When adding any suffix to the word "panic," a "k" is added after the "c". Examples: panicked, panicking, panicky.

Why is this the case? Are there any other English words that do the same? I'm also curious about any other words that add extra or unexpected letters when part of speech or tense changes.

The etymology of "panic" includes a Greek origin--"panikon"--which is spelled with a "k" but no "c". Does this origin have anything to do with adding the "k" in variations of "panic"? But still, why keep both the "c" and the "k" in these variations? I know many other English words use "c" and "k" together (stick, lock, back, truck), but these others consistently use "ck" in all forms ("stick," "sticky," "stuck").

Why is "panic" different?

  • 2
    As this 1714 "dictionary" shows, panick was once a perfectly acceptable spelling. It's just that we've standardised on not including the "k" in modern spelling for that particular word. Which, like plasticky, happens to be a noun we sometimes want to convert to an adjective. If we didn't add [back] the "k", it would suggest a soft "c" rather than a hard one. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 16:39
  • 1
    ...I'm no scholar of Ancient Greeks, but I'm not sure they even had a letter "c". We habitually convert their "k" to our "c" in anglicised forms. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 16:43
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    I hadn't thought about "plasticky". I'm a terrible speller, but even I would have recognized that "plasticy" doesn't look right without the "k." Also, thanks for giving me a rule that applies here: the addition of "k" after "c" makes the hard "c" sound. I really don't know all the spelling rules very well. I vaguely recall learning some spelling rules in 2nd grade, but I didn't pay much attention then. Now I have to go back and learn all that stuff!
    – LizP
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 16:47
  • 1
    Often one does things one way because to do them another way would be something different. If you spelled it 'panicy', you'd want to pronounce it like 'panissy', which is not how you actually pronounce the adjective form of 'panic'. So we spell it another way that emphasizes the 'k' like sounding that we expect.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:14
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers There are actually formal rules about such things, it turns out. Vide infra. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


Because that is the standard rule in English. The OED says:

Hence, in modern English, C has

  • (1) the ‘hard’ sound [k] before a, o, u, before a consonant (except h), and when final, as in cab, cot, cut, claw, crow, acme, cycle, sac, tic, epic;
  • (2) before e, i, y, it has the ‘soft’ sound [s]. In all words from Old English or Old French, final c is avoided: the [k] sound being written k or ck, as in beak, meek, oak, book, bark, balk, bank, pack, peck, pick, rock. This is probably due to the claims of derivatives like meeker, oaken, barking, rocky, where c could not be used. Final c however is written in modern words from Latin, Greek, or other languages, and (of late) in the ending -ic, as in sac, tic, epic, critic, music, picnic. In the rare cases in which this c is followed in inflexion by e or i, it is necessary to change it to ck, as in physicking, mimicking, frolicking, trafficker, picnicker. When the [s] sound is final, it must be written ‑ce, as in trace, ice, thrice, and this final e must be retained in composition before a, o, u, as in trace-able, peace-able.
  • (3) Ci (rarely ce) preceding another vowel has frequently the sound of [ʃ], esp. in the endings ‑cious, ‑cial, ‑cion, as atrocious, glacial, coercion (ocean). This sound (which is also taken by t in the same position) has been developed in comparatively modern times by palatalization of [s]. In a few words from foreign languages, c retains the foreign pronunciation, as in It. cicerone [tʃitʃeˈrone].

Which leads us to examples like colicky, havocker, picnicky, plasticky, panicking, picnicking, panicky, magicked, colicking, picnicked, bivouacking, colicked, mimicked, frolicked, picnicker, demosaicked, garlicky, mimicker, havocking, bivouacked, demosaicker, havocked, panicked, mimicking, frolicking, demosaicking.

Yes, you will sometimes see words like those misspelled without the protective k, but that’s like spelling the plural of bunny as *bunnys instead of as bunnies: it’s just plain wrong. We do not do things that way in English.

  • 1
    Notice the 'scare quotes' around 'soft' and 'hard'; these are not good terms because nothing is either softer or harder about the consonants /s/ and /k/. /s/ is a sibilant and /k/ is a stop; those are the non-scare, or correct terms. Of course, English speakers are mostly too scared to use correct terminology; what would people think of them? The terms they learned in grammar school are much more comfortable. Sigh Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 20:54
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    @John, John, John: well do I know that. But it is not up to me to edit my citations. At least they scarequoted them.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 20:55
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    Even if you personally dislike these terms, it's common to refer to "soft" and "hard" c's and g's. It's reasonably clear which sounds are met and when discussing orthography, it allows use to use the same terminology to refer to the alternate pronunciations of both of these letters which pattern in similar ways. I'm all in favor of teaching people more linguistic terminology, but I don't see any reason to criticize the use of grammar school terminology when it effectively communicates a concept.
    – herisson
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 7:58

A reason for this might be that not adding the k means the c is reverted back to its soft sound.

For example the word Racy has a soft c, if Panic was turned into Panicy it would be pronounced


If panicing was used instead of Panicking it would be pronounced Pani-sing.

The addition of the k keeps the c as a hard c such as in words like click

I beleive this is because the addition of the vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or y after the c causes it to default to a soft c sound.

In words where a vowel (or y) doesnt follow the c then no k would be added. For example

the word panic becomes panics but the c retains its hard c sound

  • Your penultimate sentence rather overstates things. There are an awful lot of words ending in -ic, for example, that are pronounced with a hard "c" but don't need a "k". In modern spelling, at least - in most cases if you add a "k" it just looks Victorian or earlier. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 17:02
  • @FumbleFingers hmmm, i couldnt think of any when i wrote it, any examples?
    – user38984
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 20:45
  • Actually, "racy" is not a good example since the root word "race" has a soft "c" sound (easy to figure out - it's followed by a vowel), so to make it an adjective, the "e" is dropped and the "y" is added - but it retains it soft "c" sound. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 20:52
  • @RhysW: Sorry - I think I misread your meaning. My meaning was that lots of words end in -ic rather than -ick. And apparently the only way you're going to know whether you need that "k" as the last letter is to know the etymology. Which is pretty useless for most of us most of the time, because we'll only know the etymology by looking it up, in which case we're already looking at the correct spelling! Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 21:59
  • @KristinaLopez that was sort of my point though, if a c is followed by a vowel or y its a soft c. which is why the K needs to be added for the other versions of the word or it loses the hard sound
    – user38984
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 10:20

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