English Tongue Twisters: Voiced and Unvoiced “th”

TOEFL tongue twisters with th-magoosh

Today we’re going to practice some English tongue twisters—mini-speeches that help you practice a sound over and over. We’ll focus on “th” in English.

Examples of Voiced and Unvoiced “TH”

There are two “th” sounds in English: an “unvoiced” th and a “voiced” one. The voiceless “th” sound is made without using vocal cords. This sound is common in most words that begin with “th.” “Think,” “third,” and “thank” all start with the voiceless “th.”

In the voiced “th,” English speakers use their vocal cords while they make the “th” sound. This is heard in nearly all structure words in English that begin with “th.” By “structure words,” I mean words whose purpose is mostly grammatical. Structure words that begin with the voiced “th” sound include “the,” “those,” “that,” “this,” “than,” and others.

Before we do some tongue twisters for pronouncing these two variations of “th,” let’s make sure you can hear the difference.

Listen to me say the word “thistle,” which has a voiceless “th” at the beginning:

THISTLE:

 

Now listen to my audio of “this,” a grammatical word that starts with voiced “th:”

THIS

 

Can you hear the difference between the “th” sounds at the beginnings of these two similar words? If not, then listen again. This time, I’ll go more slowly when I say the beginning “th” sound in the words:

THISTLE, THIS

 

By now, you probably can hear the difference. But just in case, let’s listen to these two words one more time. I’ll say the “th” sounds even more slowly:

THISTLE, THIS (very slowly)

You definitely heard the difference that time, right? To master these two English “th” sounds, the next step is to say them yourself. This is where tongue-twisters come in!

Tongue Twisters with Voiced and Unvoiced “TH”

To get started, read this tongue twister out loud:

  • this thin that thatch these themes those thorns the thug they thank

How did you do? Were you able to say the two English “th” sounds differently and distinctly? Check your own speech by listening to my example recording of the twelve words above:

TONGUE TWISTER: MINIMAL PARIS WITH “TH”

 

Now, let’s try a real tongue twister– a complete sentence that uses both “th” sounds a lot:

  • They thankfully think this thing is the best thing that they can throw the three times they need to throw a thing.

Read that sentence out loud a few times to practice English “th.” And again, you can check your work by listening to one of my recordings:

TONGUE TWISTER: VOICED AND VOICELESS TH

 

These activities should help you build some real skills for saying and hearing “th” in English. In my next tongue-twister post, we’re going to look at a related pair of sounds in English: the voiced “th” sound and the “L” sound.

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!