How do you all pronounce the TH sound when speaking fast?

For example, I've learned to pronounce the TH sound like a continuant sound, for example the hard one: ð. I start doing a Z, so this Z go between the the teeth and creates the TH sound. Like a lisp (definition by Macmillan).

But when I speak very fast, the sound becomes like-stop way. That sounds to me like a big difference, it's so different like a "SH" (continuous) and a "CH" (stop).

When I hear native speakers, most of the time their TH sound sounds like a D did behind the upper teeth; I think this Wikipedia did call "Dental Approximant".

But is very confusing to me, because they're three differents sounds, the TH continuant, the TH stop and the TH approximant.

I would really like to pronounce the continuant one, but sometimes it's impossible, sometimes I just stay silent when I don't know what sounds right and natural. For example when I say, "The Rules" I might use the approximant or the stop, just for shame.

According to Wikipedia, ð is continuous and the others are variations.

I saw people just doing a T or a D between their teeth. But, this sound more different yet, because I can do a N, L the same way, so this T/D are just T/D in different places.

I saw that sometimes people pronounce approximants on TH beginning words, and continuants on the middle of words.

Are these variations natural, how do you do your TH? What is considered normal? How do you learn it at school? Is it impossible to run away from these variations? Does it sound weird if I say "THen" like "ZHen", the ZH represents a "Z lisp"?

P.S: the unvoiced TH shows these variations: Continuant is S with a lisp, stop S with lisp and the T dental approximant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiced_dental_fricative http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2981115/

Sorry for the errors, I've stopped studying grammar because I just need to learn this first.

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    Both English phonemes spelled TH are fricatives (consonants with continuous friction). TH represents the voiceless interdental fricative phoneme /θ/ in theocracy, thistle, ether, thigh, and width, but the voiced interdental fricative phoneme /ð/ in the other, this, either, thy, and with (though with actually swings both ways). Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 0:14
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    If you're a first language is Spanish, then /ð/ (as in then), will sound like a /d/ to you when it occurs between vowels. The reason for this is that in Spanish the voiced stops /b,d,g/ become fricatives when they occur between vowels. /d/, dental for most Spanish speakers will be realised as a dental fricative [ð], the same as English /ð/. E.g. in /cada vez/ the first word will be realised as [kaða] not [kada]. However, /ð/ in other positions, eg at the beginning of an utterance, won't sound like /d/ like to Spanish speakers because [ð] doesn't occur here as an allophone of /d/ in Spanish. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 11:25
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    @Araucaria This is often said, but many seem to forget that intravocalic /d/ in Spanish is more often an approximant than a fricative in normal speech, which is never the case with English /ð/. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 16:56
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Was going to add /approximant but, word count, had to delete it (plus couldn't get diacritics). In actual fact, though, /ð/ is most often realised an approximant. The tongue makes dental contact but there is an absence of any kind of frication and the intra-oral pressure does not increase - pretty much exactly the same as Spanish intervocalic /d/. See p.141-2 here (especially top of p. 142). Would have used different source but this is pdf (written by Bev Collins though) Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 17:25
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    @Araucaria Sadly, the IPA doesn’t seem to really be able to cope with degrees of lowering—the Spanish approximant /ð̞/ is much laxer than any English /ð̞/ native speakers produce in normal speech. The English one is post-dental to a certain degree, but the Spanish one is both lowered and retracted in comparison, with the only dental contact being often on the bottom side of the tongue. (Spanish shares this typologically unusual place of articulation with Danish /ð/.) Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


In standard English, 'th' is always a dental fricative, a non-stopping, continuous movement of air between the tip of the tongue right and the bottom of the top teeth. It is almost exactly the lisp sound.

It is a rare sound in the world's languages, so most language leaners of English have trouble pronouncing it and attempt to approximate it by the fricatives s/z or the stop t/d.

There are some non-standard varieties of English that use t/d naturally instead of the fricative, like for example Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, or any number of street-wise New Yorkers. So don't emulate this unless you want to sound very urban (and a bit out-of-date)

As with most phonetic things, learning it comes with practice and listening and more practice. For 'th' in particular, a little bit of your tongue sticks past the top teeth, so may feel weird (or even rude depending on your culture).

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    Though dialects like Rocky's generally use a dental [t] and [d], to maintain the contrast with normal English alveolar /t/ and /d/. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 2:21
  • Thank you Mitch, I got, when you say very fast, the TH doesn't sound like stop, like a D made between the teeth? Really John, this dental [t] and [d] I was trying to say hehe Sometimes is impossible to keep even the dental fricative with stop, just turn in a dental. I just say the canonical way, when I speak slowly and conscious. I like how magic they sounds, so perfect hehe,especially when the unvoiced goes to the end of the words. Like path... Thank you guys G_G
    – Apprentice
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 2:36
  • Aprendice, are you a Spanish speaker by any chance? If so, I think I might know what's happening here. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 9:07
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    Aprendice, no matter what your teachers say and no matter what you hear and do, colored by your years of experience with your native language, it's never a stop in standard English, fast or slow, in between vowels, beginning or end of words, or next to other consonants.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:11
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    Aprendice, sorry if I'm not being clear. I do understand that the 'th' is difficult to pronounce correctly if you didn't grow up with it and there will be a great tendency to pronounce it as you do. What I'm trying to tell you as that to remove you confusion, things are as I said, 'th' is never a stop. That is not confusing at all. It is still very difficult for you, I get that. It's just very simple,'th' is always a fricative. Difficult to do but very easy to understand. If you find yourself wanting to do 'th' as a stop (plosive) then that is wrong. Always a fricative. Never a stop. Easy.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 16:05

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