fluorescent (UK), florescent (US)




















sceptre (UK), scepter (US)










15 responses to “sc as in scent”

  1. Leanne James says:

    Hi, would love to know why these words have the sc grapheme instead of ss. It appears to to keep the vowel short. Is it because it is derived from Latin/Greek and they didn’t double the s? Would love to explain the ‘why’ to my son. Thanks Alison. I love your blogs!!

    • alison says:

      Hi Leanne, I think a lot of words with sc in English pronounced /s/ are based on words in source languages that contained an sc or sk, for example the Etymology online website (http://www.etymonline.com) says of “science” that it’s from Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens (genitive scientis) “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE root *skei- “to cut, to split” (source also of Greek skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan “to divide, separate;” see schizo-). Maybe your son would like to look up some other sc words on this website and see what it says? Alison

    • Peter Oram says:

      SC follows the same guideline as C and G – the sound depends partly on the following vowel. If the following vowel is A, O, or U, the C is “hard” like K.
      scan, escape, scone, score, scum, scuff
      (If you find an English word that doesn’t conform to this guideline, I will donate AUD50 to charity.)

      If the following vowel is E or I it’s more likely to be a “soft” sound like S.
      scent, scene, science, prescient
      (I can’t think of any counter examples right now. I think the letter K is used in Old English words with that sound, e.g. skip, ski, skeet, sketch.

      Compare C alone:
      cat, cent, city, cot, cut (There might be old-English exceptions for “ce” and “ci”, but I challenge you to find an exception for “ca”, “co” or “cu”.)

      And G alone:
      gave, gent, agile, got, gut
      There are numerous exceptions where “ge” and “gi” are hard, such as get, give… but as far as I know there are only two exceptions with other letters: margarine, gaol. (Is “mortgage” an exception, or do we consider TG the spelling for the G sound?)

      • alison says:

        Hi Peter, Yes, true, I have a blog post about some of this (www.spelfabet.com.au/2015/04/c-that-sounds-like-s). Would the UK spelling of ‘sceptic’ (US skeptic) trigger a $50 donation to the Red Cross bushfire appeal? The initial-sk words are mostly of Old Norse/Scandinavian origin, e.g. ‘skate’, ‘skill’, ‘skin’, and ‘skirt’ is from Old Norse while ‘shirt’ (spelt ‘scyrte’ in Old English) is from Anglo-Saxon, of course both originally based on the same Indo-European word. The SC in Old English morphed into SH over time in many words, for example ‘scip’ became ‘ship’. I learnt a lot of this stuff from the History of English podcast which I highly recommend, it’s fascinating (another sc word).

        CI often now represents /sh/ before Latin suffixes, as in musician, artificial, delicious. In words borrowed from Italian, C is often a /ch/ sound as in cello, Botticelli. Re your challenge, what about facade, garcon and curacao? Yes, I know the C is meant to have a cedilla but these days it is often dropped in English.

        Re GE, GI and GY, I have a list of words with this spelling pronounced as a velar stop (as in girl, get, begin) in the right-hand column of this page: http://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/g/g-as-in-got. The only other pattern-breaking word like ‘gaol’ and ‘margarine’ that I know of is the truncated word ‘veg’ as in ‘fruit and veg’ or ‘veg out’, which in final position in theory should be a velar stop, see http://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/j/g-as-in-gel. ‘Mortgage’ is a funny word, as it comes from French and the ‘mort’ part means ‘dead’ with the final “t” not pronounced, but we do say a /t/ in other words with this root like ‘mortal’, ‘mortuary’ and ‘amortise’. I’ve tried be strict with Occam’s Razor when setting up my word lists, so I’ve put mortgage with ballet, crochet and sorbet on this list: http://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/no-sound/t-as-in-ballet. But the reason the medial t is not pronounced is a morphological/etymological one, not a phonotactic or orthotactic one.

  2. Leanne James says:

    Thanks Alison,

    This makes a lot of sense – separate, divide is in the meaning of most of the /sc/ words on your list:

    Scissors (used to divide)
    Discipline (work in a different discipline)
    Scenario (separate version)
    Pisces (the two fish)
    Descend, Ascend, Transcend (all moving a way from something)
    Rescind (taking your vote away)
    etc etc

    It is very similar to the /wr/ grapheme – they all mean to wrap or twist. Even the word ‘wrong’ on etymology online indicates that it is from old English and means a crooked (eg twisted).

