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I'm hard-of-hearing, so when I read, I pronounce things phonetically because I don't hear a lot of soft sounds (like /sh/). To my surprise over the years, I've been continuously corrected on words that have a "ch" sound in them.

For example, "parachute" is pronounced "para shoot" \ˈper-ə-ˌshüt, ˈpa-rə-\ and not "para chewt".

Are there any indicators of when I would use a hard "ch" sound (like in "choose")?

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I'm not aware of any hard and fast rules on this. I think it's just practice. –  Matt Эллен Jan 31 '11 at 16:05
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Note that ch is also sometimes pronounced as k, in words of Greek or Hebrew origin. –  RegDwigнt Jan 31 '11 at 16:15
    
Also 'loch' and other words from Gaelic use a 'k'-like sound - a guttural 'kh'. –  Jonathan Leffler Jan 31 '11 at 16:53
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There are regional differences in the pronunciation of 'schedule' (like 'school' or like 'sheep'). –  Jonathan Leffler Jan 31 '11 at 16:54
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2 Answers 2

There is no hard-and-fast rule to indicate when ch is hard or soft, unfortunately.

The main difference is in the origin of the word. English is a melting pot of many different languages: Latin, French, German, Scandinavian languages, you name it. In general, words originating from French will have a soft ch:

Parachute, cache, attache

Words originating from Germanic languages will have a hard ch:

Church, bench

However, even this isn't foolproof because many French-origin words have been hardened:

Bachelor, channel, charm

I would say that there are considerably more hard ch words than there are soft.

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There is an even harder ch, in words like psychic and Bach, which is almost a "k" sound, which, as RegDwight points out above, is of Hebrew or Greek origin. –  Andy F Jan 31 '11 at 16:21
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@Andy F: indeed, I think this is two slightly different things. There's the velar fricative ch in a few Scots words and German proper names, like loch and Bach, which is as you say almost but not quite a "k" sound. But then there's the ch in words of Greek origin like psychic and synchronised, which in the original Greek was like the Bach / loch velar fricative, but which in English is now a k sound - no 'almost' about it. Words from Hebrew are more variable: "cherub" goes like "charm", "challah" goes like "Bach", "chutzpah" varies depending on whom you talk to. –  PLL Jan 31 '11 at 16:58
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Actually in Classical Greek 'χ' ('chi') was pronounced like "c" in "cat" (aspirated, in contrast to 'κ' ('kappa') which was unaspirated like "c" in "scat"). It was only later that the Greek aspirates became lenited to fricatives. –  Colin Fine Jan 31 '11 at 18:09
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It depends on when the words entered English, as well as where from. French words that were naturalised centuries ago generally have 'ch' = /tʃ/ ('charity'), while those that have come in in the last hundred years often have /ʃ/ ('parachute'). Similarly, Hebrew words that came with the Bible through Greek, Latin and French may have /tʃ/ ('cherub'), whereas recent imports tend to have /x/ ('challah'). –  Colin Fine Jan 31 '11 at 18:12
    
There may not be many "hard-and-fast rules", but I suspect you've touched on one yourself - attach/attache = hard/soft. I can't think offhand of any words ending [vowel] + ch + e that aren't "soft". Come to that, I can't think of any with [consonant] instead of [vowel] there. But even if there are exceptions, I'm sure it's a reasonably reliable rule. –  FumbleFingers Jun 6 '13 at 23:23
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I just found a great website I think will you help you out a lot, explaining the rules for when to pronounce 'ch' as a hard or soft c:

http://www.brighthubeducation.com/english-homework-help/39405-learn-the-correct-pronunciation-of-the-english-letter-c/

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Due to link rot it is greatly preferred that you provide the requested information in the body of your answer rather than providing a bare link. –  MετάEd Feb 18 '13 at 21:58
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The link says "sometimes" and "sometimes". This is not the most useful advice. –  Jon Hanna Feb 18 '13 at 22:26
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