How to pronounce the TH sound in English

The other day I asked on my Facebook page which sounds or groups of letters people struggle with in English.

The reply I received didn’t surprise me – the TH sound.

This sound can be Difficult, particularly for people who don’t have the same sound in their language as in German.

What mistakes do people make?

First, let’s begin by looking at the mistakes that people make.

Sometimes they pronounce the TH like an F sound – “Fursday” instead of Thursday.

In fact, some native speakers do that as well, which is more of a regional pronunciation. But doing this Can actually change the meaning:
I thought – thought is the past tense of think
I fought – fought is the past tense of fight.

Sometimes people pronounce the TH as a T sound. But again, this too can change the meaning:
Three = the number 3
Tree = something that grows and has leaves and branches (unless it’s a Christmas tree, but you know what I mean!)

Sometimes people pronounce the TH as an S sound.
I sink
I think

How should the TH sound be pronounced?

Actually, there are two TH sounds – a voiced one and an unvoiced one.

The unvoiced TH is when you push air between your tongue and your top teeth. Your vocal chords don’t vibrate, so you won’t feel anything if you put your fingers on your throat as you are making this sound.

We use it in words such as think, Thursday, through, things, and three.

It can also come in the middle or at the end of a word in words such as month, unthinkable, and anything.

The other sound is the voiced TH sound, or the THE sound that we find in words such as the, this, that, though, these, and those.

It’s also in the middle of words such as other, weather, and clothes.
The tongue is a little further back, and you can feel the vibration of your vocal chords if you touch your throat because you make a sound, rather than just pushing air through the gap between your tongue and teeth.

Sometimes there is a change when a word becomes plural. “Mouth” uses the unvoiced sound at the end, but “mouths” uses the voiced sound.

However both the words month and months have the unvoiced sound at the end.

If you’d like to listen to me talking through this and pronouncing the examples, you can also check out episode 135 of my podcast.

If you’d like me to look at any other sounds or groups of letters in more detail, let me know in the comments.

More from English with Kirsty

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