Why Does That Letter Make that Sound -- or Say Nothing At All?

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 24th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

Native speakers know how to pronounce familiar words like "bicycle" even though the same letter (C) says different things in the same word. But for someone struggling with reading skills, sometimes having rules to latch on to will help those pesky letters become more meaningful parts of the whole. If you are a native speaker helping someone else learn to read, you may know something is a certain way without understanding the rule. Well, here are some rules.

C says C and K

The letter C is a pesky letter. Sometimes it has a hard sound, like a K.
Here are some examples of hard C:

Other times, C makes a soft, S sound.


Do you notice a pattern?
C only makes the S sound when it comes before E, I, and Y. All the rest of the time, C makes the hard K sound. Now that you know what to look for, you can help others.

Here is a Wikinut article that has more information, but it's certainly geared more towards people studying the development of language, not people just needing some quick rules to help elementary level emerging readers.

G and K in front of N are not pronounced


knew (not new, meaning not old)
knight (not night, meaning not day)
knot (not not, meaning no)
know (not now, meaning this instant)

G and K are still placed in front of these other letters because without them, the remaining letters make different words. There is a more extensive list of these examples in a Wikinut article. The lists are useful, but the other information, like the other article, is geared toward linguists and more advanced academicians.

Times When T is Silent

T at the end of some words and at the beginning of some other words is not pronounced. In both situations, these words are borrowed from foreign countries and their pronunciation (to the best of American ability) is maintained.

The English language borrowed these words from France:
ballet, which we pronounce baa-lay
buffet, which we pronounce as buff-ay
gourmet, which we pronounce as gor-may

We have also borrowed some words from Japan. The Japanese pronounce the T with a sound that doesn't really exist in English, so most English speakers drop the T sound.

Tsunami in the US is pronounced su-nam-ee, where the first syllable has the same sound as in the word sushi. In Japanese, the su in sushi and the tsu in tsunami are created differently -- but that's a lesson for another time.

Practice the Patterns until the Practice Pays Off

Flashcards -- writing the rule on index cards or 1/4 sheets of 9x12 construction paper -- help new learners commit these rules to memory. Here's one example:
The rule of C: front
1. ca The fronts of the cards show the beginnings of words
2. ce
3. ci
4. co
5. cr
6. cu
7. cy

The rules of C: back
1. hard C / K sound The backs of the cards show the sounds made on the fronts.
2. soft C / S sound
3. soft C / S sound
4. hard C / K sound
5. hard C / K sound
6.hard C / K sound
7. soft C / S sound

Help Me Help You

I've been teaching reading and writing to all ages for over 20 years. If there's some aspect of reading or grammar that you haven't been able to explain to a learner in your life, let me know and I'll address the lesson in a future article.

Check out my tips to better spelling.


English, Grammar, Mechanics, Pronunciation, Reading, Reading For Improvement, Reading Skills

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- phylcampbell.com -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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author avatar bronnamdi
24th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks for this article. Now, I know.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
24th Sep 2013 (#)

Yes the English language is a tricky one for sure.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
24th Sep 2013 (#)

brilliant definitions Phyl...thank you and I hope many will read and use....

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
24th Sep 2013 (#)

I love this and am loving this series on English.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
24th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, all!

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author avatar Connie McKinney
25th Sep 2013 (#)

Phyl, I'm sure you're helping a lot of folks through this series. Keep up the good work.

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author avatar Terry Trainor
25th Sep 2013 (#)

Your knowledge is incredible Phyl, great post and thank you.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
25th Sep 2013 (#)

Very cool...:0)!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
25th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks Connie, Terry, and Delicia! I really appreciate it and you!

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