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I am puzzled on how to pronounce cha- words. For example, I know that "chameleon" or "chamomile" are pronounced with a hard "c" like in "camel", not with a soft "c" like in "change". "Charity", on the other hand, is pronounced as in "change".

Is there some rule to infer the correct pronunciation?

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No, there really isn’t.

If you know the languagethe word comes from, you can sometimes make a better guess, like chorus is from Greek, so it’s a /k/ sound there.

But there isn’t really a hard and fast rule. Usually, though, it’s like in church, so guess that way if you have to guess; the sound is /tʃ/.

Wait, I take that back. There is one rule. Words beginning with chr- are always with a /k/ sound. chronological, chrysoprase, Chris. So are words beginning with chl-, like chloroplast.

The imported French word chaise has a softer sound, just a /ʃ/.

I suspect most (maybe all?) words beginning with chy- come from Greek, and so have a hard sound there. They’re all uncommon and rare. For example, chyle is /kaɪl/, < Fr. chyle (= Ital. chilo, Sp. quilo):-L. chȳlus, a. Gr. χῡλός juice (of plants, animals, decoctions).

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    Along the lines of chaise, don't forget Chicago and chaps (as in cowboy attire, not as in "fellows").
    – mmyers
    Commented Nov 14, 2010 at 4:50
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    @mmyers: For many American speakers, "chaise" is a homophone of "chase", at least in its most common usage in the term "chaise longue", which I often hear rendered as "chase lounge". Sigh. For most, "chaps" is always [tʃæps].
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Nov 14, 2010 at 5:32
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    There are also several "cha-" words from Hebrew used in English that are properly pronounced with the back of the throat, such as "challah."
    – mskfisher
    Commented Nov 16, 2010 at 16:18
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    @mskfisher - +1, but I would more likely give "Chutzpah" as an example.
    – Moshe
    Commented Nov 17, 2010 at 2:55
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    @PLL - Yes, but those people are pronouncing it wrong then. ;-)
    – Moshe
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 1:20

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