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I have realized that to pronounce the plural form of words ending in -th, we have to drop the letter "h". e.g. Months is pronounced /mʌnts/. But I have never seen this point mentioned in any context. I just want to make sure that this rule is correct and can be always applied.

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The plural of -nth may be /-nts/ (or /ns/ or /-nθs/); but moth, for instance, becomes /mɒðz/. The n is important. –  Daniel Jan 12 '12 at 1:10
+1 Good question from a non-native speaker of English. –  Kris Mar 17 at 15:10
Never mind various things you get to hear about it, many native and most non-native speakers of English, surprisingly, can and do pronounce them just the way they are spelt, e.g., /mʌnθs/. –  Kris Mar 17 at 15:16
Not checked, please take a look at this as well: youtube.com/watch?v=6S-gtp08k4E –  Kris Mar 17 at 15:23
There really is no way around pronouncing the full words. –  plmadding Mar 17 at 15:31

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The standard pronunciation of a word such as months is /mʌnθs/, as Barrie indicated. Here the /θ/ symbol indicates the th sound as found at the beginning of thin or the end of month.

However, you've correctly noticed that the word months is not often pronounced that way, and many people do indeed say something like /mʌnts/, using /t/ rather than /θ/ for the second-to-last sound. There are two things going on here:

  1. The sequence of sounds /θs/ is very difficult to say, and it is very often reduced to simple /s/, especially in rapid speech.
  2. The sequence /ns/ is also somewhat difficult to say, as the transition from nasal /n/ to voiceless spirant /s/ is problematic. The letter s following n is usually pronounced as /z/; where we have an actual /s/ sound following /n/, a /t/ often gets inserted in pronunciation. For example, the word chance often sounds just like the word chants. This intrusive /t/ is called an epenthetic consonant.

So I believe that what's really going on here is a two-stage process:

θs > s    (deletion)
ns > nts  (epenthesis)

Both halves of this process can be frequently observed in a variety of words, while the direct change from /θ/ > /t/ is not widely attested.

This does not mean that the pronunciation /mʌnts/ is incorrect. It is, in fact, one of the most common spoken forms of this word, and it occurs because of normal, unobjectionable phonological processes in spoken English. You absolutely should not feel like there's anything wrong with months as munts.

Note that in any case it's very misleading to talk about "dropping the h". There is no /h/ sound anywhere in either pronunciation. The spelling convention th is just an orthographic convenience, and the th sound /θ/ has nothing to do with /h/.

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+1: While I can believe that some people pronounce months as /mʌnts/, I find it hard to believe that anybody pronounces faiths as /feɪts/. –  Peter Shor Jan 11 '12 at 17:59
@Peter Shor: I'm pretty certain that most if not all Caribbean speakers go for /feɪts/. I've known a few such, and they all do this. –  FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 18:02
@Random832: tenths, tents, and tense. Also maybe absinthes and absence. –  Peter Shor Jan 11 '12 at 18:49
@FumbleFingers, but in Caribbean dialects, the change of /θ/ to /t/ is a general phenomenon, not something provoked by adjacency to /s/. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 11 '12 at 20:29
@JSBᾶngs: I only flagged it up because of Peter's comment, not specifically relating to /θs/. I do recall discussing /θ/ with one of my Caribbean friends who actually found it quite difficult to articulate that sound at the end of words. She habitually pronounced it "correctly" at the start of words - being naturalised British, she worked harder on that one because she thought saying dat for that, and ting for thing would mark her as uneducated. She just didn't see it that way for /θ/ at the end of words. –  FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 21:11

Where I live, ‘months’ is pronounced /mʌnθs/.

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Same where I live, except that when folks are talkin fast, the vowel might rise to /ə/ and the cluster might simplify to /ns/. –  John Lawler Jan 11 '12 at 17:27

Wait, no. "months" is pronounced "munths" — the "th" has the same sound as in the singular, you just add the "s" to the end. Perhaps some dialects drop the "h", but that's not standard English. Not American English anyway.

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The same in English English, for that matter. Losing the "h" is something I've only noticed in American gangster movies... –  Mike Woodhouse Jan 16 '12 at 16:01

Usually, when people pronounce the word "months" there is a process of th cluster simplification. The unvoiced 'TH' sound, /θ/, gets dropped.

  • /mʌnθs/ ----> /mʌns/

However, if you want to make the sound for this word so that it's very native speaker-like, then you need to be careful to make the /n/ sound using your tongue behind your front top teeth. It won't sound so good if you make the sound with your tongue on the alveolar ridge (that's the little shelf behind your top teeth, where native English speakers pronounce /n/).

Occasionally, you might hear a native speaker accidentally introduce a little /t/ sound between the /n/ and the /s/. You don't need to worry about this. It just sometimes happens when speakers switch from /n/ to /s/ in normal speech.

