Word Pronunciation - Hard and Soft C and G Sounds

Hard and Soft G and C
Hard and Soft G and C. Kenneth Beare

Hard and Soft Sounds for ‘C’ and ‘G’

In English there are two different sounds for the consonants 'C' and 'G'. 

G

A hard 'G' sounds almost like a 'K', but with your voice, as in the words 'Great, Good, Pig'. A soft 'G' sounds more like a 'J', as in the words 'large, general, giant'. 

C

A hard 'C' sounds like a 'K', as in the words 'cup, class', fact'. A soft 'C' sounds like an 'S' as in the words 'city, receive, cell'.

 

Hard and Soft Pronunciation

The two consonant letters 'C' and 'G' can be pronounced in both hard and soft sounds. A hard sound is like a click. It's a single sound made with one breath.

Hard sounds beginning words: keep, day, play, garage.

A soft sound is a long sound made with a continuing breath. 

Soft sounds beginning words: jeep, shine, check, zebra

General Rules

The Pronunciation of ‘C’ and ‘G’ generally (but not always, see below) depends upon the letter following either 'C' or 'G'.

  • If the following letter is ‘E’, ‘I’ or ‘Y’, the pronunciation is said to be “soft”.
  • If the following letter is anything else - including a space - the pronunciation is termed “hard”.
  • A soft ‘C’ is pronounced ‘s’ as in cell, city, decision, receive, license, distance, recently, pronounce, juicy, cylinder
  • A hard ‘C’ is pronounced ‘k’ as in call, correct, cup, cross, class, rescue, fact, public, panic, ache
  • A soft ‘G’ is pronounced ‘j’ as in general, giant, gymnastic, large, energy, intelligible, changing
  • A hard ‘G’ is pronounced ‘g’ as in golf, pig, running, great, gum, fragrant, grasp, glut, progress

Words Including Both Hard and Soft Sounds

There are a few interesting words that include both hard and soft sounds. Some examples include:

success, circulate clearance
bicycle, vacancy, garage
gauge, geography, gigantic, gorgeous

When a ‘hard’ pronunciation is wanted, but the following letter would make it ‘soft’, we sometimes add ‘h’ after ‘c’ (as in ‘architect’) or ‘u’ after ‘g’ (as in ‘guest’). Alternatively, the following letter is doubled (as in ‘outrigger’).

These rules also explain some difficult spellings. ‘George’ and ‘guest’ and ‘trigger’ could not be spelled ‘Gorge’ or ‘gest’ or ‘triger’ and still retain their pronunciation. Also, it can now be seen why ‘sag/rag’ and ‘sage/rage’ are spelled and pronounced the way they are.

Exceptions

Nothing is easy - so there are some exceptions to these rules. These mostly involve giving ‘hard’ pronunciation to words where the rule indicates the ‘soft’ sound. These exceptions include:

gear, get, gelding, give girl gift tiger, celt

Present participles of some verbs that end with ‘g’, such as ‘banging’ and ‘ringing’.

Other exceptions are foreign words that have been adopted into the English language, such as: gestalt and geisha.