How to Pronounce the TH Sound

3/2/2020

 

The TH sound is relatively unique to English, and it is a common sound that I work on with many of my clients from all language backgrounds.

 

The TH sound is in the words the, think, breath, and mother. The TH in the is the voiced TH, meaning the vocal cords vibrate when you say this sound. TH, TH. The. This is the IPA symbol for the voiced TH sound: /ð/.

 

The TH in think is the voiceless TH, meaning there is no vocal cord vibration - just airflow as you make this sound. TH. TH. Think. This is the IPA symbol for the voiceless TH sound: /θ/. 

 

Now I’ll discuss how to make a TH sound. First, the tongue placement.

 

How to make the TH sound: Tongue Placement

Place the tip of the tongue between the front and bottom teeth, like this. Some of my clients stick too much of the tongue out, and that can really slow you down when you talk. So it really is just the tip of the tongue.  Once the tip of the tongue is sticking out between the top and bottom teeth, lightly place the top teeth down onto the tongue, but don’t bite the tongue. Add just a bit of pressure with the teeth. 

 

And notice my upper lip comes up just a bit so that you can see my front teeth. Make sure that the lips don’t help with this sound - it’s only tongue and teeth!

 

How to make the TH sound: Airflow

Now let’s talk about airflow. Listen to what it sounds like when I say the TH sound: THHHH. Do you hear the airflow? THHHH. The air flows along the top of the tongue, where the front teeth touch the tongue. Not along the sides of the tongue, like this. The airflow is more narrow - and to help you get a good narrow airflow, tighten your cheek muscles and bring the corners of the lips together, like this. The lips should push away from the teeth. 

 

How to make the TH Sound: Voicing

When making the voiced TH sound, you should feel a vibration in two places -  at the vocal cords in your throat and also where the air is flowing out of the mouth - where the top teeth touch the tongue. THHH. THH. 

 

Some of my clients have good tongue placement for the TH, but they don’t use enough airflow, especially with the voiceless TH sound, like in think, so it ends up sounding like a stop sound. Maybe something like think, or they substitute a T or S for the voiceless TH. Tink, Sink, or a D or Z for the voiced TH sound, Duh, Zuh. The airflow is an important feature of the TH sound, and especially the voiceless TH sound. 

 

The other way to pronounce a TH Sound

Now, we’re going to get a little bit advanced here. Let’s talk about the other way to pronounce a TH sound. This is a variation of the way I just described, and it happens only to the voiced TH sound when it comes at the beginning of an unstressed word. 

 

The tongue tip doesn’t always come out between the front and bottom teeth for the voiced TH sound. Sometimes the tongue tip rests just behind the front teeth, like the TH in the word the in this sentence: It’s the one I want. It’s the one I want. My tongue tip stayed inside my mouth when I said the word the, and it touched the back of my front teeth. 

 

The reason why has to do with stress. Listen to the sentence again and decide which words are stressed. It’s the one I want

 

One and want are the stressed words in this sentence. It’s the one I want. That means the word the is unstressed. So I simplified or reduced the pronunciation of the TH to make it easier to say. It’s the one I want. It’s the one I want.

 

If you need extra help with the concepts of stressed and unstressed words, I’ll add a link below to my previous videos that discussed these concepts in depth. But remember that in English, we want to reduce any of the unstressed words so that we can pronounce them faster than the stressed words. This gives English its rhythm between stressed and unstressed words. 

 

TH Practice

Let’s practice the TH sound in words and sentences, and I’ll show you when to use the reduced pronunciation of the voiced TH. 

 

Think. Think. Think.

Think has the voiceless TH sound, and the tongue tip always comes out for voiceless TH. Listen again. Think. Think

 

Now in a sentence: 

I think it’s what I want. I think it’s what I want

In this sentence, think and want are stressed, so the TH in think receives the full pronunciation, tongue tip out. And listen for the airflow. I think it’s what I want.

 

This. This. This

This has the voiced TH sound. And my tongue tip comes out when I say the word by itself: This. This. And now listen for the airflow. This.

 

Now in a sentence:

She met him this morning. She met him this morning.

In this sentence, met and morning have the stress. So the word this is unstressed, and it has a voiced TH at the beginning of the word, so it is reduced. I also reduced him to im. She met him this morning

 

Now here’s a sentence with voiced and voiceless TH sounds.

 

It’s the only thing that I want.

It’s the only thing that I want.

 

Only, thing, and want are stressed. It’s, the, that, and I are unstressed. So the voiceless TH in thing will be fully pronounced with the tongue tip out, but the voiced TH in the and that can be reduced, and the tongue can stay in. 

 

It’s the only thing that I want.



One more sentence:

 

My mother said that it’s better than nothing.

My mother said that it’s better than nothing.

 

Mother, better, and nothing are stressed, and the TH in mother and nothing both have the full pronunciation with the tongue tip out. My, said, that, it’s, and than are unstressed. That and than have a voiced TH at the beginning, so the TH can be reduced and the tongue tip stays inside the mouth.

 

My mother said that it’s better than nothing.



Thanks for watching! And let me know if you’d like some help with pronouncing the TH sound!

 

Links to videos about stress:

Stress in Sentences: https://sandiegovoiceandaccent.com/videos/stress-in-sentences

Word Reductions: https://sandiegovoiceandaccent.com/videos/word-reductions-function-words

Unstressed Syllables and Word Reductions: https://sandiegovoiceandaccent.com/videos/unstressed-syllables-and-word-reductions-in-american-english

Syllables and Stress: https://sandiegovoiceandaccent.com/videos/syllables-and-stress-of-american-english



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