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C, c [Called ‘cee’]. The 3rd LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It descends from the hook-shaped Phoenician symbol gimel (a name probably related to camel), which represented the voiced velar stop /g/. This letter was altered by the Greeks to Γ (gamma), with the same sound value. Gamma was then adapted by the Etruscans to represent the voiceless velar stop /k/, a use taken over by the Romans. In Old English, c represented both the sound /k/ as in cynn (‘kin’) and the sound ch /tʃ/ as in cinn (‘chin’). In the Romance languages, and in English under the influence of Norman French, c acquired a second palatalized pronunciation /s/ before e and i: a ‘soft’ pronunciation, as in cell and cite, contrasting with the ‘hard’ c in crown. This development occurred after 1066 and resulted in a shift of spelling patterns and sound-symbol correspondences, Old English forms such as cild, cyng, cwic, is becoming child, king, quick, ice. In addition, such c/k pairs arose as cat and kitten, cow and kine.

Sound values

C has the greatest sound range of all English consonants, overlapping with the values of k, q, s, t, x: (1) It has the hard velar value /k/ before the vowels a, o, u (cat, cot, cut) and before consonants (clip, creep, act, tics). (2) It has the soft, palatalized value /s/ before e, i, y: cell, city, cite, cycle, fancy. (3) When ce, ci are followed by another vowel or vowels, usually pronounced as a schwa, soft c is often modified to a sh-sound: ocean, herbaceous, special, efficient, suspicion. (4) In some sets of derivationally associated words, c alternates between the above values: /k/ and /s/ in electric/electricity, /k/ anxd /ʃ/ in logic/logician. (5) Elsewhere, especially in some loans, c is soft before ae, oe in Latin caesura and Greek coelacanth, soft in French façade (often written without the cedilla, as facade), and generally hard in Celt/Celtic. It has a ch-sound as in cheese, in such loans from Italian as cello, Medici. (6) The c is silent in indict, muscle (but note muscular), and victuals (‘vittles’), and may be regarded as silent before q in acquaint, acquire, etc., and after x in excel, except, etc. (7) The values of cz in Czech (/tʃ/) and czar (/z/), also spelt tsar, are unique.

Double C.

The following patterns for the pronunciation of double c are consistent with the basic hard and soft values of c: (1) Hard before a, o, u: saccade, account, occult. (2) Hard then soft before e, i (with the same value as x): accept, accident (but note the hard value in soccer).


(1) Vernacular. Affricate /tʃ/ in word-initial position (chase, cheese, choose) and word-finally in each, teach. After single short vowels, t usually precedes ch: match, fetch, kitchen, botch, hutch (but note t after a long vowel in aitch and no t after short ou in touch). However, no t occurs in several grammatical words (much, such, which), in rich, after another consonant (belch, lunch), and in some longer words (duchess). (2) Greek and Italian. The value of /k/ in words derived from Greek (chaos, technique, monarch) and in loans from Italian before e, i (scherzo, Chianti). (3) French. Commonly, a sh-sound in loans from French: Charlotte, chef, machine. (4) German. The ch in Bach, Aachen is generally pronounced with /k/, but may have the German value /x/, especially in ScoE. (5) Scottish. A voiced velar fricative in many ScoE words (loch, pibroch) and in traditional Scots (bricht, micht, nicht = bright, might, night). Outside Scotland, such words as loch, clarsach are usually pronounced with /k/. (6) Other values. In spinach, sandwich, and a common local pronunciation for the English city of Norwich, the ch is often voiced (‘spinnidge’, ‘san(g)widge’, ‘Norridge’). In yacht (from Dutch), and fuchsia (from German), the ch has probably never been sounded in English.


(1) CK with the value /k/ is common after short vowels in short words: cackle, peck, flicker, lock, suck. The ending -ic was formerly spelt -ick in such words as logic (logick) and magic (magick), the shorter form becoming general first in AmE, then spreading to BrE in the 19c. Recent French loans like bloc, chic, tic have only c. (2) When suffixes are added to words ending in c, the hard value can be preserved by adding k: panic/panicking, picnic/picnicker (but note arc/arced, arcing). An inhabitant of Quebec may be a Quebecker or a Quebecer, both pronounced with /k/.


Before e, i, the value of sc is generally that of s alone: scene, science, ascetic, descend, disciple, coalesce. Some words containing sc acquired the c fairly late, sometimes by mistaken etymology: scent, scissors, and scythe were written sent, sizars, and sithe until the 17c. When followed by schwa, sc before e or i has the sh-sound of c alone in such a position: conscience, conscious, luscious. Loans from Italian also give sc the sh-sound before e, i: crescendo, fascist.


(1) Pronounced as /sk/ when it contains Greek ch: scheme, schizoid, school. (2) Pronounced as if sh in loans from German: schadenfreude, Schubert. Schist is usually pronounced as in German (‘shist’), despite its ultimate Greek origin and its arrival in English through French. Greek-derived schism (spelt scism until the 15c) is either ‘skism’ or ‘sism’.


