Ways to pronounce the letter ‘ough’ in English

May 30, 2019English Pronunciation


How To Pronounce The Letters ‘ough’ In English

The letters ‘ough’ can be pronounced 9 different ways in English. ‘ough’ can be pronounced as [ʌf] in rough, /aʊ/ in plough/u:/ in through, /oʊ/ in though, /ɔː/ in thought, /ə/ – in thorough /ˈθʌr.ə/, /ɒf/ in cough, /ʌp/ in hiccough and /ɒk/ in lough.

See more examples in a full list of words with ‘ough’ below. 

Wow! For most learners of English, that makes their head spin! English tutors and teachers often use the letters ‘ough’ as a way to highlight how variable English spelling and pronunciation are.

The reason that English spelling and pronunciation are variable and challenging for learners is because English is not a phonetic language. 

Many other 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! Like I said, English is not a phonetic language – this means that the letters that are used to spell a word, do not tell us exactly what sounds we need to make when we pronunce it. 

English letters can make a number of different sounds.

There are 44 phonemes or sounds in English 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.  This is one of the reasons that English pronunciation is so challenging for non-native English speakers. 

It’s also a reason why the International Phonetic Alphabet is SO helpful for learning English pronunciation. It really helps for people to understand that basics of the IPA and that English has 3 types of vowels: long, short and double vowels. 

In fact, the letters ‘ough’ is sometimes pronounced as a long vowel, sometimes a short vowel and sometimes a double or diphthong vowel. It will help for you to revise the IPA of the sounds in English. You can do this at these links:

Learn the IPA for English vowels.
Learn the IPA for English Consonant Sounds


The 9 different ways that ‘ough’ can be pronounced in words:


‘ough’ is pronounced as a short vowel:

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

2. ‘ough’ makes /ʌf/ – enough, rough, tough

3. ‘ough’ makes /ɒf/ – cough, trough 

4. ‘ough’ makes /ʌp/ – hiccough (also spelled hiccup) rhymes with cup

5. ‘ough’ makes /ɒk/ – lough (rhymes with lock) This is a Scottish word for lake. 

‘ough’ is pronounced as a long vowel:

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

7. ‘ough’ makes /ɔː/ – thought, bought, brought, fought, wrought, sought, nought

‘ough’ is pronounced as a diphthong / double vowel:

8.’ough’ makes /oʊ/ – though, dough, although

9. ‘ough’ makes /aʊ/ – plough, bough, drought




Luckly, many of the words with ‘ough’ like ‘trough’ and ‘bough’ and ‘lough’ are not words we use very often. So, make a list of the ‘ough’ words that you use often, such as ‘through’ and ‘thorough’, ‘tough’, ‘cough’ and ‘thought’ and practice them with a good long vowel them correct. 

When practice and checking your pronunciation of words with ‘ough’, check you are getting a long vowel in words with /u:/ such as through and throughout and /ɔː/ in thought, brought, fought, wrought, sought, nought. Many non-native speakers make these vowels too short. 

Try this English Pronunciation Poem Lesson – Practice your pronunciation of words with variable and tricky spelling patterns with an audio lesson. You’ll cover two poems that highlight how unpredictable spelling and pronunciation is in English.  

Learning the different ways that English vowels can be pronounced can be challenging and takes time. 


Free 5 Day English Pronunciation Video Course Online 


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Ways to pronounce the letter ‘ough’ in English


Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPathand CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.  

Georgie is the creator the world's leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student and presents regularly at Universities.

If you've ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you'll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence. 

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