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It might be a strange question, but I, as a non-native speaker (Pakistani), have listened to English pronunciations by my native people who have over time developed their own pronunciations.

So, I heard the word "THUG" with the pronunciation "T" + "HUG" (T, as in tyre, tank, tip, etc). But I later found out that the "TH" in thug is pronounced like the th in thought, thin, etc.

Since then, I am trying to think whether the pronunciations of TH as T+H are acceptable anywhere else or not? Is there such a word?

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Related question, TH sound, is it continuant or stop? and Why was the “th” combination chosen for the “th” sound?. Your way of pronouncing thug will generate only one response. "Excuse me?" – Rathony Mar 1 at 8:08
Only compound words, such as hothouse and cathouse. Incidentally the English word "thug" is said to come from Hindi. – RJH Mar 1 at 8:22
Yeah. All of them. It's a temporal illusion to say "th". You allide the pronunciation of the consonants. That's why they sound so good to you--it's because of the principal of the thing. – Wolfpack'08 Mar 1 at 9:56
'th' was originally an extra letter in the alphabet called Thorn. "Thorn ... is a letter in the Old English ... alphabets,... later replaced with the digraph th, except in Iceland, where it survives. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_(letter) – Neil Mar 2 at 13:02

10 Answers 10

up vote 219 down vote accepted

In general, the "t" and "h" in "th" are only pronounced on their own when they appear in English words that originated as compound words (such as rat-hole becoming "rathole", foot-hill becoming "foothill", and light-house becoming "lighthouse"). In each of these cases "th" is not a single sound, but rather two sounds, "t" and "h".

Instead, "th" is almost universally (in English, that is) used as a digraph (which means that both the 't' and the 'h' combine to form a single sound; in other words, you could replace the "th" with some symbol without losing meaning). Basically, if you wanted to, you could consider "th" its own letter.

The primary ways "th" is used in English are:
As a voiceless dental fricative, such as in "thing", "thug", "throw", or "math".
As a voiced dental fricative, such as in "this", "then", "soothe", "lithe", "bathe", or "smooth" (which a long time ago used to be spelled "smoothe").

While those are the primary uses of "th", there are some instances where "th" is used to import foreign words, that have sounds that most English speakers can't differentiate/can't pronounce (for example, I think the word "Thailand" is written with a "Th" because the "t" sound is supposed to be an aspirated consonant, but I can't make or understand the difference between that and non-aspirated sounds, so I'm not the best judge for that); typically we'll take those sounds and ignore aspiration, or pronounce them in one of the other two ways I mentioned.

It may also interest you to look at the letter thorn Þ, which was used in written English several-hundred years ago. It was replaced by "th" as German printing presses did not come with the symbol, and adding it in would have been too costly.

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There's also the name Thomas... :) – Armen Ծիրունյան Mar 1 at 10:56
Lithe isn't voiceless? I guess I've been mispronouncing it. Lathe is voiced, for sure, but lithe I've always used a voiceless pronunciation. – CGCampbell Mar 1 at 14:32
@CGCampbell I've heard lithe pronounced both ways, by native speakers, no less. Perhaps there are even speakers who pronounce it both ways depending on the context. I imagine that it's not the only such word. – phoog Mar 1 at 15:41
@David That’s because nearly all phonetic transcriptions in dictionaries and such places are semi-phonemic. There is no phonemic distinction between /t/ and /tʰ/ in English (as there is in Thai and Hindi, for instance), so there’s no reason to constantly write /tʰ/ in phonetics; /t/ is simpler and easier to read and also matches orthography. Both [t] and [tʰ] do exist phonetically in English, though: top is [tʰɒp(ʰ)], while stop is [stɒp(ʰ)]. If you record stop and cut out the sibilant at the beginning, you’re left with [tɒp(ʰ)], which sounds very unnatural to English-speakers. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 1 at 18:15
@Konrad Another way to make the distinction clearer is to find a minimal pair where on one hand you have /sC/ (C = any stop consonant) in the same syllable, and on the other you have /s. C/ in different syllables, i.e., one syllable ending in /s/ and the following beginning in /C/. In the latter case, the stop is initial and therefore aspirated; in the former, it’s not. That’s how we tell “Hannah, stop” and “Hannah’s top” apart. Try saying those two and listen for the difference. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 2 at 13:45

Words such as rathole, carthorse and pithead are pronounced rat hole, cart horse and pit head.

