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Ough (orthography): Wikis

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Ough is a letter sequence often seen in words in the English language. In Middle English, where the spelling arose, it was probably pronounced with a back rounded vowel and a velar fricative, e.g., [oːx] or [uːx]. It is by far the sequence of letters with the most unpredictable pronunciation, having at least six pronunciations in North American English and over ten in British English. A few of the more common are:

/uː/ as in "through" (cf. true).
/ɔː/ as in "thought" (cf. taut).
/oʊ/ as in "though" (cf. toe).
/ɒf/ as in "cough" (cf. coffin).
/ʌf/ as in "rough" (cf. ruffian).
/aʊ/ as in "bough" (cf. to bow).
/ə/ as in "thorough" (cf. about) [British English].

Contents

Full list of pronunciations

Pronunciation Example Comment
/ʌf/ tough, enough, hough Compare "huff"
/ɒf/ cough, trough Trough is pronounced /trɒθ/ by some speakers of American English
/aʊ/ bough, plough Pronounced like the word 'Ow'
/oʊ/ though, dough
/ɔː/ thought, bought Regularly used before /t/, except in drought /draʊt/
/uː/ through, brougham
/ə/ thorough, borough Both pronounced /oʊ/ in American English
/ʌp/ hiccough Variant spelling of "hiccup", though the latter form is recommended in both British and US
/ɒk/ hough More commonly spelled "hock" from the 20th Century onwards
/ɒx/ lough A lake; Irish analogue of Scots "loch"

Note that "slough" has three pronunciations according to meaning:

  • /sluː/ (as in, "slogging through a slough of mud")[1]
  • /slʌf/ (as in "to slough off")
  • /slaʊ/ the town of Slough in Berkshire in England

Other pronunciations can be found in proper nouns, many of which are of Celtic origin (Irish, Scottish, or Welsh) rather than English. For example ough can represent /ɔːɡ/ in the surname Coughlin, /juː/ in Ayscough and even /iː/ in the name Colcolough (/koʊkliː/) in Virginia [1].

The original pronunciation in all cases except hiccough was the one of lough. However the /x/ sound has disappeared from most modern English dialects. As it faded, different speakers replaced it by different near equivalents in different words (namely, /f/, /w//ʊ/, /ː/, or /k/).

The two "ough"s in the English place name Loughborough are pronounced differently, resulting in Luffburruh. Additionally, three parishes of Milton Keynes--Woughton /ˈwʌftən/, Loughton /ˈlaʊtən/ and Broughton /ˈbrɔːtən/--all have different pronunciations of the combination.

Tough, though, through, and thorough are formed by adding an additional letter each time, yet none of them rhymes with another.

Similar combinations

A comparable group is omb, which can be pronounced in at least four ways: bomb /bɒm/ (rhymes with Tom), comb /koʊm/ (rhymes with home), sombre, and tomb /tuːm/ (rhymes with gloom).

augh is visually rather similar to ough but admits much less pronunciation variation.

  • /æf/, /ɑːf as in "laughter"
  • /ɔː/ as in "daughter"

Spelling reforms

Because of the unpredictability of the combination, many spelling reformers have proposed eliminating it, replacing it with more phonetic combinations, some of which have caught on in varying degrees of formal and informal success. Generally, spelling reforms have been more widely accepted in the United States and less so in the Commonwealth.

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Already standard

  • "hiccup" instead of folk etymology "hiccough"
  • "hock" instead of "hough" (word is rare in the US)

Already varyingly formal

These spellings are generally considered unacceptable in most of the Commonwealth, but are standard in the United States.

  • "draft" instead of "draught" (standard in Canada and US)
  • "naught" instead of "nought" (standard in the United States) – some archaic uses of "nought" have been replaced with "not"
  • "plow" instead of "plough" (standard in the United States and Canada)
  • "sluff" instead of "slough" (uncommon in much of the United States, where "slough" is pronounced like "slew")
  • "donut" instead of "doughnut"

Common informal

  • "thru" instead of "through"- drive thru
  • "tho" instead of "though" (related word: altho)

However, both of these are considered unacceptable in British English and formal American English.

Rare informal

  • "coff" instead of "cough"- Koffing
  • "laff" instead of "laugh" (British comic variant "larf") - Laffy Taffy
  • "enuff" or "enuf" instead of "enough" - Tuff Enuff
  • "tuff" instead of "tough"- Tuff Enuff
  • "ruff" instead of "rough" (seldom used because it often refers to an onomatopoeia for a dog's bark)

See also

References


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