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English Is Hard But Can Be Learned Through Tough Thorough Thought, Though

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These five words cause a lot of confusion. And with good reason: They all include —ough but have distinct pronunciations.

Though, Thought, Tough, Through, Thorough
English pronunciation can be tricky.
Correct Use

  • Though /ðoʊ/ has a similar pronunciation to dough and means “in spite of the fact that,” “in spite of the possibility that,” “however,” or “nevertheless.”
  • Thought /θɔːt/ is a noun that means “an individual act or product of thinking,” “a developed intention or plan,” or “something (such as an opinion or belief) in the mind.” The –ought is pronounced like the –ought in fought.
  • Tough /tʌf/ rhymes with rough, and means “difficult to accomplish,” “capable of enduring strain or hardship,” “very hard to influence,” or “characterized by severity or uncompromising determination.”
  • Through /θruː/ can be a preposition, an adverb, or an adjective. It is the homophone of threw because they have identical pronunciations but different meanings.
  • Thorough /ˈθɜːrəʊ/ means “carried through completion,” “marked by full detail,” or “complete in all respects.” The –rough in this word is misleading because it is pronounced like row.

It is no secret that the English language is complex and confusing. What makes it one of the most difficult languages to learn is that several rules and patterns are inconsistent. There are many examples that prove why English is challenging, but today we’ll focus on five words in particular and explain what they mean and how to pronounce them: though, thought, tough, through, and thorough.

When to use though, thought, tough, through, thorough.
The similar spelling but different pronunciations make these words challenging.

Though /ðoʊ/

Though rhymes with the word dough. It can serve as a conjunction or an adverb.

When used as a conjunction (a word used to connect words or clauses within a sentence), it means “despite the fact that.”

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring, though I truly enjoy the winter.
I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring, despite the fact that I truly enjoy winter.
Quick Tip

“Despite the fact that” is a wordy phrase. When writing, you should consider replacing it with a shorter alternative: either although or even though. Because conciseness makes your writing more direct, you should always aim to use less words when possible. When using LanguageTool as a writing assistant, you can rest assured knowing that wordiness will be detected, along with spelling and grammar errors.

As an adverb (a word or phrase that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, phrase, clause, or whole sentence) though means “however” or “nevertheless.”

The students can be loud and boisterous, but I enjoy working with them, though.
The students can be loud and boisterous, but I enjoy working with them nevertheless.

Thought /θɔːt/

Thought is a noun (person, place, thing, or idea) that refers to “an idea or opinion produced by thinking.”

His thought was that the movie did no justice to the book.

Thought can also mean “the process of thinking.” It is the past tense and participle of (to) think.

While daydreaming in class, Morgan often thought about her upcoming graduation.

The –ought in thought is pronounced like the –ought in fought, or the –aught in taught.

Tough /tʌf/

Tough rhymes with fluff, stuff, and bluff. It’s an adjective (a word that modifies a noun or noun phrase) that has several definitions:

It can mean “strong enough to withstand adverse conditions” or “able to endure hardship or pain.”

She was a tough little girl and didn’t cry when she received her injections.

Tough also means “difficult and requiring determination.”

It was a tough situation, but the children were sent to live with their aunts and uncles for their own safety.

When used to describe an area, tough means “notorious for violence and crime.”

The tourists were advised to avoid the tough parts of town.

Tough can also refer to “a strict and uncompromising approach.”

The tough new laws are meant to deter tobacco companies from advertising to a young demographic.

This word is also used informally as part of phrasal verbs like tough it out, meaning to “endure a period of hardship or difficulty.”

When I would cry when I was younger, my brothers often told me to “tough it out.”

Through /θruː/

Through can play the role of a preposition, adverb, or adjective.

When used as a preposition (a word that shows the relationship between content words), through refers to “moving in one side and out of the other side (of an opening, channel, or location).

The kitten snuck in through the garage to stay warm.

Similarly, as an adverb, it means “expressing movement into one side and out of the other side.”

When we opened the door to the library, the kids came running through.

As an adverb, this word can also mean “so as to continue in time toward the completion of a process or period.”

The students will be training all summer break, from June through August.

Through can also be an adjective synonymous with “finished.”

The employees took a break once they were through with all their tasks.

Through is also part of the compound word throughout, which means “in every part of a place or object.”


Through and threw are homophones, meaning they have identical pronunciations but different spellings. Threw is the past tense form of the verb (to) throw, which means “propel with force through the air by a movement of the arm and hand.” Another reason LanguageTool is an exceptional text editor is that it can make sure you use the correct version of a word given a particular context.

Thorough /ˈθɜːrəʊ/

Thorough is an adjective that means “carried through to completion,” marked by full detail,” or “having full mastery.”

After a thorough investigation, the police department concluded that the student was not involved with the recent string of laptop thefts.
The boy grew up to be a thorough pianist, practicing up to 12 hours a day.

Although these five words contain –ough in them, they all have distinct pronunciations and definitions. Don’t be frustrated if you find yourself struggling with how to pronounce these words or knowing when to use them. The best advice is to practice spelling and pronunciation, finding synonyms, and using them in your everyday vocabulary.

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