7 Pronunciations of ‘OUGH’

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/.

2. /ɒf/

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. 

3. /ʌf/

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/.

4. /əʊ/

dough /dəʊ/
though /ðəʊ/
although /ɔ:ɫˈðəʊ/

These rhyme with go. The < gh > is silent.

5. /u:/

through /θru:/

Rhymes with too.

6. /ə/

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.

7. /aʊ/

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!