a, e, i, o, ouch! Pesky words that end with “ough”

How to get familiar with the language that Canadians really use day-to-day? In this series "Canadian English: Quirky, eh?", we take listeners on a romp across Canada making small talk, recognizing signature foods, and navigating head-scratching grammar rules and colloquial expressions. We’ll have you sounding like a Canadian in no time!

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Read the script (glossary at the end)

a, e, i, o, ouch!

Hello! Bonjour! Oi! Welcome, and thanks for tuning in to a new episode of our series Canadian English: Quirky, eh?  Let´s poke some fun – and hopefully a lit bit of learning along the way – about some of the quirkier aspects of the English language. In particular, Canadian English.

Even as a native English speaker and ESL teacher, there’s a topic that I am hard-pressed to present with any rational explanation: it’s what I call the ouch words. My name is Lawrence, but my friends call me Larry, and everywhere I go outside of Canada, I am quickly identified by my Canadian accent. The funny thing is, I don’t hear it myself. I will concede that I pronounce the words “out” and “about” in a distinctly Canadian fashion, but I definitely do not get the “oot” and “aboot” that people seem to hear.

But I digress; those are not my ouch words. Today’s discussion is about those pesky words that end with the letters “ough”. Every 2nd grader learns the mnemonic “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” But ough words do not pay attention to that rule. In fact, they break it 7 times out of 8!

That’s because there are at least 8 different sounds that this “Quadgraph” can produce. BTW, a quadgraph is a combination of 4 letters that work together to make one sound. I call this one an ouch quadgraph because it makes my head hurt!

Let’s go!

  1. The first sound is the easy one – the one that follows the rule. The sound is “o”.

It is found in the words though, although, thorough (which means complete), borough (as in a division of a city, like Scarborough) and furlough (which so many of us have experienced during COVID – a temporary lay off from work).

  1. The second sound is “oo” used in the word through (as in All through the night). It makes the same sound as threw – making for weird sentences like “I threw the ball through the window.”
  1. The third variation is “d’oh”, just the way Homer Simpson says it. That’s how you pronounce d-o-u-g-h used to make bread. Or dough as slang for money. Come to think of it, both ‘bread’ and ‘dough’ are slang for money. Hmm…
  1. The next sound is “uff”. This one has no rhyme or reason, unless you think that “You can never be rough and tough enough.”
  2. And just to throw you for a loop, in case you think you’ve mastered the “uff” sound, we have the “awff” sound. You will use it when you cough, or when pigs eat from a trough.
  1. Based on this, you would expect this same sound to appear in the word “H-i-c-c-o-u-g-h”. Nope. This one is hiccup. At some point, people must have given up and just started spelling hiccups like it sounds.
  1. Moving along, we have the “ow” variety. It appears in the words “snowplough” and “bough” as in “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall”. Confusing, because the word “bow” – to bend from the waist – is spoken just like it is spelled.

Then there’s the word “s-l-o-u-g-h”. It’s a two-way. When pronounced “slow” it is another word for a swamp. When pronounced “sluff” it means to discard skin.

  1. Just when you thought this list should end, I’m going to add a “T” to the end of our Quadgraph  and you get the “ot” sound. Did you catch it? “thought” is one of these words. And “brought” and simply “ought” which means ‘should have’. 

And you need to be careful with this one, because there are more words that sound exactly the same – like “caught”, but are spelled with “augh” instead of “ough”.

You will know you’ve caught on when you can correctly read this sentence:

“I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast, all the way through, even though I thought I already knew enough about snowploughs and hiccoughs.”

Of course, you’ll require a lot more tips to help you blend into the crowd in the Great White North. So don’t forget to tune in to our next episode.

We hope you enjoyed  today´s  episode. Please take a moment to give us your feedback and like us with the big fans up. Fill free to play it again and share it with friends and family.

You have been listening to Canadian English, Quirky, eh? The podcast series produced by Brazilian Wave Canada. This project was made possible through the generous support of the Canadian Periodical Fund. If you want to subscribe to the series and have access to the exclusive episodes, please sign in at waveplus.ca.

Until then,

Catch you later!                                                                                 



Stay healthy!


Digress: To move away from the main subject you are writing or talking about and to write or talk about something else. (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/digress?q=Digress)

Mnemonic: Any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic)

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Podcast – Canadian English: Quirky, eh?

Produced by BRZ Group Inc., Canada, 2021

  • Director: Christian Pedersen
  • Production Coordinator: Ana Carolina Botelho
  • Scriptwriter: Lauri Richardson
  • Voices: Eric Major and Lauri Richardson
  • Vignettes: Robson DJ Estudio 
  • Website Production & Marketing: Creative Team
  • Project Management: Teresa Botelho