How to say the unvoiced th

Th makes a voiced or unvoiced sound, depending on the word. The only difference is that one is voiced, and the other is unvoiced.

To make the unvoiced th sound, exhale through your mouth (do not hum).  As you’re exhaling, slowly bring your tongue towards your teeth, until your tongue is lightly touching your teeth, and you can feel air moving against your tongue.  Since it’s unvoiced, it’s a quiet sound.

This is a soft action; don’t do anything forceful when saying the th. Also the th is not a short sound; make it somewhat long. (The th is a sound that is possible to hold continuously, as long as you have air in your lungs.)

Some sentences to practice the unvoiced th sound (“the” has a voiced th, but all the other examples of th in these sentences are unvoiced):

The athlete ran three thousand meters to the north.

 

I think the thin thief ran north with the cloth underneath his arm.

It is his thirteenth birthday today.

You can clean your teeth with a thin toothpick.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month of November.

Bite through the turkey thigh with your teeth.

Thousands of thimbles protected his thumb through thick and thin when he was handling the thistles.

Through thick and thin, the two remained loyal.

Eating food or foot?

In English, Ds are almost always pronounced the same. A D at the end of a word is usually pronounced the same as a D in the middle or at the beginning of a word. For example, the D in “feed” is the same as the D in “feeding” or “feeds.” The D in “head” is pronounced the same as in “heading.” Both Ds in “headed” are pronounced the same. Both Ds in “did” are pronounced the same. The D in “dog” is the same as the D in “food.”

These words all sound different:
oat owed
pat pad
port poured
pot pod
quit quid
route rude
short shored
slight slide
sought sawed
tent tend
tight tied

An exception to this is for some verbs in the past tense, ending in ed, the D sounds like a T. For example diced, tasked, wiped, and watched.

In English, D is a voiced sound:
Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Many pronunciation problems can be solved by learning about voiced and unvoiced sounds.

Voiced sounds use your vocal chords, unvoiced sounds don’t. All vowels in English are voiced. Unvoiced sounds are not very loud. If you put your hand against your throat while talking, you’ll feel the vibrations from your vocal chords when you’re saying voiced sounds, but you’ll feel no vibrations when saying unvoiced sounds. When you whisper, the sound you make is unvoiced.

The difference between the Z and S sounds is that the Z is voiced, the S is unvoiced. (In written English, sometimes the S makes the S sound, and sometimes it makes the Z sound.) Here are some examples:

Z, S:
zip, sip, zoo, sue, razor, racer, rays, race, phase, face

Similarly, the main difference between the D and T in English is that the D is voiced, the T is unvoiced:
drip, trip, dry, try, fried, fright, feed, feet, seed, seat

Often students make mistakes if a word ends in a voiced sound. For example, if a word ends in D, the D should not be pronounced like a T; a D at the end of a word should be pronounced the same as a D at the beginning or in the middle of a word.

Here are more pairs of letters where the main, or only, difference is that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced:

B, voiced, P, unvoiced
blob, plop, beer, peer, back, pack, robe, rope, mob, mop

G, voiced, K, unvoiced
grab, crab, god, cod, mug, muck, lug, luck, rag, rack

V, voiced, F, unvoiced
view, few, vine, fine, invest, infest, save, safe, wave, waif

J,voiced, CH, unvoiced
gin, chin, jive, chive, jello, cello, edge, etch, ridge, rich, badge, batch

TH: th is used for two sounds, one that is voiced, and one that is unvoiced.

Some examples of words with voiced TH: this, that, other, the, and bathe

Some examples of words with unvoiced TH: theory, thorn, with, month, and bath

Pronunciation Exercises, Free Ebook

Here’s my book of pronunciation exercises. Most of the exercises use minimal pairs to help you hear and say the sounds of American English. I use this book when teaching English lessons:

Jonathan’s Pronunciation Exercises

Click here if you’re interested in taking English lessons to improve your pronunciation or fluency.