Old English verb forms such as "hath" and "doth" are, I believe, normally pronounced with the /θ/ sound as in the word "think."

But somebody once told me that that is actually a mistake. The words, said he, were originally pronounced as present-day "has" and "does" with a /z/ sound. Pronouncing "hath" as /haθ/ rather than /haz/ is a modern mistake, said my source.

Is this true?

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    Did he quote any authority for this? – Barrie England Oct 11 '13 at 19:47
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    No, he did not. That's why I ask here. :-) – oz1cz Oct 11 '13 at 20:07
  • Video of accepted pronunciation in OE, EME and LME: youtube.com/watch?v=hG27snbQGSg -- it all sounds very similar to experts I've heard. – Andrew Leach Oct 11 '13 at 20:12
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    Are you sure he wasn't arguing that "hath" was pronounced /hað/ instead of /haθ/? That sounds slightly more plausible, but still needs expert review... – Merk Oct 11 '13 at 20:46
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    Wait, are you saying that "I can has cheeseburger?" is actually Old English? – JeffSahol Apr 3 '14 at 17:30

Certainly not. I’ve never come across an Old English primer or grammar (I’ve used five or six of them at least) that says anything of the sort!

  • Okay, that's as I suspected. But there must have been a time when the pronunciation changed from /haθ/ to /haz/. And, surely, that change happened before the spelling changed. So there must have been some years when the old spelling was used with the new pronunciation. – oz1cz Oct 11 '13 at 20:05
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    @oz1cz, the change was not one of pronunciation, but of analogy. For a while, the third person singular could end in either /θ/ or /s~z/ with no great difference; then the s forms won out. When people said an s, they would also speak an s. It’s kind of how the past tense of ‘sneak’ can be either ‘sneaked’ or ‘snuck’ colloquially, but nobody would write ‘sneaked’ and then when reading it aloud pronounce it ‘snuck’ (or vice versa). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 11 '13 at 20:24
  • Can you explain more why Old English is relevant? "Hath" and "doth" are archaic modern English. – sumelic Sep 29 '15 at 21:10

OED has the following for the third person singular of have:

3rd pers. sing. has /hæz/ , /həz/ , /əz/ , orig. north.; contracted 's (colloq.); arch. hath /hæθ/.
OE hafaþ, hæfeþ, OE–ME hæfþ, hafeþ, (ME afeð), ME hafð, haueð, habbeð, ME haþ, ME hafueð, hæfueð, hæueð, hauið, (aueþ, abbeþ, aþ), ME heþ, ME–16 (17–18 arch.) hath, (ME avyth, hat, 16 haith).

Note that many of those forms are actually spelled with eth and thorn, indicating that the th was the normal pronunciation. It appears to have changed around the end of the seventeenth century — or at least, hath is noted as archaic during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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    But we don’t know the voicing, do we? – tchrist Oct 11 '13 at 21:11
  • It would depend on the context. Voicing was not significant for ME fricatives; they could be either voiced or voiceless depending on what sounds came before or after them. In Modern English, when reciting archaic formulas, hath is normally pronounced /hæθ/. – John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 21:32

My English Professor, an Englishman by birth and education, insisted that "hath" ought to be pronounced "haz" and insisted that the prononciation "haθ" was never used. Perhaps he was wrong. Yet I am still not convinced on just how the "-th" suffix ought to be pronounced when it is encounted today because if the people of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries pronounced it "haz" would that not make "haθ" incorrect in the 21st century?

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    Looks like we're back to square one on this question. Do you know why your Professor claimed that /haz/ was the correct pronunciation? – oz1cz Apr 4 '14 at 9:58

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