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I think most (if not all) examples will be compound words, where the first word ended in a "t" and the second began in an "h." "Meathead" was the example I thought of. – Nathan K Mar 1 at 14:17
@NathanK Immediately upon reading the question, I thought of an example similar to yours, but notably more vulgar. – recognizer Mar 1 at 15:26
First word to mind for me was anthill – asfallows Mar 1 at 20:25
Add lighthouse to that list – Danikov Mar 2 at 9:54
I'm English and have never heard pithead as pith head. Pithead is the top of the mine shaft in a colliery merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pithead – Mark Mar 2 at 10:39

It's late winter in Minnesota. The word that slams to mind is "pothole."

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The land of two seasons: "winter" and "roadwork"... – Floris Mar 2 at 1:52

Thug is a derived word(from India-Pakistan) and its modified english pronunciation was defined by its use by the British. The hindi letter used to pronounce thug is and its hindi pronunciation is T+H(the one you have been using). Having such a equivocal existence is rare and hence there are not many such words that come to mind.

The words mentioned (rathole, carthorse, etc.) do not have quite the same T+H sound as in thug since their pronunciation is broken after t and before h. Moreover, the Indo-Pak T+H sound is a wee bit heavier/thicker than that.

However, I have heard the word Thai being pronounced as t-hie and I have been calling it more like thigh all my life - but it is a proper noun and may be just a regional/colloquial thing.

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In the West we generally pronounce Thai as if the 'h' simply weren't there. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 1 at 11:03
1) Thug meaning 'hooligan' is almost universally prounced with a theta; meaning 'practitioner of Thuggee' (the original meaning) it should have the Hindi t+h, but since very many English-speakers cannot hear that sound let alone pronounce it, it is often pronounced Tug. 2) I have never (in Britain) heard Thailand prounced other than 'Tie-land'; indeed there are several jokes (of the Christmas-cracker level) based on the similarity. – TimLymington Mar 1 at 11:08
Here in Thailand, the Thais themselves say 'Tie'... I have never heard anyone pronounce it as 'Thigh'... – Greenonline Mar 2 at 0:43
@TimLymington Where is 'thug' pronounced 'tug'? Certainly not in the US. – DCShannon Mar 2 at 20:09
@DCShannon Tim is saying that Thuggee should be pronounced t-huggee but that most people pronounce it like tuggee. So a Thug (t-hug) got thugged (thugged). – CJ Dennis Mar 7 at 9:15

The word apartheid is commonly pronounced in American English with the th split, like apart-hide or sometimes apart-hade. The word is imported from Afrikaans, so not a great example of an English word, but it is nevertheless used in English.

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That is the only English word that I can think of that has that pronunciation without being a compound word. Thanks! – Brian Minton Mar 4 at 4:24
'Apartheid' is a Dutch compound meaning 'held apart'. – AmI Mar 5 at 20:44
@AmI Afrikaans is derived from Dutch, so no surprise there. – Caleb Mar 5 at 20:59
@Aml Apart-heid is indeed originally a Dutch word, but the suffix "-heid" has the same meaning as the English suffix "-ness"; it doesn't mean 'held'. Compare "blindheid" (blindness), "correctheid" (correctness) – Erwin Bolwidt Mar 8 at 2:29
And cognate to English "-hood" as in "adulthood". – Damian Yerrick Mar 8 at 4:37

Any compound word where the first part ends in t and the second part starts with h, including:

  • adulthood
  • anthill
  • courthouse
  • fathead
  • firsthand
  • foothill
  • foothold
  • goatherd
  • hothead
  • hothouse
  • knighthood
  • knothole
  • lightheaded
  • lighthouse
  • masthead
  • nighthawk
  • nuthatch
  • outhouse
  • parenthood
  • penthouse
  • pilothouse
  • porthole
  • posthaste
  • potholder
  • pothole
  • pothook
  • priesthood
  • sainthood
  • shorthand
  • shorthorn
  • sweetheart
  • warthog
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Apparently there are no Londoners here, otherwise someone would have mentioned the river Thames already. Also Thyme (the herb) doesn't feature a ð sound.

The Wikipedia mentions some other of those specific Roman-based words, too.

