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Whilst teaching phonics today, we encountered the word 'through' and I was asked 'What is it called when four letters make one sound'? It's a fair question and I haven't a clue!

None of the phonic support sites seem to have the answer either.

Obviously not a digraph or trigraph....... a 'quadgraph' perhaps?!

Help!

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    Quadgraph works: answers.com/Q/What_is_a_quadgraph – DyingIsFun Feb 5 '16 at 16:09
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    Since we're coining a term, let's keep the roots in the same etymological soil: tetragraph. (We could also play for the humor of the moment, roll our eyes to the ceiling, and say "You call it 'English'.") – Rob_Ster Feb 5 '16 at 16:15
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    This is more tongue-in-cheek than serious, but you could say that through has a digraph (ou) adjacent to two silent letters (gh), while cough has consecutive digraphs (ou and gh). @Rob - for what it's worth, Wikipedia has an entry on tetragraphs. – J.R. Feb 5 '16 at 16:49
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    @J.R.: In words like "cough," I think it's more regular to think of it as a monograph(?) o followed by a trigraph -ugh (representing /f/). All the word spelled with gh and pronounced with /f/ have a u before the gh. – herisson Feb 5 '16 at 16:50
  • @sumelic - I like it; that explains laugh quite well. – J.R. Feb 5 '16 at 16:57
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I realize that the principle behind "phonics" is that English spelling does represent something
about pronunciation; unfortunately, what it actually represents is Middle English pronunciation.
Thus, this isn't a situation where "four letters make one sound", because

  • letters don't make sounds, at least not in Modern English.
    English spelling simply doesn't represent English speech;
  • and even if letters did make sounds, the GH at the end wouldn't make any sound at all.
    The GH in through is silent. The single vowel /u/ in /θru/ is represented by the OU.

And there isn't a technical term for it, either, though you can make one up if you like.

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