Ways to pronounce the letter ‘ough’ in English

May 30, 2019 | Blog, Blog UK

Georgie Harding

Founder & Head Speech Pathologist

Ways to Pronounce the Letters ‘ough’ in English

Many languages are ‘phonetic languages’. This means that each letter makes a particular sound – this makes learning the pronunciation easy. English is definitely NOT like that! English is not a phonetic language.

English letters can make a number of different sounds. There are 44 phonemes or sounds in English (listen to each vowel and consonant sound in English here)  and only 26 letters in the English alphabet!  

It’s important to remember that in English, letters are used for writing words and these letters don’t tell us the exact way to pronounce words. The letters give us clues but they don’t tell us the exact pronunciation.  

That is one reason why the International Phonetic Alphabet is SO helpful for learning English pronunciation. 

This is one of the reasons that English pronunciation is so challenging for non-native English speakers. 

One particular example of when a group of letters make a number of different sounds is ‘ough’.

‘ough’ can be pronounced 9 different ways!

Here they are!

1. ‘ough’ makes [ʌf] – enough, rough, tough

2. ‘ough’ makes /aʊ/ plough bough, drought

3. ‘ough’ makes /u:/ through (sounds like ‘threw’), throughout

4.’ough’ makes /oʊ/ though, dough, although

5. ‘ough’ makes /ɔː/ thought Bought, Brought, Fought, Wrought, Sought, Nought

6. ‘ough’ makes /ə/ /ˈθʌr.ə/ thorough, borough – (in US rhymes the ending is a weak/oʊ/ with furrow)

7. ‘ough’ makes /ɒf/ cough trough

8. ‘ough’ makes /ʌp/ Hiccough (also spelled hiccup) rhymes with cup

9. ‘ough’ makes /ɒkLough rhymes with lock

Listen two poems that highlight how unpredictable English the spelling and pronunciation.   


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