A Way With Words: Tough Enough

A Way With Words: Tough Enough
October 20, 2015 4 Comments For Authors, Writing Tara R

I have a long love/hate relationship with the English language. It is a nightmarish mishmash of dozens of different languages – dead, romantic, tongue-twisting and a few made-up ones. Where other languages have consistent rules for pronunciation, English is like your crazy, drunk uncle. You can never be sure what is going to come out of your mouth. You almost have to make it up as you go.

Take the combination of “ough.” Four little letters – two vowels and two consonants – how difficult can they be to articulate? Remember when you were a kid, and your teachers and parents would coach you to, “sound out the word?” As a kindergartener, there was no way for you to know that you would struggle with this deceptively simple mix of sounds for the rest of your life.

At last count, there are no less than ten different ways to pronounce “ough.” Some are attributed to British or Scottish versions of words, but these are terms that have become part of the American lexicon.

How is a person to know, by sight, which one is which? There is no rule to fall back on, it truly is a matter of memorizing how the combination of letters is spoken in each of its variations.

Arguably, the pronunciation of a written word is not as crucial as that of a spoken one, but when you are trying to achieve a certain flow in your writing, perhaps the lyric cadence of a poem, it matters. It is important when creating dialogue, and needing to develop a certain regional or ethnic dialect for your characters.

How many of these could you name?

enough – uff as in suffer
trough – off as in offer
dough – oh as in go
brought – aw as in saw
plough – ow as in flower
through – oo as in too

Extra credit/alternate spellings:
hiccough – uhp as in cup
hough – ahk as in auk
lough – ahKH as in loch
Scarborough (Brit. city) – uh as in above

While not the most masterfully constructed sentence, here is an example using each pronunciation of “ough”: (try reading it out loud to get the full effect.)

The drunk farmer hiccoughed and fell in a trough on his way through Scarborough to a pawn shop to hough his plough then brought home enough dough to fill a lough.

Tara R Tara Roberts (pronounced Tar-ah and with a southern drawl) lives and plays on the Florida Gulf Coast. A former print news and online media reporter, she now spends her days roaming the woods and beaches of the Panhandle talking to herself, penning eclectic fiction, and taking photographs. She can be found most days at “Thin spiral notebook” trying to quiet the voices in her head.
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  1. 4 Comments


    My take; The drunk farmer hiccuped and fell in a trough on his way through Scarborough to a pawn shop to hock his plow then brought home enough money to fill a loft.:)

  2. 4 Comments

    Tara R

    The variation “lough” has a more guttural sound, like you’re coughing, and there is a hard K sound at the end.

  3. 4 Comments


    ghoti – fish – gh as in cough, o as in women, ti as in suggestion! Always a fascinating topic, the insight is really useful.

    1. 4 Comments

      Tara R

      When I was researching this article I found an interesting alternate spelling for “potato.” It made my head hurt.


      gh – hiccough – p
      ough – though – o
      pt – pterodactyl – t
      eigh – neigh – a
      bt – debt – t
      eau – bureau – o


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