The Pronunciation of OUGH

I’ve heard many Brazilians say that English is a simple language to learn. I agree that English grammar in many respects is less complicated than that of Portuguese. There are fewer verb conjugations, far fewer versions of pronouns (Já desisti de usar os pronomes corretos em português), and our sentence structures are often more compact. All of these factors, of course, make it easier to learn the basics.

But what about pronunciation? When I was a kid, spelling bees (competições de soletrar) left me in cold sweats. Because of the complex history of the English language there are 24-27 consonant sounds and 14-20 vowel sounds, yet there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. And, unfortunately, English speakers don’t have the benefit of accents as Portuguese speakers do. So you can imagine winning a spelling bee was no easy feat (não era nada mole, não)!

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Take a look, for example, at the letter combination “ough” in this sentence:

“Although I have a rough cough, I can still climb through the boughs of the tree”, thought the man.
(“Embora eu tenha uma tosse seca, eu ainda consigo trepar nos galhos da árvore”, pensou o homem.)

Let me give you an idea of how to pronounce the various oughs in the above sentence:

  • In “although” it’s similar to that of “oe” in “toe” (dedo do pé).
  • In “rough” it’s similar to that of “uff” in “puff” (sopro).
  • In “cough” it’s similar to that of “off” in “coffin” (caixão).
  • In “through” it’s similar to that of “ue” in “true” (verdadeiro).
  • In “bough” it’s similar to that of “ow” in “how” (como).
  • In “thought” it’s similar to that of “o” in “hot” (quente).

Others will tell you there are even more pronunciations to this letter combination, but these are the most commonly used. And as far as I’m concerned they’re enough (“uff” as in “puff”)!

Tchau for now!

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Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith é americana que mora no Brasil desde 2001. Durante os primeiros sete anos aqui ela dava aulas particulares de inglês, e atualmente trabalha como diretora de conteúdo do site meuingles.com.

20 comentários

  • 22/06/09  
    José Dirceu Silveira diz: 1

    Estou muito contente de ter encontrado este site onde posso aprender a cada dia um pouco mais dessa magnífica língua inglesa. Sou professor de escola pública aqui no Paraná e estou participando do PDE, programa esse oferecido pelo Governo do Estado com o objetivo de melhorar a educação no Estado e no Brasil. Agora, disponho de mais essa ferramenta para minhas pesquisas.
    Abraços a todos da equipe!

  • 22/06/09  
    Nuclear Winter diz: 2

    I really like the examples. The utilization words in english turn easy the comprehension..

    Thanks.

  • 22/06/09  
    mary diz: 3

    adorei. é um prazer ler vc. Vc é muito talentosa.

  • 23/06/09  
    João Ghizoni diz: 4

    Congratulations on the text, Ashley. Although the content, especially the second part, is somewhat difficult, it is very well put and I’m sure many of the readers of this blog will enjoy it. I think we can add that there is no cut and dried rule for the pronunciation of most words in English, so what the learner has to do (like any child does) is imitate others, that is, listen before you pronounce. Oh, and about the pronouns of the Portuguese language, you reminded me of the time when I used to teach it. The correct use of the pronouns is rather complicated even for us (e.g., many of us are unsure of when to use “eu” and “mim” or where to place the object pronouns).

  • 23/06/09  
    Luis Celestino diz: 5

    It was fine to read this great tip! Thank you, Ashley. In fact it’s really easier studying grammar than english pronunciation. I’m trying to improve my pronunciation and listening through tv series, but it’s still hard.
    It would be wonderful if you could give us more tips about this topic.
    See you.

    p.s. Forgive my stupid mistakes, please :)

  • 23/06/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 6

    Obrigada, Mary!

  • 23/06/09  
    Daniel Valente diz: 7

    Excellent recapitulating.
    Well done Ashley, I did appreciate your article!

  • 23/06/09  
    Helen diz: 8

    Isso me faz pensar em cmo eu li essa frase com a pronuncia errada na primeira tentativa. rsrsrs
    Muito bom o texto. :)

  • 23/06/09  
    Lydiane diz: 9

    Ashley,

    Thank you so much for help us!
    Can you send an audio with the pronunciation? It’s very important!!!!

  • 23/06/09  
    Anderson diz: 10

    Pretty sweet, thank you Ashley !!!

  • 24/06/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 11

    Oi, Luis! No need to forgive your stupid mistakes. There were none! You’re English is great!
    And Lydiane, I’ll see what I can do about sending an audio with the pronunciation.
    Thanks, everyone!

  • 24/06/09  
    Josie diz: 12

    Hey Ashley you should record it , like in a podcast.. what do you think?
    Congrats

  • 24/06/09  
    haiany diz: 13

    hello

    adorei o tópico
    só estou em duvida com uma frase e não consigo achar a resposta nos meus livros antigos

    “yet there are only 26 letters in the alphabet.”

    pelo que eu me lembro, nós apenas podemos usar a palavra YET (para dizer “ainda”), no fim de frases?

    por exemplo

    “I didn’t my homework, yet…”

    please, forgive if I’m wrong…
    thanks

  • 25/06/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 14

    Hi, Haiany!

    Na verdade, tem vários usos de “yet”, o mais comum sendo, como você falou, “I haven’t done my homework yet”.
    Pórem pode usar “yet” como “however” também, então a frase pode ser: “…however, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet.”
    I could have also used “nevertheless”.

    Todas essas palavras, “yet”, “however”, “nevertheless” podem ser traduzidos como, “todavia”, “contudo”. Espero que essa explicação tenha esclarecido esse uso de “yet” para você!

  • 25/06/09  
    Jonã Machado diz: 15

    Gostei muito! Me ajudou bastante mesmo!

  • 25/06/09  
    João diz: 16

    Haiany,
    Yet pode ser usado como conjunção adversativa (ou seja, para dar idéia de adversidade, de contratriedade), sendo, portanto, sinônima de but, however… Por exemplo:
    There are 52 sounds in the English language, yet there are only 26 letters.

  • 27/06/09  
    Vagner Bandeira diz: 17

    In addition to your fab examples, here is my contribution: GHOTI.

    You must be wondering what it means and how it is pronounced, but I bet you won’t be even close.

    It is read “fish”. Yes, fish. The word GHOTI means nothing actually, but it was created, allegedly by George B. Shaw, to illustrate irregularities in the English spelling. See:

    GH pronounced f as in touGH
    O pronounced ɪ as in wOmen
    TI pronounced ʃ as in naTIon

    To those of you who say English is easy, or easier than Portuguese, think twice before you say it again.

  • 28/06/09  
    jurema scorsatto diz: 18

    ainda estou um pouco atrapalhada para entender como lidarcom as lições. Não entendi as sequencias que elas seguem. Gostaria de poder sempre ter lições com audio para aprender a pronuncia mas nem sempre encontro. Acho que o curso é ótimo, eu é que não soube ainda bem aproveita-lo.

  • 11/07/09  
    Johnny Freeman diz: 19

    perfeito, gostei muito do topico, thanx a lot!!!

  • 30/11/09  
    Thomas Johnson diz: 20

    I have been teaching cultural conversation in Brazil for 2 yrs. and I have a practice for my students for ” th “: Think that this month the way through the thicket is thickest.”