Though, Thought, Tough, Through, Thorough: 5 Commonly Confused English Words
There are a few problems that seem to consistently come up in my English classes. One of these is confusion among the words Though, Thought, Tough, Through and Thorough.
The problem usually comes up when we are reading a lesson together, and we come across one of the words. Students will often get to a word like “tough” and say the word “thought” or “though.”
There are two reasons why these words are difficult. First of all, they look a lot alike. You’ve basically got the letter t (and sometimes r), surrounding the letter combination ough in slightly different arrangements.
Secondly, the letter combination ough makes a different sound depending on the word.
Though sounds sort of like thow, thought sounds like thawt, tough sounds like tuff, through sounds like threw, and thorough sounds like therrow. It turns out that the letter combination ough is one of the most unpredictable in the English language, with 6 to 10 possible sounds they can make, depending on the dialect.
Honestly, thinking about it makes me wonder how native English speakers don’t get confused by them. Especially though, tough and thought. They look almost exactly the same, but make completely different sounds!
Yet somehow we never get them confused, without ever having to think about it.
So what do you do if you’re someone who is trying to learn English? I’m not sure there’s an easy way to fix this problem. Even my most advanced students make mistakes with these words.
My suggestion for now is to be aware of the ough letter combination, and when you come across it, pay careful attention to the context. Luckily, each of these words have very different meanings, and it’s highly unlikely that the word tough can be substituted for the word thought in a sentence.
Want to keep learning? Read our guides to English idioms or English phrasal verbs.