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Ough is a letter sequence often seen in words in the "English language. In "Middle English, where the spelling arose, it was pronounced with a back rounded vowel and a "velar fricative (e.g., "[oːx], "[oːɣ], "[uːx], or "[uːɣ]). It is by far the sequence of "letters with the most unpredictable pronunciation,["citation needed] having at least eight pronunciations in "North American English and nine in "British English (not counting place names). A few of the more common are these:
|"//||"Brough, chough, enough, hough, "Hough, rough, shough, slough (as verb), sough, tough||Rhymes with puff. Sough is also pronounced "//.|
|"//||cough, trough||Rhymes with off. Trough is pronounced "// (troth) by some speakers of American English, and a baker's trough is also pronounced "//.|
|"//||bough, doughty, drought, plough, "Slough (as place name), sough||Rhymes with how, cow. Sough is also pronounced "//.|
|"//||although, dough, furlough, though||Rhymes with toe, no.|
|"//||bought, brought, dreadnought, fought, ought, sought, thought, wrought||Regularly so used before "//, except in drought "// and doughty "//. Rhymes with caught. In American English, this is often "// or "//.|
|"//||brougham, slough (as noun), through||Rhymes with true.|
|"//||borough, thorough, "Willoughby||Pronounced "// in American English, except when destressed by a following syllable, as in thoroughly and Willoughby.|
|"//, "//||hiccough||Variant spelling of more common hiccup.|
|"//||"Greenough||Pronounced "// as the name of a river in Western Australia. As a surname, it is usually pronounced "//.|
|"//||"Clough, hough, lough, turlough||Hough more commonly spelled hock from the 20th century onwards. Lough and (tur)lough are also pronounced "//.|
|"//||lough, turlough||A lake; Irish "cognate of "Scots loch. Both also pronounced "//.|
Note that "slough" has three pronunciations depending on its meaning:
An example sentence using the nine pronunciations commonly found in modern usage (and excluding hough, which is now a rarely-used spelling) is, "The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through the snow, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, his work was thorough."
Other pronunciations can be found in proper nouns, many of which are of "Celtic origin (Irish, Scottish, or Welsh) rather than English. For example, ough can represent "// in the surname "Coughlin, "// in Ayscough and even "// in the name Colcolough ("//) in Virginia.
The two occurrences of ⟨ough⟩ in the English place name "Loughborough are pronounced differently, resulting in "//. Additionally, three parishes of "Milton Keynes—"Woughton "//, "Loughton "// and "Broughton "//—all have different pronunciations of the combination.
Tough, though, through and thorough are formed by adding another letter each time, yet none of them rhyme.
Some humorous verse has been written to illustrate this seeming incongruity:
Because of the unpredictability of the combination, many "English spelling reformers have proposed replacing it with more phonetic combinations, some of which have caught on in varying degrees of formal and informal success. Generally, spelling reforms have been more widely accepted in the "United States and less so in the "Commonwealth. One problem is that a pronunciation with the velar fricative is still found locally in parts of North-East Scotland, where, for example, trough is pronounced "//.
In the UK, the word dough can also be pronounced "//, a pronunciation remembered in the spelling in the word duffpudding. Likewise, the word enough can be pronounced "// or "// and the spelling enow is an acceptable dialect or poetic spelling (e.g. ""And Wilderness is Paradise enow.").
The following spellings are generally considered unacceptable in most of the Commonwealth, but are standard in the United States:
However, both of these are considered unacceptable in British English and formal American English.
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⟨augh⟩ is orthographically rather similar to ⟨ough⟩, but admits much less pronunciation variation:
The similar ⟨ow⟩ yields at least five standard pronunciations:
A comparable group is ⟨omb⟩, which differs however in that, unlike ⟨ough⟩, it does not ever represent a single "phoneme. ⟨omb⟩ can be pronounced in at least five ways:
When a syllable is added after the ⟨omb⟩, the ⟨b⟩ is often (but not always) pronounced, resulting in a total of at least eight pronunciations of ⟨omb⟩:
—but not, for example, in bomber, comber, entombing, etc.
The group ⟨ong⟩ has at least nine pronunciations, though unlike with ⟨ough⟩ or ⟨omb⟩, context often suggests the correct pronunciation: