The hard and soft C and G sound in English can be tricky for non-native speakers, since they both have two types of pronunciations, and both come from the same position in the mouth. Languages like German, for example, where there is only a hard G sound, can mean making the soft sound particularly difficult.

For example, I know my friend Tilghman has had his name pronounced like “Tilkman” by many German speakers because of the G in the middle.

If you have difficulty pronouncing these two sounds, or even just figuring out when the sound should be hard or soft, read on!

And find our blog on how to pronounce the TH sound in English here.

The Hard C and G Sound

The first thing to know when pronouncing these sounds is how they should sound.

The hard C is pronounced like [kuh], and the hard G like [guh]. For example, the words “cup” (ˈkʌp) and “cat” (ˈkæt) have a hard C sound, and the words “gap” /ˈɡæp/ and “goat” /ˈɡoʊt/ have a hard G sound.

As with many things in English, there can be exceptions to the rule, but we’ll provide the basics here:

If a G is at the end of a word (like pig /ˈpɪɡ/, zigzag /ˈzɪɡˌzæɡ/, or jug /ˈdʒʌɡ/), is followed by a U (like guide /ˈɡaɪd/, guess /ˈɡɛs/, and guilt /ˈɡɪlt/), or is followed by any other letter besides E, I, or Y, (like go /ˈɡoʊ/, glaze /ˈɡleɪz/, or gum /ˈɡʌm/) it is a hard G sound.

The same applies for hard C. When a C bumps up against an A, O, or U, (or a consonant) it has a hard sound. For example: cave /ˈkeɪv/, comedy /ˈkɑːmədi/, climate /ˈklaɪmət/, or cuddle /ˈkʌdl̩/.

The Soft C and G Sound

The soft Cs and Gs are quite simple once you know the rule for the hard sounds.

A soft C is pronounced similar to an S and sounds like [suh]. The soft G is pronounced similar to a J and sounds like [zjuh].

When a C or a G is before an E, I, or Y, it has a soft sound. Take for example, census /ˈsɛnsəs/, citizen /ˈsɪtəzən/, or cycle /ˈsaɪkəl/ for C. And gel /ˈdʒɛl/, ginger /ˈdʒɪndʒɚ/, or gyrate /ˈdʒaɪˌreɪt/ for G.

Sometimes, there can be both a soft and hard sound in the same word! Circle or garage, anyone?


In the comments, we’re challenging you to think of what the exceptions to the rule could be! Leave a comment below, and we’ll let you know if you’re correct.

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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and could probably travel the world with everything she needs in her backpack. 

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