pronunciation: thro' [archaic 'through']

deny80

Senior Member
Italian - Italy
Hi there,
I was wondering if the pronounciation of the poetic word thro' is actually different from that of through.

The dictionary indicates that thro' ends with a prolonged u... so what's the difference?
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I pronounce it the same way as through.
    Now that you've asked, I'm wondering why anyone bothers spelling it thro'.
    No doubt someone will explain soon :)
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I pronounce it the same way as through.
    Now that you've asked, I'm wondering why anyone bothers spelling it thro'.
    No doubt someone will explain soon :)
    The Oxford English Dictionary says under the entry for the word through that it "was "abbreviated thro'; in 15-18th c." and then gives the version without the apostrophe. The Century Dictionary has a separate entry "thro', thro"--presumably the version with an apostrophe is listed first because it was historically the older one. It is described as "A shorter form of through."

    The Supplement to the Century Dictionary adds thru, described as "A simplified spelling of through." This is in reference to the simplified spelling movement, and the Supplement has other examples of such spelling variants.

    My guess is that thro' was written thus to save time and ink--for the same reason that people wrote & and &c. rather than and and etc. Perhaps it was thought of as an abbreviation rather than a spelling as such. The apostrophe was kept at first not only to indicate that letters were missing, but to remind the reader that the o was to be pronounced as a u. Since o is pronounced that way with other words (to and two, for example), at some point in the 18th or 19th century people decided that the apostrophe was superfluous. Once thru came along, there was no need for thro. I see, however, that the OED marks thru as being a chiefly North American usage, so is thro perhaps still used in other branches of English?

    Again, this is speculation, but it seems reasonable.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've got another theory. Does anyone know when the <gh> ceased to be pronounced? We know that it was> was originally a velar fricative [γ] and underwent different changes in the dialects, including [f] in cough and trough. The change or the loss seems to have taken place in the Early Modern English period (1450-1600). If there were still accents that still pronounced the <gh>, it might make sense to use the apostrophe to indicate the 'newer' pronunciation where the <gh> wasn't sounded. In the same vein, Shakespeare might have written lack'd to emphasise the fact that he wanted a monosyllabic pronunciation - and this would only make sense when a disyllabic pronunciation was still possible.

    Yes, thru is not generally used in BrE, and I've occasionally seen thro or thro'. Not often, mind you.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I've got another theory. Does anyone know when the <gh> ceased to be pronounced? We know that it was> was originally a velar fricative [γ] and underwent different changes in the dialects, including [f] in cough and trough. The change or the loss seems to have taken place in the Early Modern English period (1450-1600). If there were still accents that still pronounced the <gh>, it might make sense to use the apostrophe to indicate the 'newer' pronunciation where the <gh> wasn't sounded. In the same vein, Shakespeare might have written lack'd to emphasise the fact that he wanted a monosyllabic pronunciation - and this would only make sense when a disyllabic pronunciation was still possible.

    Yes, thru is not generally used in BrE, and I've occasionally seen thro or thro'. Not often, mind you.
    Your hypothesis may be correct, but I can't find anything to decide the matter one way or the other.

    I did find the following, from the etymology for thro in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (the variant thro' is not given):

    "Middle English thro, short for throgh, through"

    According to this paper about the history of the apostrophe, the apostrophe "was introduced into English in the 16th century" (the author cites David Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language). It follows that thro likely was present in Modern English before thro'. I still have to wonder if that Middle English thro, and the early uses of thro and thro' in Modern English, actually represented a version of the word ending in a vowel, or if they were just short ways of representing a word which continued to be pronounced with a consonant at the end--that is, if they were abbreviations.

    Addition: I should add that Webster's Third gives the word thro the usage note "archaic."
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top