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


Oh, English. Just when we're feeling good about you, a word pops up that could be pronounced ten different ways—and we’re reading out loud to a crowd.

Since English has borrowed words from all over the world, letter combinations are bound (or doomed) to hold different powers, and ough is one of the greats. How many of the following words will you say correctly before clicking on the audio pronunciation?


Our first word in the ough extravaganza, rough has a whopping 37 senses.

It's most often used to describe 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." Even though this word has been part of English for over 1000 years, many of its original senses are still used today.


We often use the word plough to mean a device for moving snow, but the term owes its etymology to its original sense: an agricultural gadget for turning over soil.

Plough was originally a Germanic loan-word from the Lithuanian plugas, and it grew to replace its Old English synonym sulh. Since the 1400s, the word was used to describe the constellation that many people call the Big Dipper—those stars could be said to resemble a plough! Plough has the same vowel sound as "bow-wow," the onomatopoeia for a barking dog.


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

In the 13th century, the Gothic word thairh became thurh, meaning "beyond" or a complete journey from end to end. The word is pronounced with the same vowel sound as true where ough sounds like ue.


Though slough has 12 senses, it's commonly used to describe an area of soft muddy ground or, in its verb form, the act of shedding.

The word is derived from the Middle English slughe referring to the skin of a snake. Slough can be pronounced in two ways: with the ough as an ow (bow-wow) or as sloo with the ough representing the oo sound in moon.


This handy conjunction is used to introduce a subordinate, often conflicting, clause within a sentence. Though is synonymous with "in spite of the fact that..." or "notwithstanding that..." and works to contextualize the information in the clause to come.

Though is also derived from the Old English theah, a similar stem to through. It shares a vowel sound with toe.


You can hold your breath or drink water upside down, but if you can't cure the hiccoughs you can at least pronounce them correctly.

This involuntary spasm of the diaphragm is named for the medieval musical style of hocket in which multiple choral voice parts sing short rapid phrases to produce a hiccoughing effect. The word is pronounced hiccup (which is now the more common spelling) with the ough taking the place of up.


Whether we like it or not, we're all familiar with this unfortunate ough incarnation. Cough has eight senses with both verb and noun forms, and all of them relate to the loud and often uncomfortable expulsion of air from the lungs.

The word is derived from the Old English word cohhian, originally an onomatopoeia, and the word is pronounced coff with the ough sounding like the word off.


This ough variant is always in our thoughts. An idea or product of mental activity, thought entered English before 900 from the Old English thencan meaning "to conceive in the mind" or "to consider."

Thought is pronounced with the same vowel sound as bought. In addition to being a noun, thought is also the irregular past tense of think. In English, people often have "second thoughts," but rarely do they have "third thoughts."


To be thorough is to do something completely, with great attention to detail.

A now-outdated variant of through, thorough is derived from the Old English thurh. It's pronounced "thur-oh" with ough replacing the oh sound.


The word lough uses the Anglo-Irish spelling of the Old Irish word loch, referring to 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 he coughed, he thought only of his work, determined to be thorough.

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