    Fascinating isn’t it. I find this helps my son so much. Kids really need to know the why behind words!

  3. Cameron B says:

    Thanks for this, it really helped. I made fun of my friend by mispronouncing the words incorrectly, because he unintentionally mispronounced miscellaneous. I plan on continuing to do it in the future.

  4. Tatyana says:

    I am very grateful for this particular list. I have only found 6 words with this sc sounding as s, and with your help my son will be able to learn more than 30!
    I would also add scenery (which is of course related to scene) and crescent.

  5. Juliet Palethorpe says:

    Hi Alison,

    Congrats again on the huge amount of work it has taken to put these lists into the world so that they can help people in too many ways to mention in this comment.

    I find myself here, as I was looking up how to orthographically map the word mortgage as it has popped up on my Year 6 son’s classroom spelling list purportedly organised around the sound /g/ (generated from a mixture of sources including Sound Waves and Jolly Phonics). I have suggested also utilising your word lists, but you can lead a horse to water. The class spends some time with their fortnightly lists making associations between phonemes and graphemes – and hopefully the morphemes.

    So could in mortgage then be included somewhere in the lists as a (rare) spelling for the sound /aw/? Rare spelling but common word, no? (This discussion is bringing out the French in me!)

    So am I right in saying that a discussion of morphology and etymology would be beneficial/necessary for the word mortgage?

    The current state of play is that my son (and by proxy me) has become the go-to person for the teacher to ask about orthography (cool) but also, face plant, as how is this fair to this teacher?

    Anyway….a big shout out to your work, as I was a but stumped by the word mortgage and we are all learning together.

    Best wishes,

    • alison says:

      Hi Juliet, great to hear you find my lists helpful, sounds like you’re doing a great job making Word Study a Thing at your son’s school.

      I do have “mortgage” on my lists, it’s on the French unpronounced “t” page with ballet and beret: http://www.spelfabet.com.au/spelling-lists/sorted-by-sound/no-sound/t-as-in-ballet. I also studied French at school so know “mort” means “dead” so mortgage means “dead pledge”, cheerful stuff, but perhaps that will help kids remember it? I don’t think we need to stick to just one level of explanation for words, the “t” is not pronounced because it’s French and from the word “mort” which is like mortuary and mortician, so if they know about both the phonology and morphology/etymology, it should help them remember the word? But the letter G is not the most interesting/challenging part of this word.

  6. Juliet Palethorpe says:

    Thanks Alison.

    I really must get better at editing my work!

    My message should have said: So could the spelling in mortgage then also be included somewhere in the lists as a (rare) spelling for the sound /aw/? Apologies for that as leaving out the spelling in my message completely lost what I was trying to ask!

    FYI: The teacher sent me the spelling lists (three lists based on ability grouping) which I worked out were organised around the sound /g/ as per Sound Waves’s direction, however I wonder whether this teacher thought that the organising principle was the letter g. Not surprising given what is known about teacher undergraduate preparation for teaching reading and spelling. So in this case, the teacher’s schema about letters and spelling is obscuring some helpful information for the kids.

    Til next time,


    • alison says:

      I thought about putting ballet, camembert, debut, eclat, esprit and all the other French loan words in which the “t” is not pronounced into the various vowel categories (e.g. making “et” a spelling of “ay”, “ert” a spelling of “er”, “ut” a spelling of “ooh” etc, but the reason we don’t say the “t” in mortgage isn’t because the vowel is spelt funny, it’s because the “t” is not pronounced, because it’s from French. I was trying to do an Occam’s Razor and have as few categories as possible, and making a whole stack of new categories to account for the unpronounced final French “t” just didn’t make sense. But if you want to put “ort” in your “or” spelling lists with the words “mortgage” and “rapport”, that’s fine by me. It’s a bit like the “orps” in “corps” which I do have listed as a funny spelling of “aw”, as I couldn’t find other words with final silent “ps”. Hope that makes sense! Alison

  7. Juliet Palethorpe says:

    Ok, there is something seriously weird happening as that time I wrote the ort spelling in mortgage as a (rare) spelling for the sound /aw/. I’m trying it without the brackets this time.

  8. Juliet Palethorpe says:

    So the t could be an extra letter in mortgage, there for morphology/etymology reasons, it’s just the question of where to put it when kids are being taught to orthographically map the phonemes and graphemes (a practice which I’m sure you’d agree is a step forward in instruction!).

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