(1) The use of c may depend on orthographic context. Word-finally, especially after long vowels, the hard value is normally represented by k (take, speak, like, oak, rook, lurk), but when such forms as bicycle and Michael are abbreviated, c becomes k (bike and Mike). If l or r follows, c may be found: treacle, acre. (2) A soft value in word-final position may be spelt -ce or -se: compare mortice/mortise, fence/tense, fleece/geese and BrE licence/license. (3) Sometimes, although there is no c in a base word, a secondary form has the letter: louse/lice, mouse/mice, die/dice, penny/pence, despise/despicable, opaque/opacity. (4) There is variation between c and t among some adjectives derived from nouns in c: face/facial, palace/palatial, race/racial, space/spatial, finance/financial, substance/substantial. (5) There has long been uncertainty about when to write ct and when to write x in such pairs as connection/connexion and inflection/inflexion, but not now in complexion (formerly also complection). (6) There is more or less free variation in the pairs czar/tsar and disc/disk, and a mild tendency for cs and cks to be replaced by x, as in facsimile shortened to fax and Dickson also spelt Dixon. (7) Common spelling errors include supersede spelt *supercede on the analogy of precede, and consensus spelt *concensus through the influence of census.

American and British differences

(1) AmE defense, offense (and optionally pretense) contrast with BrE defence, offence, pretence. (2) In BrE, there is a distinction between practice (noun) and practise (verb), but not in AmE, which has practice for both. (3) Only vice occurs in BrE, but AmE distinguishes vice (moral depravity) from vise (tool). (4) BrE has an anomalous hard c before e in sceptic (contrast sceptre and septic), but AmE has an unambiguous k in skeptic. (5) AmE prefers mollusk to mollusc, the only possible spelling in BrE. (6) AmE prefers ck in check to que in cheque, the only possible spelling in BrE. (7) Sch in schedule has the value sh in BrE, sk in AmE. Compare G, K, Q, X. See HARD AND SOFT.

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C1 / / (also c) • n. (pl. Cs or C's ) 1. the third letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the third in a set of items, categories, sizes, etc. ∎  denoting the third of three or more hypothetical people or things. ∎  the third highest class of academic grades. ∎  (c) Chess denoting the third file from the left of a chessboard, as viewed from White's side of the board. ∎  (usu. c) the third fixed constant to appear in an algebraic expression, or a known constant. ∎  denoting the lowest soil horizon, comprising parent materials. 2. a shape like that of a letter C: [in comb.] C-springs. 3. (usu. C) Mus. the first note of the diatonic scale of C major, the major scale having no sharps or flats. ∎  a key based on a scale with C as its keynote. 4. the Roman numeral for 100. 5. (C) a high-level computer programming language originally developed for implementing the UNIX operating system. C2 • abbr. ∎  (C.) Cape (chiefly on maps). ∎  Celsius or centigrade. ∎  (©) copyright. ∎  a 1.5 volt dry cell battery size. ∎  Physics coulomb(s). • symb. ∎  Physics capacitance. ∎  the chemical element carbon.

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C A programming language originally developed for implementation of the UNIX operating system. C is the preferred language for systems software development in the UNIX environment, and is widely used on personal computers. It combines the control and data structures of a modern high-level language with the ability to address the machine hardware at a level more usually associated with assembly language. The terse syntax is attractive to professional programmers, and the compilers generate very efficient object code. C is derived from BCPL, via a short-lived predecessor B. See also Turbo languages.

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c • abbr. ∎  cent(s). ∎  [in comb.] (in units of measurement) centi-: centistokes (cS). ∎  (c.) century or centuries: a watch case, 19th c. ∎  (preceding a date or amount) circa; approximately: Isabella was born c 1759. ∎  (of water) cold: all cabins have h & c. ∎  colt. • symb. Physics the speed of light in a vacuum: E = mc2.

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c symbol for centi- (prefix indicating 10−2, as in cm, centimetre)
• Physics charm (a quark flavour)
• Chem., symbol for concentration
• Maths., symbol for constant
• cubic (in cc, cubic centimetre)
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for specific heat capacity
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for speed of light in a vacuum
• indicating the third vertical row of squares from the left on a chessboard

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C. First note of the natural scale, thus C♭, C♭♭, C♮, C♯, C♯♯, C major, C minor. In C means either (1) in the key of C major or (2) indicates a non-transposing instr., e.g. tpts. in C. Middle C is the C in about the middle of the pf. and is notated on the line below the treble staff. C clefs indicate position of middle C, e.g. alto and ten. clefs and sop. clef (obsolete). In SCTB, C = contralto.

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C the third letter of the modern English alphabet and of the ancient Roman one, originally corresponding to Greek gamma, Semitic gimel.

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1. symbol for carbon.

2. symbol for Celsius or centigrade.