Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sounds of OUGH

I was recently asked if I knew of any rules that govern the differing pronunciations of ough. This letter combination can prove to be very tricky. First of all, it may be helpful to consider the combination gh.

GH can do three things:

1) When gh comes at the beginning of a word, it has the sound /g/ (e.g., ghost).

2) When gh comes at the end of a word, it sometimes has the sound /f/ (e.g., laugh).
3) When the vowel i comes before gh, the i is long, and the gh is silent (e.g., high; night). This is the case for most gh words.

But what about the ough combination? 

The following are the sounds that ough makes:
/oo/, as in through
/ou/, as in drought
long o, as in though
/uff/, as in rough
/auf/, as in cough
/au/, as in bought

Basically, ough should be taught as a unit. But because of the variety of sounds it makes, students should not try to learn a specific sound for ough. Rather, students should sound out the other sounds in the word and use context to help determine the correct pronunciation of ough. Only 38 words in English contain ough: 23 one-syllable words and 15 additional words that are longer forms (multi-syllabic words) of those one-syllable words. Since ough occurs in relatively few words, it is recommended that the sounds are addressed as they surface in context rather than explicitly teaching the different sounds of ough.

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