Cough, Cough: Here Are 10 Different Ways To Say “ough”

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"-ough"!

Oh, English. Just when we're starting to feel good about you, pronunciation strikes again.

WATCH: If You Mispronounce These Words, You’re Not Alone.

Since English borrows words from all over the world, given letter combinations are often bound (or doomed) to be pronounced differently, depending on the context. Especially when we encounter a word that can be pronounced ten different ways. How many of the following words will you say correctly before clicking on the audio pronunciation?

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rough

We’ll start with an easy one: rough, a word with an impressive 37 different senses.

Rough, as you probably know, describes something "coarse, tempestuous, difficult, or approximate." Rough rhymes with huff, with the "-ough" making the same sound as “uff.”

The word is derived from the Old English ruh meaning "untrimmed." It’s been in common use among English speakers for over 1,000 years, and, roughly speaking, many of its original senses are still used today.

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plough

The word plough probably brings to mind those helpful vehicles that keep the roads clear of snow during the winter. It’s also an agricultural gadget for turning over soil.

Plough was originally a Germanic loan-word from the Lithuanian plugas, and it's connected to the Old English word for “furrow”. Since the 1400s, the word has also been used to describe the plough-like constellation that many people call the Big Dipper. Plough has the same vowel sound as bow-wow, the onomatopoeia for a barking dog.

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through

Like many of our "-ough" stems, through is derived from Old English. It's unique on this list because it's the result of a metathesis: "the transposition of syllables or sounds within a word."

Through comes from the Old English word, thurh, which is derived from the Proto-Germanic thurx, meaning "to cross over or pass through." The "-ough" part of the word is pronounced with the same vowel sound as the "ue" in true

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slough

Slough may have 12 senses, but it's most commonly used to describe "an area of soft muddy ground." As a verb, it means “to shed or cast off.”

The muddier sense of the word is derived from the Old English sloh, dating back to the mid-1200s. Slough’s "shedding" sense dates to the 14th century word slughe, most likely related to the Old Saxon term sluk, meaning "skin of a snake."

Slough can be pronounced in three ways: either with the "-ough" pronounced like the “ow” in bow-wow, like the long “oo” in moon, or like the "uff" in fluff.

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though

The word though is a handy conjunction that’s used to introduce a subordinate clause in a sentence. Though works to contextualize the information in a clause, functioning just like the phrases despite the fact, or notwithstanding that.

Though dates back to the 1200s, from the Old English theah. It shares a vowel sound with the word toe.

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hiccough

You may not be able to cure your hiccoughs with water or breathing tricks, but at least you can pronounce them correctly.

A hiccough is an alternative spelling of the more common hiccup, "an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm." It’s likely an alteration of the Middle English noun hocket, which is a Medieval musical technique in which choral singers produce a hiccoughing effect by singing short, rapidly alternating phrases. The "-ough" sound in hiccough sounds just like up.

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cough

Anyone who’s ever been sick is well acquainted with our next word: cough.

Derived from the Old English word cohhian, cough was originally an onomatopoeia to describe "the act of expelling air suddenly and noisily from your lungs." The word is pronounced like “coff,” with the "-ough" rhyming with the word off.

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thought

This next "-ough" variant is constantly on our minds: thought. Defined as "an idea or product of mental activity," the word thought dates back to 900, from the Old English thencan, meaning "to conceive in the mind,” or “to consider."

In addition to being a noun, thought is also the irregular past tense form of think. In English, people often have second thoughts when they're reconsidering something. (Although rarely do they have third thoughts.) Thought is pronounced with the same vowel sound as the word bought, or its slangier cognate, thot.

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thorough

The word thorough began in the 1300s as an adverb meaning "from end to end, from side to side," although these days we’re accustomed to its more common sense of “extremely attentive to detail.”

For a long time, thorough and through weren’t clearly differentiated from one another–they both derive from the Old English thurh. Thorough is pronounced "thur-oh," with "-ough" sounding like oh.

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lough

The word lough uses the Anglo-Irish spelling of the Old Irish word loch, which is "a lake or a protected bay." Lough is pronounced using a voiceless velar fricative, (say that three times fast) or a "ch" in the back of the throat.

We hope you've enjoyed this "-ough" examination, and we leave you with a sentence that contains all 10 pronunciations: The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through the slough and snow, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, he thought only of his work, determined to be thorough.

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