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/ / a n d / /

The English spelling <th> stands for two different sounds: the voiceless // and voiced //. Voiced means you feel that vibration in the throat, from the vocal cords vibrating. We will look at some hints to help you know how to pronounce <th>. There are no absolute rules that can tell you to pronounce it as // or //, but there are some very helpful guidelines.

1. <th> in function words = //

Function words are minor words (besides content words nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs); function words include prepositions, conjunctions, particles, pronouns, pro-forms (there), articles, etc. The <th> in function words is usually at the beginning of the word, and is usually pronounced //.



the, this, that, these, those, they, than, there, thou, thee, thy than, therefore, thereupon, though, although, then

The <th> of the following function words is // because they are compounded from thing: anything, something, nothing, everything. The <th> in through is pronounced //.

2. <th> before Old English endings = //

The <th> before some suffixes and word endings is pronounced //. These are suffixes added to form new words from older ones, and these particular suffixes are from Old English:

bath breath teeth sooth

bathe breathe teethe soothe

cloth worth north south heath

clothing, clothier worthy northern, norther southern heather

This -ing is the noun suffix as in building, not the verb suffix for present progressive; the suffixes -y, -ish are adjective suffixes; -e often creates verbs from nouns. In some cases we can see the original base word which has //, but adding a suffix changes it to //, but sometimes the original base word has disappeared from English. Some words from Old English with // + OE suffix or ending:

-e -er

bathe, breathe, lathe, loathe, seethe, soothe, teethe, tithe another, blithering, bother, brother, father, farther, further, heather, hither*, leather, mother, nether*, norther, northerly, other, smother, southerly, thither*, whither*, wither northern, southern brethren, heathen clothier furthest worthy clothing, farthing (rare)

-ern -en -(i)er -(i)est -y -ing


1. When adding other suffixes, such as verbal -ing, the pronunciation of the base word is retained in the new word: : breathe breathing, breathed : sleuth to sleuth, sleuthing, sleuthed 2. Words with -or like author are usually from Latin, and have //. 3. Words with the suffix -then (to create verbs from adjectives) have //, such as strengthen //, lengthen //.

3. Other exceptions: /, , t/
Other exceptions and apparent exceptions exist to the patterns above. [a] other words with // fathom, rhythm, algorithm, smooth These and a few other words have //; the <th> in fathom, rhythm, algorithm picked up voicing from the <m>; the word smooth is a spelling irregularity (it was spelled with an -e ending in Old English, and was voiced according to the OE endings above, but the final -e was lost in the spelling). [b] -ther = // Some words have similar spellings as the Old English endings, but are not from Old English. They happen to have similar spellings, but come from other languages such as Greek and German, so these words are pronounced with //:
ether, Luther, panther, zither

[c] <th> = /t/ In these proper names (which come from other languages like Hebrew and Thai), the <th> is pronounced as /t/, not as // or //. The <th> in Thames came from an attempt to alter to spelling by adding <h> to make it look like it came from Greek.
Esther, Mathilda, Thai, Thailand, Thames, Thomas

[d] <th + y> = // in adjectives Adding the adjective suffix -y often does not cause the <th> to change to the voiced sound ; it often remains .
froth - frothy health - healthy pith - pithy


The prepositions with, without have two possible pronunciations, depending on dialect. In New England, the northeastern U.S., and British English, // is used, while // is used in general North American English.

4. Elsewhere = //
Except for the cases described above, in any other content word ( NOUN, ADJ., ADV., VERB) you can assume that <th> is probably pronounced //; in fact, it is pronounced // in most English words.
worth, tooth, mouth, broth, through, hearth, thermos, therapist, thyroid, Thursday, thud, thatch, thesis, throne, earth, isotherm, thousand, Arthur, athletic, lethal, thank, three, birth, northwest...

5. Identifying <th> in words

When you encounter words with the <th> spelling, you can put them through the following test to determine its pronunciation:

1. Function word 2. Old English ending 3. Exception? 4. Elsewhere

= = = , , t =

Is it a function word? If so, then usually voiced //.

Is it an Old English ending? If so, then voiced //.

Is it an exception to the patterns (due to a different language of origin), like those noted above?

If it doesnt fit the above categories, then you can assume its the voiceless // - the Elsewhere Principle.

6. Some <th> exercises / examples

Try to predict which <th> sound is used, and try saying the following words or phrases aloud: some cloth my clothing a clothier to loathe my broth my brothers both of them quit bothering me! thermal socks thereupon over there then we go there you go another one give a tithe it soothed him soothsayer so smooth a blithering idiot my withered plant a leather purse black panthers a Lutheran church brush your teeth teething pains her mouth thus he spoke it went thud throne room know thyself heathen acts not so healthy on the heather great worth very worthy a lathe unearthed thallium those rats! three topics these topics this watchtower though he tried thoughtfully through a hole a thorough ad Thursday afternoon Mr. Thomas a good therapist threatening remarks thermos bottle theta underneath nether region the furthest one a farthing nothing else motherly care butterflies and moths South Street southern lights a thin watch sewing thimbles a clever theft a thatched roof rhythmic music two fathoms awful algorithms