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The Complete List of
English Spelling Rules

Lesson 10: C, K, CK, and QU


In this series of lessons, you will learn useful spelling rules in English.

This lesson talks about different letters to make the /k/ sound in English. We will look at some guidelines and examples so that you will feel more comfortable using the letters k, c, and the combination qu.

a queen

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Kings and queens wear crowns.

These three words are all pronounced with /k/ sounds at the beginning, but they are all spelled differently. Do you know why?

We will start with the letter c, which is the most common letter used for this sound in English.

The letter C

1. Single C

a happy cat running

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Corey is a very active cat!

As you can see, the letter c can come almost anywhere in the word. It is used for a /k/ sound before consonants and the vowels a, o, and u.

The single c is the most common letter used for this sound. Here are some common examples:
  • actor
  • corn
  • bacon
  • direct
  • carry
  • picture
  • culture
  • pelican


2. Double C

a man at a party

People have parties to celebrate special occasions.

As you learned in Lesson 1 of this series about the "magic" e, a single consonant between two vowels can mean that the first vowel is pronounced with a long sound instead of a short sound.

If the word needs to contain a short vowel sound before the /k/ sound, we can double the c in the middle of the word.

Here are some more common words with a double c pronounced with a /k/ sound after a short vowel sound:
  • account
  • broccoli
  • hiccup
  • accurate
  • occupy
  • tobacco
  • raccoon
  • accuse


The letter K

two ladies offering desserts

Janet and Emily are very kind. They love to share.

We saw above that the letter c is usually used for a /k/ sound before the vowels a, o, and u, but if the /k/ sound is before the vowels e, i, or y. (When the k comes before a y, it is almost always at the end of words.)

Here are some common examples of the letter k for a /k/ sound before an e, i, or y.
  • king
  • make
  • skin
  • skill
  • risky
  • poker
  • keep
The letter k is also used at the end of one-syllable words after any sound except a short vowel sound.

For example:
  • milk
  • tank
  • soak
  • peek
  • cork
  • hawk
  • look
  • bark


The CK combination

a stressed boy taking a test

Looking at the clock can be very stressful during a test!

The ck combination is used at the end of a one-syllable word after a short vowel sound.

Here are some common examples:
  • pick
  • luck
  • pack
  • stick
  • wreck
  • lick
  • duck

We also use the ck combination after a short vowel sound and before a vowel e, i, or y. This is a little less common.

Here are some examples:
  • rocking
  • picky
  • lucky
  • blackest
  • picnicking

The QU combination

a woman asking a question

Eleanor wants to ask a question.

The qu combination is also common in English, but it is important to remember that this has a /kw/ sound, not just a /k/ sound. It can have some different pronunciations, but this is the most common.

The letter q is not written alone in English, but is always followed by a u.

Here are some common examples of qu with a /kw/ sound:
  • quiet
  • squint
  • squash
  • queen
  • quarter
  • quack
  • quiz
  • square
  • require
  • quote

Review

So, let's review what we have learned about common English suffixes:
  1. The single letter c pronounced as /k/ can come almost anywhere in the word and comes before the vowels a, o, and u.

  2. The double letter c pronounced as /k/ comes after a short vowel.

  3. The letter k comes before the vowels i, e, or y. It also comes at the end of one-syllable words after any sound except a short vowel sound.

  4. The ck combination is used at the end of a one-syllable word after a short vowel sound. Less commonly, it comes after a short vowel sound and before a vowel e, i, or y.

  5. The qu combination is common in English and is pronounced as /kw/.

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