Pronunciation: The Rough, Thoughtful Ploughman and the Tricky Pronunciation of “-Ough” 3

Sometimes the relationship between English spelling and pronunciation is just ridiculous. This sentence has EIGHT different pronunciations of the same letter combination, “-ough.”

“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

Listen to the sentence here:

As you can hear, each of these “-ough” words (except for “through” and “slough,” which rhyme) are pronounced in completely different ways.

Rough sounds like the “uff” in “cuff.” Other common examples of this pronunciation are “enough” and  “tough.”

Dough sounds like the “o” in “no” and “only.” Examples of this pronunciation are “though,” “furlough,” and “thorough.”

Thoughtful sounds like the “aw” in “saw.” Other examples are “ought,” “bought,” “fought,” and “brought.” This is one of the more common pronunciations.

Ploughman sounds like the “ow” in “flower.” Not too many “-ough” words are pronounced like this, but two examples are “bough” and “drought.”

Scarborough sounds like the unstressed “uh” sound, known in phonetics as a “schwa,” like the last vowel in the name “Maria.” This is a very uncommon way to pronounce “-ough.” When it’s by itself, the word “borough” rhymes with “furrow” and “thorough.”

Slough sounds like the “oo” in “too” and “blue.” This is a very uncommon pronunciation, and a fairly uncommon word, too. “Slough” can actually be pronounced three ways. If it rhymes with “knew” or “wow,” it’s a noun meaning a swampy bog. When it rhymes with “cuff,” it’s a verb meaning to get rid of something unwanted.

Cough sounds like the “off” in “offer.”  “Trough” is another common word pronounced like this.

Hiccough, strangely enough, is pronounced with an “up” like “cup.” It is the only “-ough” word like this.

In conclusion, “-Ough” is one of those unfortunate English constructions that gives no clues at all about how to pronounce it. When you come across a new “-ough” word, I recommend getting a native speaker to pronounce it for you, or going to an online dictionary (like this one) that speaks words aloud. “-Ough” can be rough, but with some thought, you’ll get through it! Good luck!

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