"-ough"--why so many pronunciations?

FRITZ JUENGLING juengling_fritz at SALKEIZ.K12.OR.US
Tue Nov 18 23:57:12 UTC 2003

>I recently did a presentation on modern reflexes of ME <gh>.  I didn't consider the vowels.  Generally, ME /x/ has become either [f] or nothing, as in laugh and through, respectively. However,  many words have dialect pronunciations with the other 'sound', e.g. daughter and slaughter with an [f].  I can think of at least one Middle English word  that has both [f] and nothing in modern Standard Eng -- 'dough' and 'duff.'  Of course, this doesn't predict how a word will be pronounced. I suspect the decision depends on many factors, including sounds before and after the <gh>.  Also, different dialects would have treated <gh> differently.  Some dialect words may have crept into Standard Eng.
>Fritz Juengling

>>> gcohen at UMR.EDU 11/15/03 08:03PM >>>
A friend has asked me why English words ending in -ough have so many
different pronunciations--as in bough,though, through, cough, tough.
In general he wonders why English spelling so often poorly predicts a
word's pronunciation (another example: "laughter" vs. "slaughter").

   Would anyone have an explanation?

Gerald Cohen

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