They say the English language is one of the hardest languages to learn. It has many rules, exceptions, and straight-up contradictions. If English is your first language, you might not think anything about the I before E except after C rule, or the fact that the letter Y is only sometimes a vowel. However, if you are trying to learn this language, and these complicated rules keep popping up, it is not unusual to become a little baffled. One aspect of the English language that is likely to frustrate you is the multiple pronunciations of the letters G and C depending on which letters accompany it.
Why are there two pronunciations of G and C? Let’s find out!
Hard G vs. Soft G
The two pronunciations of G are classified as hard G and soft G. While you may run into a few exceptions, as we’re sure you have with all of English’s grammar rules, there are a few indications that are typically followed.
- Hard G – This form of the letter is typically found in words where the G is pronounced in the way many learned to associate with the letter (pig, great, gut, progress).
- Soft G – This form of the letter is more commonly found in words where the G comes before the letter, E, I, or Y. It causes the G to be pronounced the way many assume you pronounce the letter J (large, energy, general).
Hard C vs. Soft C
The two pronunciations of the letter C are classified in the same way, hard C and soft C. Like the letter G, there are a few indicators of how the letter will be pronounced, but there are also many exceptions to these rules.
- Hard C – When a C is considered to be hard, it tends to take on the typical sound associated with the letter K (cup, cat, rescue, fact).
- Soft C – Like soft G, soft C typically precedes the letters E, I, and Y. In these cases, it tends to take on the pronunciation associated with the letter S (city, cell, Juicy, license).
Why are There Two Pronunciations of G and C?
You are not the first to be confused by these rules and exceptions. It seems like there must be an easier way. However, the idea of “hard” and “soft” consonants goes back to the language’s Latin-based orthographies.
The letter C and G were both created by the Romans. The letter C came first, and was actually designed to create the sound typically associated with the letter G. It eventually evolved to work for the sound of the letter G and the letter K. This became a problem when people began to get confused between the two sounds, so they chose to create the letter G by simply adding two little lines to the C. The letter G then adopted its rightful sound of today, and the letter C was left alone to indicate the sound we typically associate with the letter K.
The Norman French era invented the soft C and G. They determined that the letter C was pronounced the way we associate the letter S, when it is placed before the letters I, E and Y. Otherwise the letter maintains its typical K sound. They determined the same sort of rules for the letter G, giving it the sound of a J when placed before the letters I, E, or Y.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, England adopted aspects of France’s language, including the hard and soft G and C.
While the history of the letters may not change the frustration behind learning all the grammatical rules involved, it does at least provide some reason for the madness.
Looking for more helpful articles about the English language? Check out some of these other Language and Grammar posts from the Sporcle Blog!