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The Complete List of
English Spelling Rules

Lesson 7: Pronunciations of -ough


In this series of lessons, you will learn useful spelling rules in English.

This lesson talks about different ways to pronounce -ough, which usually comes at the end of English words. There are several different ways, so we will learn words in groups.

a girl thinking

Download a free worksheet + answer key.

The different pronunciation of -ough in English can seem confusing at first, but you will remember words more easily if you learn them in groups.

1. The first pronunciation of -ough is with an "oh" sound, like in the word "go."

a woman making bread

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For example, you must let the dough rise before you put your bread in the oven.

In this word, the -ough has an "oh" sound.

These words are pronounced the same way:
  • though
  • although
  • thorough

2. The second way to pronounce -ough is with an "ooh" sound, like in the word "too."

a monster coming through a door

A common word with this pronunciation is through. The monster is coming through the door.

The word throughout, which means regularly during a period of time, has the same pronunciation of -ough.

3. We can also pronounce -ough like "off."

a man who is sick

For example, John does not feel well. He has a bad cough and his throat hurts. 

Another word with this pronunciation is trough, which is the container where a pig or another farm animal eats its food.

4. The fourth way to pronounce -ough is with an "aw" sound, like in the word "law." This happens when a word ends in -ought.

a woman thinking about the country

Lydia thought about the country to feel more relaxed.

Here are some more words pronounced this way:
  • bought
  • brought
  • fought
  • ought

5. We can also pronounce -ough with an "ow" sound, like in the word "now."

a pine tree

Another word for a tree branch is bough.

Two other words with this pronunciation are plough and drought. Farmers use a plough to make lines in the ground to plant seeds. Then they hope there is not a drought, or a long time with no rain!

6. The sixth common way to pronounce -ough is with and "uff" sound, like in the word "stuff."

a strong security guard

That security guard looks very strong and tough!

Here are some more words that are pronounced in the same way:

  • rough
  • enough

Review

So, let's review what we have learned about how to pronounce -ough in English:
  1. The first way is like "oh" in the words: dough, though, although, and thorough.

  2. The second way is like "ooh" in the words: through, and throughout.

  3. The third way is like "off" in the words: cough, and trough.

  4. The fourth way is like "aw" in the words: ought, thought, bought, brought, and fought.

  5. The fifth way is like "ow" in the words: bough, plough, and drought.

  6. The sixth way is like "uff" in the words: tough, rough, and enough.

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