I need to teach my kids to spell the /gh/ and /ph/ sounds correctly. Could you help?
The following combines and revises somewhat the answers to earlier questions about <gh> and <ph>. It is long enough that I’ll have to take it in two bites:
(Bite 1) If the concern is using these two consonant digraphs to spell the sound [f], things are pretty straighforward:
The digraph <gh> spells the sound [f] only after short vowels spelled with a vowel digraph, the second letter of which is <u>: cough, enough, laughter, rough, tough, trough. It never spells [f] in either word-initial or element-initial position. And it only occurs in native English words.
The digraph <ph>, however, spells [f] in words borrowed from Greek and a few from Hebrew. Most often, <ph> spells the sound [f] in word-initial position: pharmacy, phase, pheasant, phlegm, phobia, phone, photo, phrase, physical. It often clusters with <s>: asphalt, asphyxiate, sphere, sphinx. In the middle of words it is often in element initial position: aphasia [a+phas+ia], cellophane cell+o+phane, diphthong [di+phthong, emphatic [em+phat+ic], microphone micr+o+phone, prophecy [pro+phec+y]. And finally, <ph>often spells [f] in the middle of elements: alphabet, catastrophe, decipher, gopher, nephew, orphan, pamphlet, typhoon, or at the end: telegraph, triumph, trophy, typhoid. In short, the <ph>spelling can pop up most anywhere in a word, but unlike <gh>, never after a short vowel spelled with a vowel digraph ending in the letter <u>. (In a few not-so-common words <ph> spells [f] after a digraph ending in <u>, but in each case, the vowel spelled by the digraph is long: dauphin and words with the prefix eu- meaning “good”: euphemism, euphony, euphoria,, etc.)
So summing up, the digraph <gh> only spells [f] after a short vowel spelled with a digraph ending in the letter <u> and never at the front of a word or element. But <ph> spells [f] in all positions, though usually at the front, and never after a short vowel spelled with a digraph ending in <u>. End of Bite 1