This absolute gem of a spelling has caused many an English student to tear their hair out, as the pronunciation varies so much! So I’m here to clarify with seven common pronunciations of < ough >:
1. Adding a < t > at the end makes /ɔ:t/
bought /bɔ:t/ brought /brɔ:t/ thought /θɔ:t/ fought /fɔ:t/
These rhyme with port. This spelling pattern occurs in a few Past Simple verbs, like the common examples above, but also the less-used verbs sought (from seek), wrought (from an old version of ‘work’). We also find it in ought and nought. The < gh > is silent. Students should be careful that they do not confuse the < ht > at the end with < th >. Sometimes students say bought as /bɔ:θ/ instead of /bɔ:t/.
cough /kɒf/ trough /trɒf/
These rhyme with off. A trough is a long, narrow container that animals eat or drink out of. A trough is also the opposite of a peak in graphs.
rough /rʌf/ tough /tʌf/ enough /ɪˈnʌf/
These rhyme with puff. If you ever need to go to Loughborough, make sure you pronounce the first ough as /ʌf/ and the second as /ə/. The < o > in < bo > is dropped, which gives the overall pronunciation of /ˈlʌfbrə/.
dough /dəʊ/ though /ðəʊ/ although /ɔ:ɫˈðəʊ/
These rhyme with go. The < gh > is silent.
Rhymes with too.
borough /ˈbʌrə/ thorough /ˈθʌrə/
In both of these words, the stress falls on the first syllable and therefore the < ough > is only said as a schwa /ə/. Despite the number of letters used in < ough >, it is NOT the important part of the word, so remember to make it weak.
bough /baʊ/ plough /plaʊ/ slough /slaʊ/
Here are some uncommon words spelt with < ough >, but they have yet another different pronunciation – sorry! A bough is the main branch of a tree, a plough is piece of farming equipment to turn the soil and a slough is a swamp, or, a situation where nothing much is happening.
Unfortunately these multiple pronunciations of < ough > have historical origins and there’s not much to do but memorise which one has which sound – good luck!
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