I know that K has been derived from Greek kappa and C from gamma.

But how did it happen that people started to use K in place of C? From what I know there were already C and G in the Latin alphabet to mark as well the /k/ as the /g/ sound, so why did they add yet another letter?

And how did it happen that in many modern European languages C is used as a /t͡s/ or /s/ sound? I don't think it was used like this in Latin?

  • 3
    They didn't add another letter. K was already in the alphabet.
    – Sverre
    Sep 25, 2015 at 21:51
  • Related: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/6767/…
    – Alex B.
    Sep 25, 2015 at 23:20
  • I like this part of your question though "how did it happen that people started to use K in place of C?"
    – Alex B.
    Sep 25, 2015 at 23:27
  • Tbh, I wish, C was only used for the hard sound and K didn't exist in Latin entirely. It would have been better May 9, 2023 at 3:28
  • You really should provide examples. It make my head hurt to try and find them.
    – Lambie
    May 9, 2023 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


The Old Latin alphabet had 3 letters for the sound [k]: C, K, and Q. K was used before A, Q before V (the shape U appeared later), and C elsewhere. Besides, C was also used for the sound [g]. Later, K was marginalized and used only in a couple of words, e.g. Kalendae, and a new letter, G, derived from C, was introduced for the sound [g].

In the post-classical Latin dialects, the sound [k] before [i] (spelled I and Y) and [e/ɛ] (spelled E, AE, OE) changed into [s], or [ts], or [tʃ] all of which can be found in the modern Romance languages.

Since the European languages which now use the Latin script are or were once Roman Catholic, and the speakers were aware of the strong association of Q with U, and of the fact that C before E, I, and Y is not pronounced [k], and that the only universal letter that means [k] in all the positions was K, it was this K that they chose for the use in their native languages to denote the sound [k].

  • 1
    I don't think a language can be Roman Catholic, and I don't think there even is an accurate idea hidden behind that wording. Otherwise, this agrees with what I've heard! Sep 25, 2015 at 22:46
  • In the British Isles speakers had very little to do with it. Insular writers preferred <c>, and <k> was very rare until the Conquest replaced the English literary class and orthography with Norman ones. <C> is still preferred in writing the insular Celtic languages. Sep 26, 2015 at 3:44
  • 1
    I once heard the claim that Welsh uses ‹C› because once upon a time the printer of a Welsh dictionary didn't have enough ‹K›s in the type case. Dec 1, 2019 at 7:25
  • Actually in Swedish, K is provinces as Sh before I e or y and in Norwegian too so not true May 16, 2023 at 20:21

About the second part of your question.

The spelling very often represents pronunciation that was once used (although this is not a rule).

The C in the spelling systems of modern Romance languages stands mostly for voiceless velar stop [k] or a variety of palatal or sibilant-like sounds, including [t͡ʃ], [t͡s] or [s]. The second group usually continues [k] which was later fronted and palatalised, for example because of the proximity of a front vowel.

C letter is used for these sounds simply for historical reasons.

  • 1
    It's true that's often the case. Not always, though. In French, there are a lot of cases where "c" represents Latin [t] that was fronted and palatalized, like in words ending in "-ance" from Latin "entia." This is also the case for "c" in some words in Spanish. Sep 25, 2015 at 23:24

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