Aquilega vulgaris
The Garden Columbine blooms in many colours in spring and early summer.

Sounds of C

A hard sound, like K, when c comes before a, o, u, and consonants.

coffee, cupcake, school

A soft sound, like S, when c comes before i, e, y.

circle, celery, cyanide, recipe, fascinate

 A hiss sound, like sh, when —ci— (or sometimes —ce—) comes before a vowel, inside a word. [Infrequent.]

conscience, social


These words do not have the sh hiss:

science; society

Silent Cs

Some words that derive from Middle English are pronounced the same as they always were, but the spelling was changed to add a c, similar to French or Latin, which were fashionable languages at the time.

indict, indictment, indictable offence

Other words were imported into English from another language.

yacht [Dutch], Tucson [Papago Indian]

 See also, Letter combinations (digraphs), below, for words containing sc.


Double Cs

English words with double consonants are inconsistent, so there is no reliable rule.

Usually, a double C serves to signal that the preceding vowel is short rather than long.

accord, accuse, occupy

Rather than a double C or a double K, a CK is commonly used. The hard C sound is preserved or emphasized, even when, with the following vowel (I, E, or Y), you would expect a soft C sound.

chicken, hockey, sticky wicket


Sometimes a QU is used to preserve the hard C sound.

liquor, chequers (also, checkers [US])

Sometimes a double C is used in a word to express both a hard C and a soft C sound.


Sometimes a single C acts like a double C.

crocodile, decade, second 

Letter combinations (digraphs)


c and h together create a distinct sound, a digraph.

cherry, cheque, chi, chutney, church


chemistry, crochet, chenille, Christ, chronology


c and k together create a digraph.

brackets, crickets, flock, quick, rocket

ct  is an uncommon letter combination

act, fact


s and c together are a digraph that emphasizes the s sound.

abscess, acquiesce, descent, effervesce, fluoresce, muscle, rescind, scene, scent, science, scissors


In these words, the s and c are both pronounced.

school, scholar, score, scream, scoundrel, muscular

Rules of pronunciation

i before e, except after c, gives us the sound of ee (or ē).

conceive, receive, receipt, retrieve


science, hierarchy, diet 

Special reading assignment


  1. Can’t you come to the cottage in October to check on the locks?
  2. Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake.                   — Jim Davis


One thought on “C is for Columbine

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