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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:



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

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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:



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:



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:



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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8 Responses to English Tongue Twisters: Voiced and Unvoiced “th”

  1. Luke September 27, 2017 at 11:31 pm #

    I love that last tongue twister, thanks!

    • David Recine
      David Recine September 28, 2017 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks for your kind words. Who knew you could learn so much pronunciation from a line of nonsense poetry? 😀

  2. Jake July 23, 2018 at 7:40 pm #

    This thin thimble on that thick thumb there

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 24, 2018 at 10:09 am #

      Love that one, Jake! Post more if you’ve got ’em. 🙂

  3. Anonymous September 25, 2018 at 7:04 am #

    Here is another one that’s easier to understand for beginners.
    ”The Smiths wear thin clothes throughout the winter months.”

  4. Nassim October 13, 2019 at 5:56 pm #

    This was amazing! thanks

  5. Stewart August 10, 2020 at 8:50 am #

    The audio sample labelled “TONGUE TWISTER: MINIMAL PARIS WITH “TH”” doesn’t give minimal pairs at all. A minimal pair is a pair of words that differ in pronunciation only by the particular pair of sounds being considered. So in this instance, examples of minimal pairs would be “thigh” and “thy” or “wreath” and “wreathe”.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 13, 2020 at 8:26 am #

      Hi Steward, minimal pairs differ by single sounds. The words in the recording may not be exact minimal pairs, but our intent here is to showcase different ‘th’ sounds and how they are combined with other sounds.

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