pronunciation: ch < k vs s >

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Hey there! I've always wondered if there's a way to foreknow the correct pronunciation of "ch" in all words having this sequence of letters (choice, machine, chemistry etc...). I know it's all about the origin (Greek, French, German...) of each of them but I'd like to know more about it. Thanks in advance :)
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, the only way of predicting it is by knowing the origin. Take 'machine' as a special case - it's from French/Latin/Greek, so the origin principles are confusing. Just memorize 'machine'. Then, use a French ch-sound in more obviously French words like chauffeur, chassis, cachet. Use a /k/ in the obviously Greek words like choreography, archaic, technical - your own language will probably help you with those, as most of them should be in Italian as well as English. Use the Italian sound in obviously Italian borrowings like chianti, radicchio. And use the English ch-sound (as in cello, which we borrowed from you) for the rest - the short, chunky words like chip, chat, choose, rich, belch.

    There will be many exceptions, of course, and you do have to be able to say 'that's from French' and 'that's from Greek' with some confidence, or this won't work at all; but there is quite a lot of regularity to it. Except 'machine' versus the /k/ in 'mechanical'.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, etymology can help, but you just need to listen to English a lot to know for sure. If there are French words that have been around a long time, they'll be given more 'English' pronunciations, for example chair or ​choice. Sometimes there are two versions of borrowings from French (chef and chief).


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, I should qualify 'more obviously French' - those where other letters are treated in a French way (silent final letter in chassis, cachet, un-English vowel <au> = /ou/ in chauffeur). Recent borrowings - and quite possibly Italian might also have borrowed these unchanged.

    Those that are in English, French, and Italian in similar forms from a common Latin heritage, such as enchanter, chapel, bachelor and so on, huge numbers of them, are older so have the English ch.


    German (Germany)
    If there are French words that have been around a long time, they'll be given more 'English' retain older pronunciations, for example chair or ​choice. Sometimes there are two versions of borrowings from French (chef and chief).
    It depends on whether the import occurred before or after the French "ch" changed from [tʃ] to [ʃ].


    New Member
    << Moderators note: I have added this thread to an existing thread. Please read from the top.>>

    Hello. Can you show me some words in which "ch" a pronounced as a 'k' (like character, choir) - as opposed to a "tsh"/"tch" sound (choke, child).

    Is this varying between Am/Br? Is this a personal thing? Are there any rules for that (like with the letter "C": before consonants, "a" and "o" it is "K" while before other vowels it sounds like "s")?

    For example, the word "chore". I always thought it was something like "core" (probably by association with "choir") and today in a music video by Tom Vek, I heard him say it like "tchore" so I was obviously baffled. Thanks in advance.
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    I suppose there are some words like that, generally derived from Scottish or German. We say "Loch Ness monster" and 'loch' rhymes with clock.

    Your 'default,' or basic assumption should be that 'ch,' in English, is mostly going to sound like 'ch' in 'smooch' [cz in Polish]or maybe like 'sh' [sz in Polish]. This would apply to your example word, 'chore,' which is the same 'ch' as in 'cherry,' 'cheerful,' 'choke,' and more or less like the final 'ch' in
    'watch,' 'which,' etc. I see, in writing this, that final 'ch' often has a 't' before which doesn't have a separate sound but add a bit of explosiveness to the 'tch' compound.

    Welcome to the forum. :) Remember always to give a specific example, preferably in a sentence, of what's an issue for you.
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    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Many English words whose etymology derives from the Greek (e.g., psychology, chiropractic, christian) pronounce "ch" as /k/. This is a more or less general "rule," but how is anyone supposed to know the etymology of a word they've never before met? :confused:
    Welcome to the forum.


    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US

    I have merged this with a previous thread on the same topic.
    Please scroll up to read from the top.

    Notice: We no longer allow compiling of lists, but you will find one in the older thread linked to in post #5.

    Discussion in this thread should be restricted to the factors determining the pronunciation.

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