Definition of cough in English:

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Pronunciation: /kɒf/


[no object]
1Expel air from the lungs with a sudden sharp sound: he tried to speak and started to cough
More example sentences
  • I sucked in a sharp breath, almost coughing on it.
  • They felt their way forward towards the sound of a woman coughing.
  • We also hear incidental sounds like children coughing and yelling, objects being moved, and so on.
1.1(Of an engine) make a sudden harsh noise, especially as a sign of malfunction: the engine began coughing and spluttering
More example sentences
  • The engine is coughing and spluttering and nobody knows quite how to keep the thing going.
  • And from the deep bowels of the ship, an engine coughed, spluttered and finally came on with a roar.
  • The boat's engine had coughed and wheezed for a good ten minutes before he had been able to coax it into working order.
1.2 [with object] Force (something, especially blood) out of the lungs or throat by coughing: he coughed up bloodstained fluid
More example sentences
  • In any event, it was unlikely that the blood in the lungs resulted from the nosebleed or coughing blood from the lungs.
  • But just when it looked as if she was about to realise the American dream, she coughed blood into a handkerchief and her doctor diagnosed tuberculosis.
  • She screamed in pain again and started coughing blood.
hack, hawk, bark, clear one's throat, hem, croak, wheeze, gasp, choke, struggle for breath, fight for air
1.3 [with object] (cough something out) Say something in an abrupt way: he coughed out his orders
More example sentences
  • He coughed the word out to show his disagreement.
  • Bruce took the joke and coughed a forced laugh out.
1.4British informal Reveal information; confess: once he realized we knew, he was ready to cough fast enough
confess, talk, tell all, tell the truth, blab, open one's mouth, give the game away
informal come clean, let on, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, get something off one's chest
British informal blow the gaff


1An act or sound of coughing: she gave a discreet cough
More example sentences
  • He was staring at the fireplace, his eyes wide, trying to figure out what was wrong with him when he was snapped out of his reverie by the sound of a gentle cough behind him.
  • The sound of her gun dropping had cued him in, although Eric had tried earnestly to cover the sound with a cough.
  • The sound of a loud cough startled the two, and they looked up to see Jay standing in his parking space near them.
hack, rasp, croak, wheeze, tickle in one's throat
informal bark, frog in one's throat
1.1A condition of the respiratory organs causing coughing: he looked feverish and had a bad cough
More example sentences
  • Not surprisingly, malnourishment and illness like fevers, coughs, malaria, scabies and diarrhoea are common.
  • She had for weeks been suffering from a bad cough and chest infection.
  • Most were children or the elderly suffering from dermatitis, coughs and respiratory problems, he said.

Phrasal verbs

cough something up (or cough up)

informal Give something reluctantly, especially money or information that is due or required: the company coughed up $40 m. in settlement of the legal claims
More example sentences
  • When your automated teller machines divide and arrange your money before coughing it up, they are all using partition theory.
  • The authorities intervened and forbade them from leaving till the amount was coughed up.
  • When they didn't have the ball, they strangled opponents into coughing it up.
pay, pay up, pay out;
come up with, hand over, part with, defray the cost of;
foot the bill, settle up
informal fork out, shell out, dish out, lay out, come across with
British informal stump up
North American informal make with, ante up, pony up



Example sentences
  • It seems common experience in concert halls and theatres that we cannot suppress a cough, although the cougher and his neighbours may disagree about this.
  • Avoid close contact, especially with sneezers or coughers.
  • There have been croaky coughers everywhere you turn, all sneezing away, hoping to get rid of their infection by passing it on to you.


Middle English: of imitative origin; related to Dutch kuchen 'to cough' and German keuchen 'to pant'.

Words that rhyme with cough

boff, doff, far-off, off, quaff, roll-on roll-off, scoff, telling-off, toff, trough

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: cough

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