Let’s learn how to pronounce the two TH consonant sounds in American English.
How to pronounce the two TH /θ, ð/ consonants
American English has two TH consonant sounds, TH and TH.
They share the same lip, tongue, and jaw placements, which means they are made in the same place in the mouth. Watch as I say the two sounds, and you’ll notice that my mouth is in the same position for both sounds.
TH, TH, TH, TH
They also share the same type of air release or manner. The air release is noisy, turbulent, and constant.
But where they differ is voicing. The TH consonant is a voiceless consonant, which means it is made with just air passing through the vocal cords and out of the mouth. The vocal cords are turned off as you say this sound.
The TH consonant is a voiced consonant. This means the vocal cords are turned on as you say this sound, and you should feel a vibration in the throat when you say it.
To pronounce the two TH consonants, the tongue is in a wide shape and it touches the underside of the upper teeth all the way around. The very tip of the tongue comes out between the upper and lower front teeth. The tongue is relaxed. The upper lip moves up slightly to expose the upper teeth, and the corners of the lips come in slightly to direct the air as it travels out of the mouth where the upper teeth touch the top of the tongue.
Watch an animation of the two TH consonant sounds. This animation was created from actual videos of a real person pronouncing the two TH sounds. The animation shows the side view of the person's face, and I slowed it down to half speed. First you’ll see the voiceless TH consonant sound. Watch how the tongue tip comes out between the upper and lower teeth.
Now the voiced TH consonant. Notice the same tongue and mouth placement, but you’ll hear voicing or vocal cord vibration.
When making the voiced TH consonant, you should feel vibration in two places: in the throat and at the point where the articulators touch, which is where the upper teeth touch the top of the tongue. This is the vibration of the air as it is exiting the mouth.
The voiceless TH consonant does not have vibration because it is a voiceless sound, so the vocal cords are turned off as you say it.
Let’s take a closer look at the two TH consonants.
The TH /θ, ð/ consonants: Close up and in slow motion
Here is the voiceless TH sound in isolation. Notice how just the very tip of the tongue comes out between the teeth. The upper lip moves up slightly to expose the upper teeth, and the corners of the lips come in slightly to help direct the airflow as it exits the mouth.
Now the word south. Again, you’ll see the very tip of the tongue come out between the teeth, and the upper lip moves up to show the upper teeth. The corners of the lips come in slightly.
Now the word this. You can’t see the vibration, but since this word has the voiced TH consonant, the vocal cords are vibrating as I say it, and there is a secondary vibration where the air exits the mouth, which is the point of contact between the upper teeth and the top of the tongue.
When pronouncing the voiceless TH consonant, the tongue tip always comes out between the teeth.
How to pronounce the reduced TH /ð/ consonant
But the voiced TH consonant doesn’t always follow this rule. When the voiced TH consonant comes at the beginning of an unstressed word or syllable, like in the function words the, this, and that, it’s common for native speakers to simplify the tongue placement. Instead of bringing the tip out of the mouth, native speakers will touch the tongue tip to the back of the upper and lower teeth.
Th, TH, TH, TH
Be sure that the teeth are open when using the reduced pronunciation of the voiced TH sound. And you want your tongue to simply come forward to touch the back of the front teeth. This still sounds like a TH to a native speaker.
TH, TH, TH
The tongue tip should not touch the roof of the mouth or be pointed down. If you do this, it will sound like a D consonant, /d,d,d/, or an S consonant, /s,s,s/.
You can use the reduced pronunciation of the voiced TH sound when it comes at the beginning of unstressed words or syllables. This will help to simplify your speech and help you link words together more smoothly and efficiently.
TH /θ, ð/ consonant practice
Let’s practice a few words together. Say the words with me. We’ll start with the voiceless TH consonant.
Think, TH, think
With, TH, with
Now the voiced TH consonant. These words will use the full tongue placement, with the tongue tip out of the mouth. Feel the vibration of the vocal cords in your throat and where the upper teeth make contact with the top of the tongue.
These, TH, these
Bathe, TH, bathe
Breathe, TH, breathe
Now the simplified pronunciation of the voiced TH consonant. Keep the teeth open and touch the tongue tip to the back of the front teeth.
The, TH, the
This, TH, this
That, TH, that
Thanks so much for practicing the two TH consonants with me. I hope this video was helpful! But we don’t have to end the practice here - let’s keep working together! Check out the additional practice videos of the two TH consonant sounds in English Pro, my comprehensive online accent training community. The details on how to enroll in English Pro are in the description below. Thanks, and have a great day!