Here are some clues to figure it out:
Pronounce the gh as in tough, the o as in women, and ti as in nation.
Blend these sounds and you get "fish".
This joke was made by George Bernard Shaw to prove a point. English spelling is confusing.
Actually, English spelling does follow specific rules; therefore, "ghoti" cannot be pronounced as fish because "gh" never represents the sound of "f" at the beginning of an English word and "ti" never represents the sound of "sh" at the beginning of an English word.
This is a partial list of the many, many spelling rules. Please keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule. There are also many words that are non-phonetic and do not follow any rules. These words must be memorized.
A. Single consonant: All of the alphabet except a, e, i, o, u.
B. Consonant diagraphs: two consonants which together make one consonant sound
1. Basic diagraphs: ch, sh, th, wh, ng, nk
2. Other diagraphs: ck, ph, gh, wr, kn, gn, mn, mb
C. Blends: two or three consonants said together, each keeping its own sound:
br, cr, dr, fr, gr, pr, tr, scr, bl, cl, fl, gl, pl, sc, sk, sm, sn, sp,st, sw, tw
A. Single vowels: a, e, i, o, u, sometimes y
B. Vowel diagraphs: a single vowel is always long, the second silent:
ai, ay, ea, ee, ei, ie, oa, oe, oo, ou, ow, ue, ui
3. Syllable: a word or part of a word that contains one vowel sound
4. Suffix: an ending added onto a root word: er, ed, ing, est
Phonetic Rules for Spelling
taken in part from Professor Phonics Gives Sound Advice by Monica Foltzer,
1. Vowel Rule 1: When there is only one vowel in a word or syllable and the vowel comes between two consonants, the vowel is usually short.
ex. back, fed, gun, cut, fig
2. Vowel Rule 2: When there is only one vowel in a word or syllable and the vowel comes at the beginning of the word, the vowel is usually short.
ex: egg, off, it, add, us
3. Vowel Rule 3: When there are two vowels in a word or syllable, the first vowel is usually long and the second is silent. "When 2 vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."
ex: maid, hear, cute, coat, tied
4. Vowel Rule 4: When there is only one vowel in a word or syllable and the vowel comes at the end, the vowel is usually long.
ex: why, no, he
5. Vowel Rule 5: When a is followed by u, w, r, ll, and lt in the same syllable, it often has the third sound of a, the Italian a.
ex: haul, pause, scar, fall, pawn, fault
6. Vowel Rule 6: When Y comes at the end of a two or more syllable word, Y has the sound of long e if the Y syllable is unaccented.
ex: funny, penny, soapy, flaky, tidy
7. Vowel Rule 7: When Y comes at the end of a two or more syllable word, Y has the sound of long i if the Y syllable is accented.
ex: defy, comply, identify, supply, multiply
8. Vowel Rule 8: When words end with the suffix -ing, -ed, or -er, the first vowel is usually short if it comes between two consonants.
ex: skinned, helper, canned, robber, shunned
9. Vowel Rule 9: When words end with the suffix -ing, -ed, or -er, the first vowel is usually long if it comes before a single consonant.
ex: tamer, noted, user, zoning, cubed
Basic Spelling Rules
1.-ck: The /k/ sound at the end of a one syllable, short vowel word is usually spelled -ck. It is also used in two syllable words ending in -et and -le.
ex: back, flick, truck, neck, clock
ex: jacket, tickle
2. The letter c usually has the soft sound of /s/ when it comes before an e, i, or y. It has the hard sound of /k/ when it comes before an a, o, or u.
ex: city, cell, cycle
ex: come, can, cut
3. The letter g usually has the soft sound of /j/ when it comes before an e, i, or y. It has the hard sound when it comes before an a, o, or u.
ex: gym, gem, gin
ex: go, game, gun
4. FLOSS Rule: In a one syllable word double the final f, l, s, and z after a single vowel.
ex: staff, tell, miss, buzz, roll
(common exceptions: if, clef, gas, this, us, yes, bus, plus)
*Final -s sounded as /z/ is never doubled.
ex: as, is, was, has, his
5. -tch: Use -tch to spell the /ch/ sound after one short vowel at the end of a one syllable word and also in a few two syllable words.
ex: patch, itch, stretch, kitchen
(common exceptions: such, much, rich, which)
6. -dge: Use -dge to spell the /j/ sound after one short vowel on the end of a one syllable word and also in a few two syllable words.
ex: judge, bridge, dodge, gadget
7. Silent -e:
A. Silent -e on the end of a word "makes" the single vowel before it long. This is called the "magic e rule."
ex: hop-hope, can-cane, pin-pine, cut-cute
B. It makes y = /i/- type, style
8. -ve: A final /v/ sound is always spelled -ve.
ex: gave, have, behave
9. -zz, -ze: A word never ends with a single z.
A. Use -zz after a short vowel.
B. Use -ze after long vowels or vowel combinations
ex: fizz, buzz, freeze, ooze
10. q, v, w, x, and y: These letters are never doubled.