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Word Pronunciation - Hard and Soft C and G Sounds

By John Preston

Hard and Soft Sounds for ‘C’ and ‘G’

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

General Rules

  • 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 spelt ‘Gorge’ or ‘gest’ or ‘triger’ and still retain their pronunciation. Also, it can now be seen why ‘sag/rag’ and ‘sage/rage’ are spelt and pronounced the way they are.


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

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