Many people would to speak the C in words prefer "scent" and "science" is silent, however when friend look right into the background of English spelling, you find multiple factors "sc" can be pronounced different ways.

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The Quick and Dirty The C the SC is what us usually call a “silent letter” in the instance of words favor "science" and also "scent,” yet there’s much more to the story as soon as you look into the background of English words. A much better answer is come say that the SC in “science“ renders an S sound, choose the phoneme /s/.


A listener named Edwin dubbed in with this question:At the start of the words choose "scent" and also “science," i beg your pardon letter is actually the silent letter? I desire to to speak it's a C, yet I recognize in “science” the C in ~ the end of that likewise sounds favor S.The quick answer is that in words like "science" and "scent," SC is pronounced favor an /s/ phoneme, or a unit the sound. Part phonemes come are represented by single letters, prefer the S-sound in “sat,” and others are represented by combinations of letters prefer the SH-sound in “shin.”
The long answer is the SC-words have a tricky background in English. If they’re old sufficient to have been approximately in Old English, lock were probably pronounced prefer our modern SH-words: "shin" to be spelled S-C-I-N, and a "sheath" for her sword would certainly be order S-C-E-A-T-H. Every now and also then, some of them retained their C’s but also sound prefer SH-words now: “omnscience” and also “prescient,” or periodically they sound favor CH: “conscience” and also “conscious.” A couple of added an H after ~ the SC and made it just sound choose SK: “schizophrenia” and also “schism.” and a very couple of words do it sound as with S: “science,” “rescind,” “descent,” and also the Massachusetts coastal town called “Scituate.”Every now and then, you get a group of words whereby you deserve to see quite a little of variation: "fish" and also "pisces" both came from a root related to Latin “piscis” (which is spelled with an SC in the middle) "Pescatarian" originates from the exact same root. That’s words for someone that eats fish but not various other meat. And "porpoise" which literally means “pig fish”comes from “porcus,” the beginning of "pork," plus “piscis,” the origin of "fish."If the SC native is new enough and wasn’t roughly when Old English was spoken, then the C is there because that a really different reason. After Old English had actually turned right into Middle English, we got the word "scent" yet it was spelled S-E-N-T together in the related word “sense" (as in “Sense and Sensibility”). The C was included hundreds of years later, after center English had actually turned into modern English, probably since it was influenced by words favor "descent" and also “ascend,” i m sorry both have C’s in the middle.So yes, the C the SC is what us usually speak to a “silent letter” in the instance of words prefer "science" and "scent,” but there’s much more to the story once you look right into the history of English words. A much better answer is to say that the SC in “science“ provides an S sound, choose the monosi /s/. Yet as you can see, this letter mix can vary relying on the background of every word — together do plenty of letter combinations found in the English language.Image courtesy ofShutterstock.

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Kate Whitcomb is a linguist and also teacher with degrees in psycholinguistics and cognitive neuroscience. Girlfriend can find her in ~ thelaymanslinguist.com.