Tough Pronunciations


I had a client tell me the other day that he was just getting over a bad cuff. "I was cuffing all weekend," he said. "You mean coughing?" I asked, emphasizing the pronunciation.

Because of the complex history of English, there are plenty of examples of words that, unless you hear a native speaker say, or you look up in the dictionary, can cause confusion. This is especially true for non-native speakers who depended mainly on reading and writing to learn English and perhaps had teachers who did not speak in a native American English accent.

Below is a list of the few of the words and their pronunciations for you to practice. The poem below them is one I found in one of my old Speech books. I love the way it illustrates the inconsistency of English spellings. Enjoy!

Word Sounds Like Phonetic Spelling
rough ruff  ɹʌf
tough tuff tʌf
enough E nuff inʌf or ənʌf
ought awt ɑt or ɔt*
bought bawt  bɔt
brought brawt bɹɔt
sought sawt sɔt
thought thawt θɔt
though tho ðo
through thru θɹu
cough  kawf kɔf

*(depending on the IPA you are using... that's another story)

When the English tongue we speak,
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few:

And the maker of a verse
Cannot cap his horse with worse?
Beard sounds not the same as heard;
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow, but low is low;
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose and dose and lose;
And think of goose and yet of choose.

Think of comb and tomb and bomb;
Doll and roll and home and some;
And since pay is rhymed with say,
Why not paid with said, I pray?
We have blood and food and good;
Mould is not pronounced like could
Wherefore done but gone and lone?
Is there any reason known?
And, in short, it seems to me
Sounds and letters disagree.


Like I tell my clients, in English, you have to have a written perception of a word and an auditory perception of a word.

Did you know that there have been efforts to reform English spelling? Some have taken, while others have not. Think of doughnut/donut and plough/plow. Americans, like most others, I think are slow to change, regardless... I remember being told in first grade that in the future we would all (as Americans) be using the metric system, because the rest of the world was using it and because it was more logical. We were taught both systems at the same time... Meanwhile, we're still buying gallons of Diet Coke.

One great thing the crazy spellings does is make you appreciate language and linguistics, and if one is so inclined, research the history of English, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Keep talking about talking.

— Judy