So I see there is another question asked here before about the different pronunciations of -ough but my concern is not quite the same.

So I am preparing for my presentation tomorrow on interesting facts about the English language and I would like to talk about the different pronunciations of -ough. I came across this image online that is a popular example for the various sounds:

The ten Pronunciations of -ough. I thought it would be rough to plough through the slough, though it was falling into the lough that left me thoroughly coughing and hiccoughing.

Supposedly, the -ough in every word sounds different. However, I don't see how slough and plough are different. If they intend to use the pronunciation of slough as in "sluff", then I don't see how it is different from rough. Even if they mean "slew", it rhymes with through.

So how does it bear a unique pronunciation? Can any experts here shed some light?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Feb 27, 2017 at 3:18

3 Answers 3


There are multiple pronunciations. See Google's answer, which Google presents from The Write at Home Blog.

Slough pronounced sluff is the term for shedding skin, like snakes do. Slough meaning wet, swampy ground can be pronounced either sloo or slou (rhymes with cow). Dictionary.com prefers slou, while the American Heritage Dictionary prefers sloo.

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    Thanks for the response but I am afraid this doesn't answer my question. I am aware of the different pronunciations of slough, even including "slew", but they all have a rhyming word in the example sentence. Once again, sluff -> rough, slau -> plough and slew -> through. Feb 21, 2017 at 15:52
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    Ah, yes. I did not catch all three of those possibilities in your sentence. Sorry. I do not see a unique pronunciation for "slough" which does not duplicate one of the other pronunciation examples.
    – Davo
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:56
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    Also Slough is a city located in England, and pronounced to rhyme with Cow (i/ˈslaʊ/).
    – NibblyPig
    Feb 21, 2017 at 16:05
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    Yes, and Cow rhymes with plough. Feb 21, 2017 at 16:06
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    @Mari-LouA I don't think that's what is meant by 'different pronunciation'. You're saying that slough has 3 different pronunciations and that that is a different thing than the others. That is the case, but having three different pronunciations, though it may be different from all the others, isn't itself a pronunciation. The list is attempting to enumerate the distinctly pronounced instances of '-ough-', even if it is from the same larger sequence of letters (a 'word').
    – Mitch
    Feb 21, 2017 at 17:17

The question originally asked specifically about the accuracy of the claim that in this sentence, each occurrence of the letters 'ough' had a unique pronunciation.

A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

This website uses the same example sentence, but both has a recording of the pronunciations and highlights in bold text the eight different sounds it claims.

A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

'Slough' isn't bolded, so not thought by those authors to be an additional pronunciation. This can be verified by listening to the recording, which uses the same sound in 'slough' as in 'plough'

Note also that the site uses British-English pronunciation and that Scarborough rhymes, here, with 'thorough' rather than 'dough'.

The edited question contains a contrived sentence which also includes the word 'lough', and other examples have been cited in comments which include the surname 'Coughlin' and the placename Poughkeepsie as examples of additional pronunciations ('ock', 'og' and 'uh' being the claimed pronunciations). These three examples are all loan words, 'lough' and 'Coughlin' from Irish-gaelic and 'Poughkeepsie' from the Native American language, Wappinger.

Loanwords should be treated with caution when discussing 'english language' pronunciations, as their pronunciation is unlikely to match the source language pronunciation accurately and will provide no clues to pronunciation of 'non-loan' words.

Note that some words may have different pronunciations in different dialects; 'sough', meaning 'to sigh as the wind does' is given as 'sow' or 'suf' in Chambers Dictionary, with a note that Scots pronunciation is given as 'sŭhh' (explained as 'ŭ = good' and 'hh = loch') NB Chambers online does not seem to give pronunciation, I'm citing their mobile App.

  • What pronunciation does the audio give for Scarborough? I don't have access to the audio file. Is it the same as in thoroughly? If so, note that in AmE these syllables are pronounced as to rhyme with Joe. Hear "Are you going to Scarborough fair?" Feb 22, 2017 at 16:50
  • @Clare, you are right, i should have specified that that was British-English pronunciation and that Scarborough rhymes, here, with 'thorough' rather than 'dough'. I'll add.
    – Spagirl
    Feb 22, 2017 at 17:39

Slough is an industrial town west of London. And its name is pronounced to rhyme with cow.

Often the butt of jokes, this home to the Mars Bar factory sits awkwardly among more chic environs, such as Burnham Beeches, Windsor, Ascot, Eton etc.

The poet John Betjeman, in a work on industrial desecration in 1937, wrote

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough, It isn't fit for humans now, There isn't grass to graze a cow. Swarm over death.

To rhyme with cow is exactly how the OED audio pronunciation of the noun slough sounds. And that is how it was pronounced by my teacher who, when I was of a very young age, introduced me to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the slough of despond.

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    -1 This does not answer the question. Feb 21, 2017 at 17:24
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    The question wasn't about the meaning of the word, but about whether it has a pronunciation that differs from the other -oughwords in the sentence.
    – Hank
    Feb 21, 2017 at 17:39
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    @Hank I think WS2 wanted to share his knowledge, he used to live in London, and the pronunciation of the area isn't mentioned in Davo's answer. It's an answer inasmuch as it tells visitors how it might be pronounced by a Londoner.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 21, 2017 at 17:47
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    @Mari-LouA I don't think either answer actually answers the question at hand. Davo's answer doesn't fully address the actual issue the OP is having. If either answer listed all pronunciations and stated whether or not any of them differed from the rest of the -ough words, then it would be accurate. I understand the sharing of an opinion, but answering with only one pronunciation, especially one mentioned in the OP ("see how slough and plough are different"), regardless of the history of it, does not answer the question. No offense meant to WS2, though.
    – Hank
    Feb 21, 2017 at 17:52
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    @Mari-LouA I do still live less than 20 miles from Slough - which rhymes with cow. Though many a comedian (especially from the north) will get a laugh from an audience by pronouncing it to rhyme with rough. I thought that this information might be helpful to the OP but it was too long to express as a comment. Anyway thanks and good wishes.
    – WS2
    Feb 21, 2017 at 18:18

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