This is the ULTIMATE Pronunciation Guide for the TH sounds in English! (Yes, soundS… Because there are two!) In this lesson, I’ll be sharing some super tips so you know when to use the voiced and voiceless sounds, improve your pronunciation skills; express yourself clearly in conversation; and ultimately, give you more confidence to speak in English!
Although the TH sounds are difficult for English learners, in this lesson, I’ll break it down for you… I promise you lots of pronunciation tips and practical ways to improve your TH pronunciation! Let’s do it!
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT PRONUNCIATION: My video lessons are created to help English learners to improve their pronunciation and speaking skills. Please note that the pronunciation of some of these words differs between English accents. I speak with an Australian English accent 🙂
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In this lesson, I’ll go over the pronunciation of the ‘th’ sounds. I’ll remind you how to make the sounds because actually there are two sounds made by the letters ‘th’ and I’ll give you some guidelines to help you to decide when to use each sound. And more importantly, we’ll practise using these sounds in sentences because that’s when it gets tricky.
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Okay so the ‘th’ sounds are really common, really common in English, though, not many other languages use these sounds. So if you’re having trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ sounds, then don’t feel bad about it, you’re definitely not alone.
But the good news is you can improve this sound and you can start to feel more natural as you’re using it but you have to commit! Improving your pronunciation is like going to the gym. The first time, you’re gonna suck at it. But each time that you go back and you work those muscles a little bit more, the easier it will get and the better you’ll feel about yourself, right?
So remember, that the tongue is also a muscle and you need to strengthen it, you need to workout.
So let’s review the position of the tongue. Open your mouth and push your tongue through, just a little. Not like this, like this. Put your finger there if you’re unsure about where to stop your tongue. Notice that the tongue is not completely relaxed, there’s a little tension. If you rub the bottom of your teeth with your tongue, can you feel the tension in your tongue? This is the same amount of tension that you need to hold the ‘th’ position. The tongue is not completely relaxed, it’s lifted and running through the middle of your mouth.
If your tongue is too high in the mouth, up behind your teeth, you’ll make that /t/ or /d/ sound. And if your tongue is not coming through your teeth, if you keep it inside, you’ll make a /s/ or a /z/ sound. So you really must pay attention to the tip of your tongue, it must come through between your teeth.
Now as I mentioned, there are two ‘th’ sounds, a voiced sound and an unvoiced sound. Now both of these sounds use exactly the same mouth position. It’s just that the sound comes from a different place.
Voiced consonant sounds are made using the vocal cords. So once you’ve got your teeth and your mouth in position and you make a sound here, you should feel a buzzing. It might even tickle your tongue a little.
Unvoiced consonant sounds are made by air pushing through your mouth. So it’s the air that creates the sound. So keep your tongue and your mouth in the same position, make sure you’ve got some air in your lungs and push the air through. So this is the unvoiced ‘th’ sound.
So when should you use the voiced or the unvoiced sound? That’s a great question because both sounds are represented by the same letters. And I wish I had a simple answer for you, I know that you like it when I have a simple explanation of why this rule is like that and when you should use it but unfortunately in this situation, there are lots of exceptions.
But there are some guidelines that I’m going to share with you, guides that will help you to make a decision and help you to use the correct ‘th’ sound. Remember they’re guides, not rules but let’s focus on the unvoiced sound first, made with air.
So a ‘th’ at the beginning of content words is usually an unvoiced ‘th’ sound. So content words are words that provide the meaning in a sentence. There are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Words like:
So the ‘th’ at the start of content words is usually unvoiced. Now if there is a ‘th’ in the middle of a word, before a consonant, it’s usually unvoiced.
And a ‘th’ at the end of a word is usually unvoiced.
There are some exceptions though. And I’m going to talk about those in just a minute. Now the voiced ‘th’ sound made using your vocal cords.
So if there’s a ‘th’ at the beginning of a structure word, they’re usually voiced. So structure words, sometimes called function words, are different to content words because they don’t have a lot of meaning in English sentences. They’re grammatical words. They don’t tell us a lot of information but they’re important to the structure of English sentences.
So structure words are words like:
So all of these words, I mean, some of these words are very, very, common English words, right? They’re very, very common. So learning to pronounce the different ‘th’ sounds is really important if you want to sound natural when you speak English. There is a noticeable difference.
Now a ‘th’ in the middle of the word, when it’s between two vowel sounds is usually this voiced sound.
Now I said the ‘th’ is usually unvoiced at the end of words but except if the word ends ends in ‘-the’ like:
So these are pretty good guides but there are always exceptions, aren’t there? English!
There are exceptions like:
All of these words are breaking the rules and there are more! Actually if you can think of any more, please add them to the comments so that we can talk about some of the exceptions in the comments.
But anyway, now that you’ve got through most of these guidelines, it’s time to practise. So I want you to repeat after me.
Throw those things to Theo.
There are three of them over there.
At three thirty on Thursday, a thousand of those thrilling thinkers will gather.
I love tongue twisters! Can you think of your own ‘th’ tongue twister? I think I thought I.. If you can think of one, put it in the comments so that we can all practise together. Put your ‘th’ tongue twisters right down in the comments and let’s practise!
What a workout! Well done to you! I mean your tongue might feel a little exhausted after that so you can take a break now. But make sure that you come back to this lesson tomorrow or the next day and practise again. It’s just like doing sit-ups right? Each time you do it, it will get a little bit easier.
Well that’s it for this lesson! I really hope that you enjoyed it. Please make sure you give it a ‘like’ and subscribe to my channel because I make new lessons here, every single week. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in the next lesson!