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The many way to pronounce 'ough'

English isn't an easy language to learn. One reason for that is the non-standard spelling and pronunciation. There's no better example of that than in the many ways that 'ough' is pronounced.

Picture of a man confused by the many way to pronounce oughTo make matters worse, British English and American English don't always agree on 'ough' pronunciations. For example, in the UK 'borough' is rhymed with an 'a' sound, as in kookaburra; in the USA, 'borough' is rhymed with an 'ow' sound, as in burrow.

Here's a list of how the English do it...

1. Enough

This is probably the most common 'ough' sound. 'Enough' has an 'uff' sound, as in 'suffer' (and if you think you've suffered enough already, we've hardly started).

Other common words that use this pronunciation are:

Rough, Tough

Hear the word spoken:

A list of phrases that use the word 'enough'...

2. Plough

If anyone needed convincing of how weird English pronunciation can be maybe they should look at the distance between the 'ough' sound in 'plough' and 'enough'.

Plough uses the 'ow' sound, as in 'cow' or 'flower'.

Other common words that use this pronunciation are:

Bough, Drought

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A list of phrases that use the word 'plough'...

3. Through

Through is pronounced with an 'oo' sound, as in 'threw' .

There isn't a long list of common words that use this pronunciation, but one is:

Brougham

Lord Brougham'Broughams' are one horse carriages and they take their name from their designer Lord Brougham, who was a resident of the North of England. The local pronunciation of the esteemed lord's name was 'Broom'.

Eccentric, sometimes incomprehensible, pronunciation of family names is a characteristic of the English gentry, especially so in the north of the country. The Marquess of Cholmondely pronounces his name 'Chumley' and the name of the 18th century occupant of Featherstone Castle, Sir Matthew Featherstonehaugh, to most people's bafflement, is pronounced Fanshaw.

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A list of phrases that use the word 'plough'...

4. Though

The 'ough' in 'though' rhymes with 'go'.

This is a very common usage of 'ough' and is often used in the idiom 'even though', which is intended to suggest that the truth of one thing doesn't imply the truth of another.

Other common words that use this pronunciation are:

Dough, Furlough

Hear the word spoken:

A list of phrases that use the word 'though'...

5. Thought

Add a 't' to 'though' and you get a word that rhymes with 'sport' - whodathoughtit?

Many common words that use this pronunciation, including:

Bought, Brought, Fought, Wrought, Sought, Nought

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A list of phrases that use the word 'thought'...

6. Thorough

Thomas Gainsborough'Thorough' rhymes with 'borough', as in the family name of the English painter Thomas Gainsborough.

The word is doubly confusing to people learning English as a second language as, in England the words have an 'a' sound, somewhat like the ending of 'kookaburra'. In the USA they are pronounced with an 'ow' sound, like 'furrow'.

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7. Cough

'Cough', as everyone knows, rhymes with 'off'.

Another word that uses this pronunciation is:

Trough

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A list of phrases that use the word 'cough...

8. Hiccough

'Hiccough' rhymes with 'cup'.

Some might consider this one a bit of a cheat in that the correct spelling of 'hiccough' is 'hiccup' and so might be thought not to be an 'ough' word at all.

Nevertheless, although hiccough is really just a spelling mistake, it has been with us since the 17th century and, until it dies out, it deserves and entry on this list.

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9. Hough

'Hough', which is an alternative spelling of 'hock', a joint in the hind leg of a quadruped, rhymes with 'lock'.

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10. Lough

A lough is a small lake or stretch of water. Again, some may query its inclusion, as it is primarily used in Ireland. Although its use in the UK is now rare, it has been used in English since the 14th century and can certainly be classified as an English word. It is pronounced to rhyme with the Scottish 'loch'.

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So, ten ways of pronouncing 'ough'. If you are learning English and these are new to you then best of luck.

Slough

We ought not to finish without giving an honorable mention to 'slough', as it can be rhymed with 'enough', 'through' or 'plough'.

The meanings of slough are:

To shed or remove a layer, as in a snake sloughing off its skin. This has an 'uff' sound.

A patch of soft muddy ground or a state of depression. This has an 'oo' sound or an 'ow' sound, depending on location. The USA prefers 'oo'; the UK prefers 'ow'.

Hear the word spoken:

 

The above list doesn't even include place names, which would extend it further. The Berkshire town of Slough would add to the sloughs. There's no better example of the variability of 'ough' is in the naming of Loughborough, a town in Leicestershire (a county the pronunciation of which itself causes some head scratching outside of the UK) which manages two variants in the one word.


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© Gary Martin, 2017