The spelling ough

The spelling "ough" can be pronounced eight different ways in English.

Don't panic, there aren't many words, and some of them are so arcane I usually don't bother teaching them. But let's be fairly comprehensive here.

There are five different single sounds, and three sound combinations.

  • "aw" as in bought, brought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought and wrought iron.
  • "ou" as in when the bough or the drought breaks, and the UK spelling of plough (in the US regularised to plow), as well as doughty old characters, the soughing wind and a deep slough of depression.
  • "oh" as in dough, furlough and though, as well as doughnut and although, if you want to count them separately.
  • "ooh" as in through.
  • "uh" as in thorough and borough, and names like Gainsborough, Marlborough, Peterborough and Scarborough.
  • "u" plus "f" as in rough, tough and enough, plus a snake sloughing off its skin.
  • "o" plus "f"* as in cough, former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and a cattle trough.
  • "u" plus "p" in hiccough, though nowadays many people seem to spell this hiccup.

That's it, as far as I know. Not so terrible after all.

* The "gh" spelling of the sound "f" is also used in the word "laugh", and goes after a vowel. Before a vowel, "gh" usually represents the sound "g" as in "Afghan", "ghost", "spaghetti" and "yoghurt".

1 thought on “The spelling ough

  1. Mayur

    I’m glad I found your site and this post. I have 4 kids who aren’t all that interested in reading…ages 10, 9, 6, & 5. I do a lot of reading aloud and I am finally learning that this is okay. I take some solace in the fact that even though I could read & loved to write, I hated reading. I did not learn to enjoy reading until I was 26. So, there is hope!


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