like ‘city’, ‘centre’, ‘community’, ‘cape’, ‘cyclical’.

Here are two main rules to help you pronounce them correctly.

📝 # WORDS BEGINNING WITH ‘C’ FOLLOWED BY A, O, or U

✍️ The ‘c’ in these words is almost always pronounced as a ‘hard c’ or ‘k’ sound: ‘cat’ is pronounced as ‘kAt’, ‘coat’ is pronounced as ‘kOHt’, ‘cut’ is pronounced like ‘kUHt’.

📝 # WORDS BEGINNING WITH ‘C’ FOLLOWED BY E, I, or Y

✍️ These words are pronounced with the ‘softer c’ or an ‘s’ sound. That is why words like ‘city’ are pronounced as ‘sIt-ee’ and ‘cyclone’ pronounced something like ‘sAI klohn’.

📝 # ‘SC WORDS’

Now the good thing about knowing these rules is that you can apply them to words that begin with ‘sc’ as well: if they are followed by ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’, they have a ‘hard c’ sound; if they are followed by ‘e’, ‘i’, or ‘y’, they have a ‘soft c’ sound.

Try pronouncing the highlighted words in these lines from G. K. Chesterton’s well-loved classic, The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). 📘 It is a book from his Father Brown detective stories series, and so a very suitable source for you to ‘detect’ how best to pronounce these words (now that you have been given 2 clues to help you)! 🧐

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was an author at the turn of the last century, whose books influenced many other writers of his generation in turn, including C. S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia).

👉 TIP: I am aware that the vocabulary in some of the quotations below might be a bit new, specific, or challenging. However, try to focus mainly on the words I have highlighted in bold – if need be, find out their meaning, but most importantly, test your understanding of how you can pronounce them (I will provide some answers at the end of this Lesson).

📝 # 1

📘 ‘He was smoking a cigarette with the seriousness of an idler.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 2

📘 Aristide Valentin, Chief of the Paris Police, was late for his dinner, and some of his guests began to arrive before him. These were, however, reassured by his confidential servant, Ivan, the old man with a scar, and a face almost as grey as his moustaches, who always sat at a table in the entrance hall— a hall hung with weapons.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 3

📘 ‘They also, he thought with a curse, were probably arguing about “science and religion.” ‘

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 4

📘 ‘In the centre of this morbid silence an innocent voice said: “Was it a very long cigar?”’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 5

📘 ‘If you meet a member of that select club, “The Twelve True Fishermen,” entering the Vernon Hotel for the annual club dinner, you will observe, as he takes off his overcoat, that his evening coat is green and not black.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 6

📘 ‘Of course he combined with this limitation in the scope of his enterprise the most careful polish in its performance.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 7

📘 ‘The young lady, having scattered bread for the birds (for the fourth or fifth time that day, because the dog ate it), passed unobtrusively down the lane of laurels and into a glimmering plantation of evergreens behind.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 8

📘 Flambeau, who was a friend of Angus, received him in a rococo artistic den behind his office, of which the ornaments were sabres, harquebuses, Eastern curiosities, flasks of Italian wine, savage cooking-pots, a plumy Persian cat, and a small dusty-looking Roman Catholic priest, who looked particularly out of place.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 9

📘 ‘For many centuries there had never been a decent lord in Glengyle Castle; and with the Victorian era one would have thought that all eccentricities were exhausted.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 10

📘 ‘ “Diamonds and small steel wheels are the only two instruments with which you can cut out a pane of glass.” ‘

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 11

📘 ‘As they went back through the study he stopped by the table and picked up a small pair of nail scissors.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 12

📘 ‘For the two men were singularly well matched, the prince using his skill with a sort of cynical confidence, the Sicilian using his with a murderous care.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 13

📘 ‘Then, seeing the scared eyes turn towards his wife on the bench, he put his huge hand on her shoulder and said: “Nor a woman either.” ‘

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 14

📘 ‘ “I scarcely understand you,” remarked Bohun indistinctly.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

📝 # 15

📘 ‘Near the centre of the floor lay a large revolver as if flung away; nearer to the left was rolled a whisky bottle, open but not quite empty.’

– G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown (emphasis mine)

I hope this has been helpful for you!

In turn, I am leaving you with an answers key below to double-check your own pronunciation of the highlighted words in Chesterton’s quotations.

ANSWERS:

🗝️ Hard sounding ‘c’ words (‘k’ sound): #2, #5, #6, #7, #8, #10, #13, #14

🗝️ Soft sounding ‘c’ words (‘s’ sound): #1, #3, #4, #9, #11, #12, #15