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I've been watching some online courses and I'm having a difficulty understanding what exactly are they saying. The courses are scientific in nature and rather often an indexed symbols appear. The indexed symbols are usually written with a subscript, like this:

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When refering to those, the instructor pronounced them like you would pronounce "ace of n" and "eyes of c". It seems that the suffix s is added to the letter. I have completed a non-English education, so this was new to me.

What are the rules regarding indexed symbols?

Is it simply: a's of n, or i's of c, and more importantly why?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

You are mishearing the instructor. He is saying "a sub n" and "i sub c", where "sub" is short for "subscript".

If the symbols are written with a superscript, like an and Ic, then the spoken version is "a sup n" and "i sup c", where "sup" is pronounced like "soup", and is short for "superscript".

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"Ace of n" ... I like that interpretation. –  GEdgar Oct 1 '13 at 18:38
    
I agree that it appears that you have misheard the speaker, possibly due to accent. And the abbreviation of subscript is likely why you misunderstood. –  John Q Public Oct 1 '13 at 18:54
    
Now that you've told me, I can really hear "sub"... Fascinating! :) Thank you for the answer. –  Kornelije Petak Oct 1 '13 at 18:56
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Notice that the plural suffix is pronounced /z/ in many cases (depending on what it follows), whereas sub always starts with /s/. Learning which words spelled with "S" are pronounced /z/ and which are pronounced /s/ is basic to learning English. Only the whole sentence can tell you, at times. –  John Lawler Oct 1 '13 at 19:51
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