My question might appear silly and pointless to some, but I find it pretty interesting myself.

If we look at the word 'circus', it has 3 consonants and 2 vowels. However, the 2 c in the words are pronounced in a different manner. The first has sound of s as in 'hiss', while the second has the sound of k as in 'kit'.

Also, the vowel i and the vowel u are pronounced the same, although they are not the same. Both, in this case, are pronounced as u in 'cut' or 'upper'.

There are even more examples of such confusions, such as the use of ph vs f in 'graph' and 'fish'.

Why is it so? Why is it so that in English, such discrepancies in pronunciations exist? Is it because most English words are derived from different languages, Latin and Greek?

PS: On a side note, I just want to say that in my native language, Hindi, it doesn't happen. Even if such differences do exist and I just don't know about it, they're rare.

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    Pterodactyl, gnome, knight. I before E except after C and the sound of A as in neighbor and weigh. Weird Science ruins everything. – SrJoven Dec 5 '14 at 23:19
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    This is Too Broad, a Duplicate, and is based on a false premise. There are no such spelling-to-pronunciation rules that can be explained to you here in a simple Q&A format. You should therefore just PRETEND THAT THERE ARE NO RULES THAT YOU WILL EVER UNDERSTAND without a multiyear study of very complex and diverse historical matters related to Middle English, French, Latin, Greek, and a great deal of other languages as well. Until you do that, nothing will make sense. You must every learn each and every new word you encounter by looking it up, just like the rest of us have had to do. Sorry. – tchrist Dec 5 '14 at 23:32
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    Neither the i, nor the u in circus is pronounced like the u in uppercut. They’re not pronounced the same, either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 5 '14 at 23:58
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    So does this mean that there's no hard-and-fast rule to how a word is supposed to be pronounced, based upon it's spelling? – zhirzh Dec 6 '14 at 1:05
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    The answer to your several questions is here. – tchrist Dec 6 '14 at 17:41

The English writing system is at fault and every native speaker knows that.

"In a Garden-of-Eden writing system, you would have a single letter for each speech-sound and one speech-sound for each single letter." Language Myths
German is much more like that than English, and several other languages too.

Although a large number of English words do follow such pattern - best, help, jam, limit, map, win, rob, yet, to mention just a few - most English words prove that there are too few letters for too many speech sounds. The reasons for this have to do with English words having different origins, pronunciation changes throughout the centuries, the difficulties that a spelling reform would face, etc. To have a better explanation, see Language Myths


British worker - "I can't work today, sir. I have diarrhoea."

American boss - "Diarrhea? That's dreadful. You could have sent me a sick note."

British worker - "I can't spell it, sir."

  • Might have worked even better if the poor bloke had been asthmatic and gotten a phthisical cough… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '14 at 0:47

English is an amalgamation of Germanic and Latinate words. Pronunciation may vary depending upon the word's origin.

Often the way a consonant is pronounced is determined by the vowel it precedes.

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