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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:


List of pronunciations[edit]

"Pronunciation Examples Note
"/ʌf/ "Brough, chough, enough, hough, "Hough, rough, shough, slough (as verb), sough, tough Rhymes with puff. Sough is also pronounced "/ˈs/.
"/ɒf/ cough, trough Rhymes with off. Trough is pronounced "/trɔːθ/ (troth) by some speakers of American English, and a baker's trough is also pronounced "/ˈtr/.[1]
"// bough, doughty, drought, plough, "Slough (as place name), sough Rhymes with how, cow. Sough is also pronounced "/ˈsʌf/.
"// although, dough, furlough, though Rhymes with toe, no.
"/ɔː/ bought, brought, dreadnought, fought, ought, sought, thought, wrought Regularly so used before "/t/, except in drought "/ˈdrt/ and doughty "/ˈdti/. Rhymes with caught. In American English, this is often "/ɒ/ or "/ɑː/.
"// brougham, slough (as noun), through Rhymes with true.
"/ə/ borough, thorough, "Willoughby Pronounced "// in American English, except when destressed by a following syllable, as in thoroughly and Willoughby.
"/əp/, "/ʌp/ hiccough Variant spelling of more common hiccup.
"/əf/ "Greenough Pronounced "/ˈɡrɛnəf/ as the name of a river in Western Australia. As a surname, it is usually pronounced "/ˈɡrn/.
"/ɒk/ "Clough, hough, lough, turlough Hough more commonly spelled hock from the 20th century onwards. Lough and (tur)lough are also pronounced "/ˈlɒx/.
"/ɒx/ lough, turlough A lake; Irish "cognate of "Scots loch. Both also pronounced "/ˈlɒk/.

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 "/ɔːk/ in the surname "Coughlin, "/juː/ in Ayscough and even "// in the name Colcolough ("/ˈkkl/) in Virginia.[3]

The two occurrences of ⟨ough⟩ in the English place name "Loughborough are pronounced differently, resulting in "/ˈlʌfbərə/. Additionally, three parishes of "Milton Keynes—"Woughton "/ˈwʌftən/, "Loughton "/ˈltən/ and "Broughton "/ˈbrɔːtən/—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:

Spelling reforms[edit]

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 "/trɔːx/.

In April 1984, at its "yearly meeting, the "Simplified Spelling Society adopted the following reform as its "house style:[9][10]

Already standard[edit]

Already varyingly formal[edit]

In the UK, the word dough can also be pronounced "/dʌf/, a pronunciation remembered in the spelling in the word duffpudding. Likewise, the word enough can be pronounced "/ɪˈn/ or "/ɪˈn/ 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:

Common informal[edit]

However, both of these are considered unacceptable in British English and formal American English.

Rare informal[edit]

Comparable combinations[edit]

⟨augh⟩ is orthographically rather similar to ⟨ough⟩, but admits much less pronunciation variation:

The similar ⟨ow⟩ yields at least five standard pronunciations:

Dialectal forms also render pronunciations such as winder "/ˈwɪndər/, yeller "/ˈjɛlər/ for window "/ˈwɪnd/, yellow "/ˈjɛl/, and fella "/ˈfɛlə/, tomorra "/təˈmɒrə/ for fellow "/ˈfɛl/, tomorrow "/təˈmɒr/.

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 ⟨oth⟩ also has a wide variety of pronunciations, in part because of the two phonemes ("/θ/ and "/ð/) represented in English ⟨th⟩. Here are seven different pronunciations:

The group ⟨ong⟩ has at least nine pronunciations, though unlike with ⟨ough⟩ or ⟨omb⟩, context often suggests the correct pronunciation:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "trough". "Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 
  2. ^ "The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style", Houghton Mifflin Company.
  3. ^ Bolton, H. Carrington (1891). "The Pronunciation of Folk-Names in South Carolina". The Journal of American Folklore. 4 (14): 270–272. "doi:10.2307/534017. "JSTOR 534017. 
  4. ^ "A Variable Symbol". "Punch, or the London Charivari. 68. 16 January 1875. 
  5. ^ O-U-G-H
  6. ^ Ough, a Phonetic Fantasy
  7. ^ Watt, T. S. (21 June 1954), "Brush Up Your English", "The Guardian . Reprinted in "Fromkin, Victoria; "Rodman, Robert; "Hyams, Nina (2014), An Introduction to Language (10th ed.), Wadsworth, p. 220, "ISBN "978-1-133-31068-6 .
  8. ^ Roberts, Alan (28 March 2004). ""ough" poem". Retrieved August 27, 2017. 
  9. ^ "The Society's 1984 Proposals". Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society (February 1988).
  10. ^ "Tough Though Thought – and we call it correct spelling!". Simplified Spelling Society (1984).
  11. ^ Example: "ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC", sign R11-4, "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
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