These four letters have more than one pronunciation. Though there aren’t rules to let you know which pronunciation to use, you can familiarize yourself with the options in this video.
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The letters ough, when together in a word , are quite an interesting case in American English. Sometimes they make a vowel sound, sometimes a diphthong sound, and sometimes a vowel and consonant sound.
1. [oʊ] First, the ‘oh’ as in ‘no’ diphthong. For example, dough, thorough, although. I’m not going to go to the party, although my best friend is going to be there.
2. [aʊ] The next case is the ‘ow’ as in ‘now’ diphthong. Samples of this case: bough, plough, drought. I we lost our crop to the drought last year.
3. [u] Next: the ‘oo’ as in ‘boo’ vowel. Through, throughout. I check my email throughout the day.
4. [ɔ] The ‘aw’ as in ‘law’ vowel sound. Thought, fought, bought. I bought it yesterday. Those are the four vowel or diphthong sounds. Now, there are three cases in which these four letters make a vowel sound plus a consonant sound.
5. [αF] In the first case it makes an ‘ah’ as in ‘father’ and F sound. Cough, trough. I have a terrible cough and a headache.
6. [ʌF] It can also make the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’ with the F consonant sound: rough, enough. That is enough roughhousing!
7. [əP] And finally a word that is an alternate spelling, and as far as I know, this is the only case for this pronunciation of OUGH, and that is the word hiccough. It is more commonly spelled H-I-C-C-U-P, but it can be spelled with an OUGH. And then it takes the schwa the the P sound. Hiccough, hiccough. I’ve had the hiccoughs for three hours.
So, to recap the 7 ways these 4 letters can be pronounced when together in a word are: oh, ow, oo, aw, ah-ff, uh-ff, uh-pp. Though, bough, through, thought, cough, enough, hiccough.