Have you ever wondered why so many English words have a silent ‘gh’ in the middle or at the end? Brought, daughter and neighbour are just a few examples.

To find the answer, we have to go back many years and look at one of the languages in the same family as English: German.

English speakers who have tried to learn German will tell you about a common pronunciation problem they had: the German ‘ch’ – found in words like ich, sprechen and doch. This is difficult because this sound doesn’t exist in the English language.

Not anymore, at least. But when many Germanic words with this sound were introduced into English, the sound was represented in written English with a ‘gh’. So brachte (and gebracht) became brought, Tochter became daughter and Nachbar became neighbour.

Over time, the ‘gh’ sound was lost but the old spelling remains.

Here are some more common examples:

  • sight (from German: Sicht)
  • light (from German: Licht, leicht)
  • night (from German: Nacht)
  • right (from German: Recht, richtig)
  • eight (from German: acht)
  • high (from German: hoch)
  • weight (from German: Gewicht)
  • thought (from German: dachte, gedacht)

English has many strange spelling and pronunciation rules, many of which are a result of importing things from other languages. This often makes English an illogical and confusing language to learn!

Which English words do you find the most difficult to spell or pronounce?

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