There are a few letters in the Spanish alphabet that have more than one sound depending on where they appear in a word, and the letter C is one of those. The rules surrounding its pronunciation though are completely regular.
When C appears before an “e” or an “i”, it is pronounced like the light English “th” sound in “thin” or “both”. We have cena (supper, pronounced “thena”) or facil (easy, pronounced “fatheel”). When followed by other letters, the C is pronounced the same as our “k” sound, as in cama (bed) or con (with). There is one more rule which is that when the C appears alongside the “h” to form “ch”, it is pronounced exactly the same as the English “ch”, as in “church”; eg coche (car), chaqueta (jacket). That might all sound a bit complicated, but like all the other letters in Spanish, once you’ve got these three sounds firmly in your mind and realised that they are governed by hard and fast rules, you will find they are actually quite easy! Most of us know how to say “café con leche, gracias” correctly. This small phrase contains the three ways of pronouncing the Spanish “C”.
C – cable (cable), calamidad (calamity), capacidad (capacity), calendario (calendar), cero (zero), civilización (civilization), colapso (collapse). Out of these, only two start with the “th” sound.
Here’s a curious estranged cousin, or false friend. The word carpeta in Spanish does not mean “carpet”, it means “folder”. The word for carpet in Spanish? Well we usually say alfombra, although to be strictly accurate this refers to a rug. A fitted carpet, as found in British homes is called moqueta in Spanish.
C – is cada which means “each” or “every”. We can say cada día, “every day”; cada persona, “every person”, or more idiomatically, cada vez en cuando “every now and then”. There is another way of expressing the same idea in Spanish, which is with todos los… or todas las (literally “all the …”). So, cada día means exactly the same as todos los días and todas las personas the same as cada persona. Strangely enough these “todos los …” expressions, and there are a lot of them, are rather more of a mouthful to say, and yet they are probably used slightly more than “cada”. However, both expressions are identical in meaning and very common.
And now for a saying containing the letter C which I’m sometimes reminded of when I hear people giving your typical “man in the bar” advice about Spanish bureaucracy. It is: “En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es el rey”, which means: “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” I think it describes certain types of people perfectly! My main reason for choosing this saying though is that the key word “blind” is ciego, which begins with the letter C. We also find this word in the name of the ONCE, pronounced “onthay”, organization which runs one of the big lotteries. It stands for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles. (The Organization for Spanish Blind People). You may notice that the people who sell the ONCE lottery tickets are often blind or partially sighted. This charity works by giving employment to the visually impaired in the form of selling lottery tickets to enable them to make a modest living. The charity was set up after the Spanish civil war and to this day about a quarter of its takings goes directly to help the blind via their centres all over Spain.
Jane Cronin, Spanish classes and talks.
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