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The "h" is silent in those words, which doesn't answer the question, which specifically asked for words where a t and h are next to each other and both are voiced separately. – SomethingDark Mar 1 at 19:24
@Boldewyn - Perhaps the Londoners here didn't feel as pressured into answering as you apparantly did :) More importantly though, your answer doesn't answer the OP's question. The Thames is not pronounced as 't-hems' I take it, or the herb as 't-hyme'? – Terah Mar 1 at 19:44
Thames and thyme (and Thomas) can indeed be spoken as aspirated consonants in some regions, so the h is not universally vestigial. That is not the same as the separate sounds you see in compound words like pothead, though (even though in some dialects the 'h' in the compound words disappears, too: pot'ole), nor is it the same as the th in Hindi thug. – Dewi Morgan Mar 1 at 20:47
@DewiMorgan: The aspirated consonant [tʰ] and the unaspirated [t] are allophones for /t/ in English, so the aspiration is not evidence that the "h" is pronounced. In other words, Thames is still /tɛmz/ even though the /t/ is pronounced [tʰ]. I expect that your "pot'ole" example is pronounced something like [ˈpɑʔtˌəʊl] or [ˈpɑʔˌəʊl], which suggests to me that we are just talking about another allophone of /t/ here. The question is really about /t/ vs /th/, not [t] vs [tʰ]. – Dietrich Epp Mar 2 at 18:53

Some non-compounds spelled th and pronounced /th/ rather than /θ/ are: Thomas, thyme, Thailand, and, sometimes, Neanderthal.

Many natives might tell you that the h is unpronounced—even though when they say the words, they pronounce it clearly. In fact, written t is normally pronounced /th/ even though the h is not written, and most natives don't notice. So, time and thyme are both pronounced the same: /thaɪm/, with the /h/. You can sometimes bring the /h/ to natives' attention by having them hold their hand in front of their mouth as they speak a word containing t, like tell or time or Thomas. The reason they don't notice the /h/ is that in English, /t/ and /th/ are allophones. Native speakers usually don't perceive the /h/ because they hear it as part of the /t/. The /h/ is normally omitted only when /t/ ends a consonant cluster, as in stem. The writing includes no convention for indicating the difference, and indeed most natives are unaware of the difference. The difference usually becomes perceptible to natives only in compound words. For example, if you pronounce posthorn without the /h/, it will sound wrong.

The people who pronounce Neanderthal with /th/ rather than /θ/ are mostly anthropologists trying to reflect the original German—in effect, maintaining it as a German word used in English sentences. As native English speakers, though, when they attempt this, they can't help but aspirate the /t/. Most people, however, fully Anglicize the word and pronounce the th as /θ/.

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What's the difference in pronunciation between: Tomas and Thomas; thyme and time, and thai with tie? – Mari-Lou A Mar 5 at 6:32
@Mari-LouA There's no difference. That's my point. – Ben Kovitz Mar 5 at 6:35
But you're saying that the letter H is audible which justifies its inclusion. So, should tall be spelled "thall"? – Mari-Lou A Mar 5 at 6:39
@Mari-LouA I'm not saying that anything justifies H's inclusion. The OP asked for other words where written TH is pronounced T+H. My answer is that even when the H is not written, it's usually pronounced anyway, because /t/ and /th/ are allophones in English, and here are a few words where, oddly enough, it's both written and pronounced. I'll edit to clarity. – Ben Kovitz Mar 5 at 6:49
@Mari-LouA Tall is phonemically transcribed /tɔl/, but because initial voiceless plosives are aspirated, it's phonetically [tʰɔːɫ]. The superscript ʰ indicates aspiration. – Damian Yerrick Mar 8 at 4:43

In south London is a borough called "Streatham", which is pronounced "stret" + "ham".

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I presume that is a contraction of street (or road) and ham (or village). – Neil Mar 2 at 12:59
@Neil Correct. ...derives its name from having been situated near the great Roman road from Arundel to London; "strete" signifying in the Saxon language a highway, and "ham" a dwelling. british-history.ac.uk/london-environs/vol1/pp478-491 – Stewart Mar 2 at 13:09
I think most people don't pronounce the h at all. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 2 at 22:52
@MattE.Эллен 'course a proper Londoner wouldn't pronounce the T neither. "Stre-'m, guv" – user568458 Mar 3 at 17:39
One pronunciation it's definitely not is "Saint Reetham" (with a 'TH' sound) – Stewart Mar 3 at 17:55

Another example: Thom Yorke, the singer for Radiohead, pronounces his name "Tom".

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This is not the pronunciation under discussion. – Pranab Mar 3 at 10:56
+1, Spencer, good answer! – user1717828 Mar 3 at 11:18
@Pranab Actually, it is. See my answer for the surprising details. – Ben Kovitz Mar 6 at 4:59

protected by Rathony Mar 2 at 10:17

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