The most common word in the English language is “the”, so after the schwa, [th] would be the sound you would hear most often, which is why it is so important for ESL learners to master the American pronunciation of TH. ([th] also exists in English, Greek and Castilian Spanish.) Besides “the,” there are several other very common words that start with a voiced [th]: this, that, that, those, they, them, their, there, then etc.
American pronunciation of TH
Just as with most of the other consonants, there are two types — voiced and unvoiced.
The voiced TH is like a D, but instead of being in back of the teeth, it’s 1/4 inch lower and forward, between the teeth. To produce this sound, the tip of the tongue sticks out a bit between the upper and the lower teeth.
Words with th /ð/ (voiced):
- that, than, the, their, then, there’s, they, they’d, they’ll.
- they’ve, this, those, themselves, therefore, mother, other.
- bother, brother, breathing, clothing, father, feather, gathering, lather, rather, soothing, weather, worthy, brotherly, together
The unvoiced TH is like an S between the teeth. Most people who have trouble pronouncing “th” tend to replace the unvoiced “th” with S or T and the voiced one with Z or D. Instead of “thing”, they say “sing”, or ting. Instead of “that”, they say “zat” or “dat”. To produce this sound put your tongue between your teeth and blow out air between your tongue and your top teeth.
Words with th /θ/ (voiceless):
(thank, thick, thief, thin, think, thing, three, thousand, Thursday, thirty-eight, thunderstorm, athlete, author, nothing, toothache, wealthy, everything, worthwhile, anything, bath, earth, teeth, cloth, north, myth, mouth, youth, faith, underneat).
How do you make the /θ/ (TH) sound?
This is a dental sound which means that you sound it by using your teeth (as well as your tongue). Make the front of your tongue have light contact with the back of your top, front teeth or your tongue tip can come out a little bit between your upper and lower teeth. Blow out and let the air pass through your teeth and tongue.
To pronounce TH correctly, think of a snake’s tongue. You don’t want to take a big relaxed tongue and push it far between your teeth and just leave it out there. Make only a very quick, sharp little movement. Keep the tip of your tongue very tense. It darts out between your teeth and snaps back very quickly.
- He thanked the wealthy author on Thursday for the third time.
- I think the athlete ran three thousand meters to the north.
- It is a myth that when you are thirty-three you have lost your youth.
- There is nothing worthwhile in a thunderstorm.
- I think the thin thief ran north with the cloth underneath his arm.
- Their mother was gathering the clothes together.
- They’ve had a lot of bother with the weather.
- They’d rather gather those berries with their mother.
- There’s their other brother, together with their father.
- Therefore they’d rather go together.
- There’s the wealthy author whose brother has a toothache.
- The weather from the north on Thursdays is soothing.
- They have nothing other than each other, the weather and their youth.
- Those thirty-eight thieves were brothers.
- They’d rather have a bath with their clothing on.