First of all, I'm not a native speaker (I'm a Vietnamese) and I'm still learning English as my university major (using American accent, mostly) so I can't really say I'm as fluent as a native speaker.

However, I can say I have no problem pronouncing the voiceless "th" (/θ/) as taught by many sources including my lecturers by placing the tip of your tongue between your teeth but just blow air through your mouth without vibrating your vocal cords. My pronunciation of, say "think", always sounds like a little bit of air at the beginning (when I place my finger in front of my mouth, I can feel the air blown out), followed by the sound of "ink".

So here's the thing I find irritating: when watching American TV shows, movies and especially listening to pop music, I usually (if not always) hear they pronounce/enunciate this "th" sound like a hard /t/ as in "thing", "something", "think", "thought" (this one sounds exactly like /tot/), etc. in fast speaking situations. They sound like they do place the tip of their tongues between their teeth but no air was blown out of the mouth, thus making the sound of /θ/ somewhat voiced.

So my question is, is this a correct way to produce the sound of the voiceless "th" or is this just a matter of dialect?

Thank you!

  • It's an accent, not a dialect, but yes, basically, your hunch is correct. There are some immigrants to the U.S. who do what you noticed with the tongue. At some point, people who spoke this way started to seem cool (attractive), and it became somewhat common (more with men than women, I think) to imitate this T and TH, even if one had not learned it from one's parents. Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 4:35
  • I think it's particularly associated with the New York City and northern New Jersey areas, and goes along with pronouncing "bird" and "word" as /boid/ and /woid/. Watch the old Bowery Boys movies, movies based on Damon Runyon stories, or the TV shows "All in the Family" and "The Honeymooners".
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:39
  • 3
    "usually (if not always)"??? I doubt the speakers/singers on TV are doing this as often as that! I suggest you're hearing it where it doesn't always occur. You can go to Forvo.com and look up words that begin with 'th' and listen to how native speakers pronounce them. I doubt more than 1% will be pronounced the way you describe. And entertainers don't adopt this weird pronunciation just because they're on TV or in the movies or singing songs. Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 19:11
  • @aparente001 can you find a source?
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 21:53
  • It’s definitely true that it’s perfectly common in AmE to pronounce both /θ/ and /ð/ as interdental affricates or even plosives, rather than as fricatives. That’s probably what you’re hearing. What you have to note is the difference between those and the regular alveolar plosives that /t/ and /d/ represent. Even to people who pronounce them all as plosives or affricates, the two sets are phonetically distinct from each other, and no native speaker would get them mixed up. Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


Both interdental fricatives found in English (/ð/ as in "father", and /θ/ as in "thank") are uncommon among other human languages, consequently many non-native English speakers (and speakers of some native dialects, like Cajun) can have a hard time learning to pronounce them. As mentioned in the comments (thanks @aparente001), the substitutions made by non-native speakers (like /d/ and /t/) can spread to native speakers through media and pop culture. This may be especially common in song because of the demands to rapidly articulate consonants between notes.

However, you are right to study and practice as you are, because if in everyday speech, you fail to pronounce the interdental fricatives where appropriate, your performance will strike native speakers as foreign.

  • I don't think the phenomenon is anywhere close to the "usually (if not always)" that the OP mentions. Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 19:08
  • @Clare That's a good point; maybe OP is talking about something else... Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 22:24

The hard T you mentioned concerning how and when Americans use it, is something I believe you are not hearing it properly. You used the word thought and you stated that much of the time you hear 'tot' instead. That is certainly not how a vast majority of Americans pronounce the word and that's down to regional accents.

I'm a citizen of the US and live in the UK, England to be exact and have lived here 17 years and counting. I have heard many accents and, in each Country making up the UK have numerous accents and, it's the Irish (don't forget that Northern Ireland makes up part of the UK)that pronounce a hard T when saying words that begin with 'th'. Three sounds like tree, thought sounds like tot, and so on.

You mentioned that when you listen to songs there in the USA, you often hear it. Please remember that every song sung on American radio or on videos on American TV is not performed by Americans. Up in certain States of the Northeast you will hear accents that have an Americanized version of English accents. In the USA there are many immigrants who although they speak English as a native tongue, they speak it with accents they learned from their home Countries and, they teach often their children to speak with their accents.

I do want to make mention that the English accents we hear today are not what was spoken with prior to the 17th Century. Before then they sounded more like Americans. The wealthy then wanted a 'language' to make themselves look posh, in order not to sound like the poor so they began speaking like the English do now but, it caught on with everyone and the wealthy could only then speak with a much more posh accent, that now sounds snobbish.

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