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More difficult phonics help pls

(116 Posts)
Firstconkers Sun 31-Aug-14 17:22:24

Would anyone experienced in phonic decoding, pls help me understand and explain to my DC the ough and augh sounds.
There seems to be several sounds for ough? Thought, through, cough, bough etc
In cough and laugh, are the sounds broken down ie gh is f?

I have goggled but don't seem to be able to find a simple and straight forward explaination. Should I just teach as sight words but then what about learning to spell the words. Much appreciated.

catkind Sun 31-Aug-14 17:35:20

Not a teacher but we've explained "ough" as being a funny spelling that has lots of different sounds, and collected a few different words using the most common sounds for DS so he can get an idea how it works. We didn't split out gh=ff as thought that would just confuse things with the other ough words where you don't hear the gh.
When he comes across them in reading now we can say, ah yes, remember ough can make lots of sounds, in this word it says "ow" or whatever it is. I think he's mainly learned the most common ones as sight words though.
Interested to see how it's officially approached as we're just keeping up with what DS needs for reading what he wants to read.

Firstconkers Sun 31-Aug-14 17:57:01

Thanks Catkind. I suppose I've avoided explaining them to DC as I don't want whatever I tell her to clash with school. I'm wondering if sight words are the way to go.

debbiehep Sun 31-Aug-14 18:20:55

Share the studying of this Alphabetic Code Chart with your child - hunt out the 'ough' words.

A good phrase to use is to say, "In this word [plough], those letters [ough] are code for the /ou/ sound, but in this word [dough], those letters and code for the /oa/ sound" - and so on.

There are so few words with the 'ough' spelling that it is definitely worth providing a list of all the words with the different sounds but same spelling alternative.

Then, words like 'cough' and 'rough' are slightly different - but still flag them up as specific words to become familiar with.

To work out the alphabetic code in various words, start with the whole spoken word, break it up into its smallest sounds - then tally the sounds to the letters and letter groups in the printed word.

Good luck!

catkind Sun 31-Aug-14 20:20:00

DS taught himself half his phonics from one of those (your?) charts debbie smile I got fed up of all the questions and just handed it to him. Very happy boy. Goodness knows what his teacher thought though.

Firstconkers Sun 31-Aug-14 21:21:39

Thank you Debbie. That is most helpful. We're doing quite well with phonics but I think I had started to lose the will explaining ough!

ReallyTired Tue 02-Sep-14 22:20:58

There is an excellent poster of all the different phonics on Sparklebox, but I am reluctant to recommend it because the owner of Sparklebox is a paedophile. It might be useful for parent education though.

There is a similar poster on

However you have to pay for it. It might be worth asking your child's school if they have a twinkl account and can download the resource for you.

Debbie's link looks great. Thank you!

Feenie Wed 03-Sep-14 19:02:12

Why post a link to his site then?

Mashabell Thu 04-Sep-14 10:54:10

Among the 7,000 most used English words, there are 21 with ough and 8 with augh:

bough, cough, dough, enough, hiccough, plough, rough, slough(x2), thorough, though, through, tough, trough

bought, brought, drought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought

caught, daughter, draught, haughty, naughty, slaughter, taught


Ferguson Thu 04-Sep-14 18:33:39

If you look in MN Book Reviews, "Children's educational books and courses" section you should find the Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary. I find this book about the best introduction to Phonics, and clarification of just these sort of difficulties. You can see sample pages from it on the link, and purchase if you wish.

I guess one would need a PhD in the history of language to know WHY these sounds are the way they are, but I'm afraid you just have to accept that they are!

And for the first time ever, I have to thank Masha for, on this occasion, providing a useful list of words.

The Collins on-line dictionary gives history and origins of many words, which so often come from other languages, cultures etc, if you feel like wading through them:

Mashabell Fri 05-Sep-14 07:10:45

I never provide anything but helpful lists.

