13

I'm wondering how do you pronounce letters when used in place of ordinal numbers.

Examples:

  • The xth root of five.
  • Two to the yth power.
  • The ith odd number.
  • The jth item on the queue.

I know how to pronounce nth, i.e. /ɛnθ/, but I don't think that I can do the same with x, y or other letters (I find it really hard to pronounce /ɛksθ/). Should I spell x-t-h?

  • 3
    If you are ever looking for a rhyme for month, how about /ɛn plʌs wʌnθ/ ? – Henry Nov 2 '15 at 15:01
  • @Henry Shouldn't that be the "en plus first" anway? – Hagen von Eitzen Nov 2 '15 at 16:28
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    @HagenvonEitzen: Personally, I would say nth, n + 1th, n + 2th etc. By contrast, I would say hundred and first etc. but I would see those as different formulations – Henry Nov 2 '15 at 16:35
  • Should "The xth square root of five." be "The xth root of five"? – Joshua Taylor Nov 2 '15 at 19:07
  • @JoshuaTaylor: whoops, fixed! – hipa Nov 2 '15 at 19:08
18

Some native speakers find it difficult to pronounce sixth ( /sɪksθ/ ). It is not uncommon to hear people say 'sikth' ( /sɪkθ/ ). I believe that some are unaware of this mispronunciation.

I personally pronounce 'xth' as /ɛksθ/.

Unfortunately, saying /ɛkθ/ simply sounds wrong so I don't suggest that as an alternative.

If you are reading the expression from a board or a display where the listeners can see it, then you could get away with pronouncing it as /ɛks/. Listeners would tend to fill in the missing sound mentally. (Edit: Another very good approximation is /ɛkst/ )

  • Thanks for your answer. Is "x-t-h" blatantly wrong or just uncommon? – hipa Nov 2 '15 at 10:47
  • 5
    I have never heard 'X.T.H.' spelled out. It sounds wrong to me. Another approximate pronunciation that I would suggest is /ɛkst/ if you find that possible. – chasly from UK Nov 2 '15 at 10:51
  • You should be able to get away with slowing each sound of /ɛksθ/, /ɛk//s//θ/, and then gradually speeding up. – Andrew Leach Nov 2 '15 at 10:57
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    The only ones that would actually be difficult to pronounce are fth, hth, mth, sth and xth. (The "th" is hard to enunciate with zed, but easy to produce.) The rest sound weird because they're not "real" words and are unfamiliar outside of the narrow contexts in which their use would be more-or-less mandatory (speaking about mathematics, where an arbitrary member of a sequence need to be named). I'm sure that if the original namers of our letters had known what sort of nonsense we were going to get up to, they'd have given some of them more felicitous names. – bye Nov 2 '15 at 11:55
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    @bye, +1 for castigating the inventors of English. They made a lot of errors such as having day names of different length (e.g. Friday versus Wednesday) and failing to name them in alphabetical order -- a constant annoyance for such people as computer-programmers and questionnaire designers. – chasly from UK Nov 2 '15 at 11:58
16

In India many people pronounce it as /ɛksəθ/. Having a syllable between s and θ helps people say it.

  • 2
    That seems an excellent idea! I hadn't thought of that. It would certainly be understandable. – chasly from UK Nov 2 '15 at 11:09
  • Is that supposed to be IPA? If so, I can guarantee you that nobody, not even in India, says /eksûth/. – Psychonaut Nov 2 '15 at 12:19
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    It should be /eksəth/. Sorry, my mistake. – Kushagra Agarwal Nov 2 '15 at 12:24
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    @Psychonaut I'm guessing that Kushagra was only trying to emphasize the vowel sound between the x and th, not the rest of the pronunciation. He appears to have incorrectly transcribed the rest of the pronunciation. At a guess, he probably just means /ɛkseθ/ or /ɛksəθ/ – KRyan Nov 2 '15 at 15:44
  • 1
    I've heard this used in Canada as well. I'm guessing that people in the maths and sciences share such things without thinking about them. – Mathieu K. Nov 2 '15 at 19:47

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