6 Pronunciations of -ough

By 16 April 2018 Video lessons 7 Comments
Pronunciations of -ough

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Now, it’s pronunciation time!

-ough: 6 pronunciations

You know that English has a crazy spelling-pronunciation relationship, and this is kind of an extreme case. How is it that words like although, drought, through, bought, cough, enough all have the same sequence of letters, -ough, but all have different pronunciations?

I know, English is craaaazy! But do you know how these words are pronounced? Try reading them with me: although, drought, through, bought, cough, enough, and hiccough.

Let’s look at each pronunciation and try to make some sense of this.

-ough as /oh/

The first pronunciation is like “oh” just like in the word “no”. And this is how we pronounce words like although, thorough, and dough (and so also doughnut. Mmm!)

Here’s a little rhyme for you: You know, although it’s not very thorough, this cookie dough recipe is oh so… I don’t know a word that ends in “oh” to finish the poem. It’s oh so ohhhh!

“You know, although it’s not very thorough, this cookie dough recipe is oh so…oooh!”

-ough as /ow/

There aren’t many words where -ough is pronounced “ow”, but the most useful one is “drought”, for talking about the weather.

A drought is a dry spell, a long period with no rain. Like “California often has a lot of droughts.” Another word “plough”, not so useful in the US, but in British pubs, a Ploughman’s Lunch is a popular dish of bread, cheese, ham, and some kind of pickles.

-ough as /ew/

Yes, the words “through” and “threw” have exactly the same pronunciation. As in

“You threw my food in the trash?”
“I thought you were through with it!”

And here, “to be through with it” means “to be finished”. And if we pronounce t-h-r-o-u-g-h as /threw/, guess how we pronounce this word: throughout.

You had a 1 in 6 chance, but here there is some logic. It’s through, and the same sound, throughout.

-ough as /aw/

Actually, these words end in -ought, like thought, fought, bought, and brought.

And it’s been a while since we had a poem, so let’s try one here, since we have some words to work with: I thought and I thought about the salt. In the end, I bought, I bought the salt, and then the salt, I brought to Walt, who fought with me to have the salt.”

Shakespeare I am not…

-ough as /off/

“Excuse me, I have a little bit of a cough.” It sounds like “off”, but it’s spelled c-o-u-g-h.

So cough, rhymes with words like…”off”. Cough, off.

And sometimes you see that the other -ough word pronounced “off” is trough, but honestly, I think I’ve used that word like 3 times in my life.

What is a trough? It’s a container that is long and narrow and open, that animals can eat out of, or drink out of.  Like I said, you’ll probably use “cough” more often than “trough.”

-ough as /uff/

“Are you tough enough to learn this pronunciation? It’s rough! Yeah!” I am not Bruce Willis, as you probably just saw there. But that was a good example to show you that tough, enough, and rough (which means not easy, or not smooth) all are pronounced like “uff.”

And I think that’s enough rough pronunciation for today. But we’re not through yet!

Watch the video to practice these pronunciations with me!

Now, what about you?

What’s one other word that you find difficult to pronounce?

Share it with me in the comments, so I can make another pronunciation episode to help you!

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