Re the sounds of ough and augh,
I don't think anyone really knows how different languages ended up sounding as they do. The theories about how English spelling has ended up being they way it is, are largely rubbish, having spent quite a bit of time on the subject.

I can see that most of the ough and augh words are of Germanic origin and have come down to modern German too. The difference between them and their modern German cousins is that in German they all have much simpler, more phonic spellings:
bough, cough, dough, enough, hiccough, plough, rough, slough(x2),
beugen, keuchen, Teig, genug, Schluckauf, Pflug, rauh, Sumpf,

thorough, though, through, tough, trough
durchaus, wohl, durch, dicht, Trog

bought, brought, drought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought
kaufte, brachte, Trockenheit, fochte, nichts, sollte, suchte, dachte

caught, daughter, draught, haughty, naughty, slaughter, taught
fing, Tochter, hoch, Schlacht,

In German, only 'rauh' has a surplus h for spelling. Otherwise they are all completely phonetic.

Their pronunciations have ended up very different in the two languages. Why their English spellings have ended up so weird is a complete mystery. I am not sure that knowing how they relate to their old German antecedents is of any help whatsoever in learning to read and write them in English.

I can't see how phonics helps with it either. To me they are just sight words which have to be learned one by one.

maizieD Fri 05-Sep-14 14:54:22

I never provide anything but helpful lists.

Was that the Friday Funny grin

It would have been more helpful if Marsha had sorted the ough/augh words according to the sounds which the grapheme is spelling.

Mashabell Fri 05-Sep-14 19:00:20

Maizie suggested that it would be more helpful to have the
ough/augh words according to the sounds which the grapheme is spelling.

Here they are:

ou: bough, plough, slough, drought,

*o - f*: cough, trough,

*long o*: dough, though,

*u - f*: enough, rough, slough, tough,

au: bought, brought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought

caught, daughter, haughty, naughty, slaughter, taught

*a - f*: laugh, draught,

unique: hiccough, thorough, through [hickup, thurru, throo]

maizieD Fri 05-Sep-14 21:48:29

'Thorough' isn't unique and you've missed one or two. Never mind the '7,000 most used' words. These words can pop up anywhere even if they are in the remaining 243,000+ words in the language.

Apart from that it does make them look far more manageable.

Mashabell Sat 06-Sep-14 07:26:47

U ar right, Maizie.
Borough ends with the same short u sound as thorough but did not crop up in the 7,000 most used words.

I am not aware of any other 'ough' or 'augh' words.

InfantSchoolHead Sat 06-Sep-14 07:35:46

Your DC needs to understand that ough and augh are not sounds in themselves, they are spelling patterns (or graphemes) that can represent different sounds (phonemes) Just as the letter C can make different sounds (cat, city) so can the letters ough when they are together.

In phonics you can either look at a letter (or group of letters) and work on the different sounds they make; so the spelling pattern 'ough' can make the 'aw' sound as in bought or the 'ow' sound as in bough. (Cough would not fall into this category because the 'ou' part of cough makes the 'o' sound, not the whole ough combination)

Alternatively, you can take a sound and see how many different spelling patterns make that sound. (so take the 'aw' sound and come up with bought, fort, daughter, thaw etc).

At school children are taught to do both these things, but quite early on they focus on one sound (such as igh) and then learn that different letters can make the same sound. (I, high, my, pie etc). Later on, they look at a particular group of letters and work out what different sounds that group can make (at, any, all, Amy). In answer to your question, cough is broken down into three sounds c/ou/gh as is laugh is l/au/gh.

Micksy Sat 06-Sep-14 16:47:50

Hmm.... So you can learn the grapheme ough may be pronounced off. This additional grapheme phoneme pairing allows you to decode two new words. However, it also adds an additional incorrect pronunciation that must be discounted for every other ough word.
Or, you can add an extra letter to the grapheme to make cough, adding no extra complication, but you are then evil because you have taught sight reading and not pure phonetics. Shame on you!
This is the point at which I part ways with the purists.

