Pronouncing American TH Sounds

The voiced TH and unvoiced TH sound are one of the most difficult sounds to pronounce for non-native speakers of English. That’s because those sounds don’t exist in other languages. However, with the right hints everyone is able to say English TH right.

Follow my step by step guide to get your perfect TH.

Your ultimate guide to the English TH sound pronunciation

Very few languages have the TH sound. To say it right, the secret is, your tongue should touch your front teeth.”

01 | American and British TH sounds
02 | How to pronounce the English unvoiced TH sound (θ)
03 | How to pronounce the English unvoiced TH sound (ð)
04 | Secret tricks of pronouncing the TH sound
05 | Watchouts for speakers of other languages
06 | Practice words with “TH”
07 | Spelling of the sound “TH”

American and British TH sounds

First things first. The good news is that no matter if you’re trying to master American or British English accent you will be able to use the exact same TH sounds. Sounds, not sound? Yes, in English the same spelling th can be pronounced in two different ways depending on the word – as either voiced or unvoiced TH sound. In this guide, I’m covering both. Read on!

How to pronounce the unvoiced TH in English

The most important thing when producing the unvoiced TH sound is the position of your tongue. Check out the steps and visuals below to learn how to position your tongue.

To make an unvoiced TH sound:

  • Step 1 option a: Position your tongue in between your teeth
  • Step 1 option b: Alternatively touch the lower back of your front teeth.
  • Step 2: Makes the unvoiced TH sound by pushing the air out. Do not engage vocal cords.

You should feel the passing air on your tongue.

How to pronounce the voiced TH in English

The most important thing when producing the TH sound is again the position of your tongue. You will used the exact same position of your tongue as the one you used to produce the unvoiced TH sound. Check out the steps and visuals below to learn how to position your tongue.

To make the unvoiced TH sound:

  • Step 1 option a: Position your tongue in between your teeth
  • Step 1 option b: Alternatively touch the lower back of your front teeth.
  • Step 2: Makes the unvoiced TH sound by pushing the air out. Do not engage vocal cords.

You should feel the passing air on your tongue.

Yes, the only difference in pronouncing the unvoiced and voiced TH sound is that you do need to engage vocal cords while saying the voiced TH sound.

Secret tricks of pronouncing the “th” sound

  • You can either position your tongue in between your teeth or touch the lower back of your front teeth
  • Experiment with both methods. Both are legitimate ways of producing the correct TH sound and used by the native speakers. Some native speakers use both methods depending on a word or how fast they need to say something.
  • Test your position and see if you’re able to produce very long continuous voiced TH sound (ð). That will ensure that you’re not substituting one of the plosive sounds like d or t for it.
  • Make sure that your tongue is actually obstructing the flow of the air as you push it out. Try to push the air harder and see if you can feel it also on the bottom front part of our tongue. This will ensure that you’re not substituting s or z sounds for it.

Watchouts for speakers of other languages

The American voiced and voiceless TH sounds are very rare sound and most of the world languages don’t have them. Unless you are a speaker of European Spanish, Greek, Burmese or certain varieties of Arabic – you will have to learn how to produce those sounds.

If you don’t learn those new sounds your brain will try to use the closest sound from your native language like t or d instead of voiced TH and s or z instead of the voiced TH sound. Unfortunately, substituted sounds confuse native speakers of English and make it more difficult for them to recognise which word you are trying to use.

Practice words with “th”

think [θɪŋk]

that [ðæt]

them [ðɛm]

mother[ˈmʌð·ər]

 

Spelling of the sound “th”

The voiced “th” and the unvoiced “th” sounds are the only two sounds that share the same spelling. Check out the common spelling scenarios:

  • Th and the beginning of a word e.g.  the [ðə], think [θɪŋk]
  • Th in the middle of word e.g. mother [ˈmʌð·ər]
  • Th at the end of a word e.g. smooth [smuð]

English is not a phonetic language. This means that it is hard to tell how to pronounce a word by looking at it.

You will want to use a dictionary with phonetic transcription to be absolutely sure how to pronounce a given word. The IPA phonetic symbol for the voiced TH sound is ð and the symbol for the unvoiced TH sound is is θ.

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