This is the sound that English learners love to hate, and many English speakers don’t actually realise is two slightly different sounds. We’re talking about TH as in that, then, this, feather, with (which is voiced /ð/) or thin, thumb, thick, thunder and moth (which is unvoiced /θ/)

How to make the sound

So both sounds involve sticking your tongue out of your mouth, probably more than you’re comfortable with if you are not a native speaker. If you look on You Tube you’ll find a million videos on this, but may I suggest this one with my mate Aly.

Don’t forget to come back here when you’ve finished gazing into his blue eyes…I mean learning how to say TH.

Jolly Phonics, a popular phonics teaching programme in the UK for children aged about 5, says this;

A family goes to the circus. One clown is a bit rude, and puts out the tip of his tongue making the sound th (voiced, as in this). The other clown is very rude – he sticks out his tongue a long way, saying ththth (unvoiced, as in thin).  Sue Lloyd, The Phonics Handbook, Third Edition, 1998.

How to spell it

So whether it is voiced or unvoiced these sounds are always spelt TH. The real puzzle is which words have the voiced or unvoiced sound. I think the trick here is to remember groups of words;

Words with voiced TH /ð/

  • Family words; father, mother and brother
  • Determiner words: This, that, these, those, there, than and then, the.
  • Pronouns for groups of people: they, them, their, theirs
  • Words ending THER: other, another, together, feather, leather, gather.
  • Verbs ending THE: breathe, seethe, loathe, teethe.

Listen and practice here:

Words with unvoiced TH /θ/

  • Words related to 3: third, thirteen, thirty, three, thrice.
  • Ordinal numbers: fourth, fifth, sixth…
  • Words starting THI: thick and thin, think and thing,thief,
  • Verbs with TH at the start: throw, thunder, thrill.
  • Short words with TH at the end: moth, math, tooth, teeth, bath

Listen and practice here:

These aren’t hard and fast rules or groups, I’m sure you can think of more words to add to this list – where do they fit?


Listen to the words and click the one you hear.

How did you do? Listen to all the pairs of words here:

Maybe it’s easier to listen to someone else saying the words, so now it’s your turn, practice saying the words and let me know which pair is trickiest for you. Good luck!






One thought on “TH – what the actual?

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