InfantSchoolHead Sat 06-Sep-14 17:10:14

A grapheme is a representation of a single oral unit of sound, and as the 'ough' in cough is actually two sounds ('o' and 'f') it is not a grapheme, but two graphemes (ou and gh). Children would never be taught ough in cough as a single grapheme because the word cough has three phonemes in it, and therefore needs three graphemes.

In a word like 'bough' however, the ough is a grapheme because bough has two phonemes in it (b and ow) and a grapheme is merely a representation of a phoneme.

This thread is all making it sound a lot more complicated than it it for children to learn! In a nutshell, when learning to write, children learn to break down each word into its constituent sounds, and then try to write a letter (or group of letters) to represent each sound. In reading they look at the letters written down, and try to assign each letter (or group of letters) a sound, then blend the sounds together to make an oral word. They start of learning the most common sounds and spelling choices, and then gradually build up their repertoire.

mrz Sat 06-Sep-14 18:20:28

So you can learn the grapheme ough may be pronounced off no you couldn't /o/ /f/ is two sounds and two graphemes <ou> & <gh>

Micksy Sat 06-Sep-14 21:13:40

I did actually realise after I'd written my post that I'd used an example with two graphemes, however, I'd thought people might overlook it since the are plenty of other ough words you could substitute that are a single grapheme without altering the argument. In addition, breaking ough into ou and the very rare gh = ff, increases the number of potential combinations that have to be discarded for future gh words enormously and actually reinforces my point that in certain circumstances it takes far, far, far less effort to memorize a couple of blooming sight words.
Phonics is awesome. Most graphemes are immensely powerful. But some are used rarely enough that teaching them actually makes life more complicated (I think ough augh is borderline to be honest).
With sincere curiosity, is the reason ough cannot be taught as off because it ends in a hard sound? Because I know air and ear are taught as single phonemes in the read write inc method.

catkind Sun 07-Sep-14 00:50:14

Why can't one grapheme represent two phonemes? How else do you explain "x"?

Treating ough as sometimes one and sometimes two graphemes sounds immensely confusing to me. For writing I can't see any benefit at all to splitting, you'd never get it right unless you remembered it was an ough word in the first place. For reading, ok, you might use gh -> ff to remind you what two of the possible sounds for "ough" were, but you wouldn't actually want children breaking it down and going through all the possibilities for ou and all the possibilities for gh, it's just not efficient as micksy says.

In my accent I can't hear a second sound in "air" but I can in "ear" and also in the ough in "plough" come to that.

mrz Sun 07-Sep-14 11:59:18

The ough is two graphemes (ou and gh) representing two sounds (/o/ /f/)

Interesting you can hear a second sound in the <ough> plough what sound?

mrz Sun 07-Sep-14 12:30:44

In English spoken sounds are represented by letters (we have 26 letters but 44ish sounds depending on accent)

Sounds can be spelt using one, two, three or four letters

The same sound can be represented by different spellings

The same spelling can represent different sounds

So masha's example the four letter spelling represents the sound /oe/ in dough, (2 sounds /d/ /oe/ spelt <d> <ough>), /ow/ in bough (2 sounds 0spelt <b> <ough> , /or/ in bought (3 sounds /b/ /or/ /t/ spelt <b> <ough> <t>)

But in cough there are three separate sounds /k/ /o/ /f/ represented by <c> <ou> <gh>

mrz Sun 07-Sep-14 12:31:55

and yes we definitely would want children to break it down into two separate sounds

mrz Sun 07-Sep-14 12:39:35

But some are used rarely enough that teaching them actually makes life more complicated (I think ough augh is borderline to be honest). We don't teach the more obscure ways sounds can be spelt but <ough> & <augh> are found in a number of very common words so it's important to know them ... so that's why we teach them.

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