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+1, Araucaria, fascinating discipline of which I am totally ignorant. I followed your illustrations just to confirm. –  Little Eva Mar 17 at 16:19

Singular nouns in English that already end in unvoiced fricatives usually form plurals by adding voicing the fricative and then /z/ to then end. This is not constant across all words and speakers, but is a general trend left over from ancient forms of the language. Voicing the fricative also makes any ‘Canadian rising’ disappear, and the vowel tends to lengthen a bit compared with the singular form (not always so marked below).

  • house /hʌus/ > houses /ˈhaʊzəz/
  • elf /ɛlf/ > elves /ɛlvz/
  • wolf /wʊlf/ > wolves /wʊlvz/
  • wife /wʌif/ > wives /waɪvz/
  • calf /kæf/ > calves /kævz/
  • leaf /li(ː)f/ > leaves /liːvz/
  • scarf /skʌɹf/ > scarves /skɑɹvz/
  • bath /bæθ/ > baths /bæðz/
  • moth /mɔθ/ > moths /mɔðz/
  • birth /bɝθ/ > births /bɝðz/ (I don’t know how to rightly show the height difference in those two vowels; should it be /bɚðz/ for the second? Somehow, I don’t think so. But the first one is a higher vowel. Compare pert with bird, for example.)
  • mouth /mʌuθ/ > mouths /maʊðz/
  • booth /buθ/ > booths /buːðz/
  • scythe /sʌiθ/ > scythes /saɪðz/
  • path /pæθ/ > paths /pæðz/
  • sheath /ʃi(ː)θ/ > sheaths /ʃiːðz/
  • cloth /klɔθ/ > (originally) clothes /kloʊðz/
  • oath /o(ʊ)θ/ > oaths /oʊðz/
  • wreath /ɹi(ː)θ/ > wreaths /ɹiːðz/
  • youth /ju(ː)θ/ > youths /juːðz/

The same thing occurs when forming the third-person singular of present tense verbs whose base forms end in fricatives. However, verbs are much more likely to be already voiced at the end anyway, as in the unvoiced endings of house, bath, cloth, half, and wolf as nouns, contrasting with the voiced endings of house, bathe, clothe, halve, and wolve as verbs.

However, in words like fifth, sixth, ninth, twelfth, and month, this doesn’t occur, so month /mʌnθ/ becomes months /mʌnθs/ or even /mʌns/, depending on the care of the speaker. I would say that the /θ/ is normally dropped in all but the most exacting of speech. The same sort of thing also tends to occur with the others I just mentioned, so fifths might be any of /fɪfθs/, /fɪθs/, or /fɪs/.

Those complex consonant clusters are all pretty much guaranteed to cause conniptions in non-native speakers whose mother tongues don’t include /θ/ — and sometimes even if they do. Both sixths and twelfths have four consonsant sounds in a row. This can be a nightmare if one’s native language doesn’t have liquid s’s, such as Spanish or Portuguese.

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Wolve is a verb? Who says? Certainly not Ngrams. –  Peter Shor Jan 12 '12 at 2:23
@PeterShor Quoth the OED, but of course! "< inflectional stem of wolf n. 1. intr. (also with it). To behave like a wolf, play the wolf. 2. Of an organ: To give forth a hollow wailing sound like the howl of a wolf, from deficient wind-supply." 1st citation: 1702 C. Mather Magnalia Christi III. iii. ii. 187/2 — If any Seducers were let loose to wolve it among the good People of Roxbury. –  tchrist Jan 12 '12 at 7:05
@PeterShor The verb to calve from the noun calf is the same sort of thing. It’s just the way these things work, and have always worked, in English. That one even has a first OED citation from c 1000 in Ælfric’s Homilies. Here’s another: “1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomew de Glanville De Proprietatibus Rerum (1495) xvii. xlix. 632 — A Hynde‥etith this herbe [diptannus] that she may calue eselier and soner.” And from 1523: “J. Fitzherbert Bk. Husbandrie §70 — If a cowe be fatte, whan she shall calve, than‥the calfe shall be the lesse.” –  tchrist Jan 12 '12 at 7:23
house /hʌus/ > houses /ˈhaʊzəz/: Not in my neck of the woods. The plural of /hʌus/ is /ˈhʌsəz/, not /ˈhaʊzəz/. The latter is sometimes used as a verb conjugation. /bɝθ/ > births /bɝðz/: Again, not in my experience in the US. /bɝðz/ is a conjugated form of verb meaning "to give birth to". More than one /bɝθ/ are called /bɝθz/, homophonic to "berths". –  Spoxjox Feb 3 '12 at 22:27
@Spoxjox I have a friend who’s an Australian CompSci prof who was at first unbelieving, then absolutely mortified when I suggested to him that any native speaker of English anywhere pronounced the plural of house without voicing the first s. Similarly with birth. One always voices the final consonant for the plural noun inflections (although not for the genitive singular). One doesn’t speak of elfs or wolfs or all the rest of them. And yes, I’m a native speaker of American English from the Inland North. I don’t have the cot–caught merger, and my family are educators and professionals. –  tchrist Feb 3 '12 at 22:27

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 7 '12 at 20:58

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