s following th is really hard for me. My tongue is never fast enough. I wonder if there is any reduction here. How do you pronounce it?

  • youtube.com/watch?v=KtkfE_OWSzo 1980's Smiths Crisps advert - near the end. – Frank Feb 5 '15 at 16:02
  • I pronounce it as "Smith", but with a hiss on the end. Make a hissing sound like a snake, with your tongue behind the upper teeth but not touching, while you blow air through. The tongue will have just touched the bottom edge of the upper teeth to make the "th" sound, so it naturally falls into the right position if you just retract it a hair. – Hot Licks Feb 5 '15 at 18:51

Native speakers of English typically do not reduce the th-s transition at all. The th sound, though famously difficult for people learning English as adults, usually poses no problem for people who learn to speak it as young children. To me it feels perfectly natural to go from th directly into s and I do it without a second thought.

If you have difficulty with th-s, you might just go ahead and pronounce "Smiths" as "Smits", which should be well enough understood by most people.

  • 2
    Probably more common is ‘Smiss’, assimilating the fricatives into a single, sibilant, one. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 5 '15 at 15:41
  • @Janus: I practically never hear that unless someone is really slurring many other words. – Robusto Feb 5 '15 at 15:53
  • 2
    @Robusto I think most likely you probably do—you just don’t notice. If I say something like “I just need to stop by the Smiths’ house on the way to pick up something” in normal, rapid (AmE) speech, there’s a very good chance it’ll come out something like [ˈɑʲʊ̯sniˑɾə.ˈstɑʔbaðə̯.ˈsmɪs̪ˑˌaʊs], with only the vaguest hint of the erstwhile [θ], which makes the slightly prolonged [s] into a slightly dentalised [s̪], taking over some of the interdentality of the [θ] but retaining the sibilance of the [s]. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 5 '15 at 16:08
  • 1
    Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by audible. I do hear the attempt, the way French people hear all those consonants that sound missing to my ears. – Robusto Feb 5 '15 at 16:10
  • I say a long dental [s̪:], similar to @JanusBahsJacquet. (Dentals also show up in "tenth" [tʰɛ̃n̪t̪].) (I grew up in NW Ohio.) – Greg Lee Feb 5 '15 at 17:19

Here is an audio example.

When you make a "th" sound, your tongue should be in between your top and bottom teeth, touching at least your top row of teeth.

To then make the "s" sound, your tongue needs to slide from touching your teeth to touching the roof of your mouth, behind your top teeth.

For both "th" and "s" sounds you are blowing air out to creat the sound. Just practice moving your tongue from between your teeth back to the roof of your mouth while continuously breathing out the whole time.

  • That is not what "aspirated" means to a phonetician. In phonetics, "aspiration" refers to the puff of breath that may follow a stop consonant; for example, in most varieties of English, the initial 'p' in 'pin' is aspirated, unlike the 'p' in 'spin'. The sounds you are talking about are known as 'fricatives'. – Colin Fine Feb 6 '15 at 0:33
  • Thanks, Colin! I mixed up my terms - too much teaching and not enough linguistic theory. I've edited my answer to reflect this. – Joey M-H Feb 6 '15 at 12:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.