107: 'ck' after short vowels (as in back), 'k' after all the others (as in 'bake)

Learning intricate English phonetic patterns can give you confidence in vowel pronunciation.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 107th episode.

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On to today's show.

Here is a bit of phonetic trivia: the vowel sound before the letters ck is almost always a short vowel sound. This convenient detail can give you an extra level of confidence in your pronunciation of those letters that can have multiple pronunciations, namely the letters u and o.

The letter u is commonly pronounced as either a short u, as in the word sun, or the other u, as in the word put. It can be hard to know which pronunciation is correct. Here's one trick: if the letter u occurs before the letters ck you can bet that it is going to be pronounced as the short u. Examples include the following:


If you've been listening for a while, you also know that the letter o can be particularly troublesome because of its three different possible pronunciations! The letter o can be pronounced as a short o (short o), as in the word top), a long o (long o), as in the word most or the aw sound (aw sound), as in the word dog.

However, when a single letter o occurs before the letters ck, you are safe to pronounce it as a short o sound. Examples include:


We can look at this from another direction as well, and we can assume that if a word is pronounced with a vowel sound other than a short vowel sound, and it is followed by a k sound, the k sound is not going to be spelled ck, and only the letter k is needed. (Except, of course, when the k sound is spelled ch, but I'm not getting into that today. Go back and listen to Episode 85 to learn more about the ch/k sound connection.)

Here are examples of five vowel sounds that commonly occur before a k sound, spelled k:

long a: cake, c-a-k-e
long e: geek, g-e-e-k or speak, s-p-e-a-k
long i: bike, b-i-k-e
long o: broke, b-r-o-k-e, or soak, s-o-a-k
other u: book, b-o-o-k

More odd trivia is that the remaining five vowel sounds either don't occur before the k sound, or only rarely occur.

The oi sound and ow sound don't occur before the k sound, except in very infrequent or unusual words like zoiks (which came from the cartoon Scooby-Doo). I think we're safe in saying you don't need to worry much about those sound combinations.

The oo sound, aw sound, and long u sound rarely occur before the k sound, although at least one example of each can be found.

oo sound, spook, s-p-o-o-k
aw sound, hawk, h-a-w-k
long u: (and sorry for the vulgarity here) puke, p-u-k-e

Understanding which sound combinations and which spelling combinations are likely in English can really be useful to those of you ready for an intricate English phonetics lesson like this one. I hope you enjoyed it.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.