"th" words

A common challenge among new cuers is deciding which handshape to use for words containing the digraph “th.” In English, there are several different building blocks (phonemes) that can be represented by the letters “th.” 

Voiceless “th” or /θthth/ - Handshape 7

The voiceless “th” is found in words like thief, throw, and both. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), it is represented by the theta: θ. In a basic phoneic representation, it is sometimes simply represented by lowercase th. The book Gaining Cued Speech Proficiency by Walter J. Beaupre uses the letters xh to represent this phoneme. In speech production, it is made as a voiceless interdental fricative – meaning that the tongue is placed between the teeth, the vocal cords do not vibrate, and that it is a noisy, turbulent sound made by a narrow constriction in the mouth. When cueing, it is produced with handshape 7 – only the index, middle finger, and thumb are extended.

1-Syllable Words

bath, both, cloth, death, eighth, fifth, fourth, ninth, north, Seth, slothsouth, teeth, tenth, thank, themethigh, think, thing, third, thick, thin, thought, thread, threw, thrill, through, throw, thumb, threat, thrust, truth

2-Syllable Words

anthem, athlete, author, bathtub, Catholic, faithful, hundredth, nothing, python, something, thankfulthirty, thunder, threatening, thrilling, Thursday, toothbrush

3-Syllable Words

Athena, Anthony, catheter, Cynthia, synthetic, theatre, thematic, therapy

4-Syllable Words

authority, forsythia, thermometer

5-Syllable Words

anthropology, apothecary, photosynthesis

Voiced “th” or /ðt͟htH/ - Handshape 2

The voiced “th” is found in words like those, brother, and worthy. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) it is represented by the letter eth (pronounced /ɛěehðt͟htH/): ð. It is also sometimes represented by tH (lowercase t and uppercase H), th (italicized th), th (underlined th) and TH (uppercase t and h), as well as combinations of those variations. In speech production, it is considered a voiced interdental fricative. It is produced nearly identically to the /θthth/ above, except with the addition of vocal cord vibration. When cueing, this phoneme is represented with handshape 2. Only the index finger and thumb are fully extended. 

1-Syllable Words

smooth, soothe, than, that, the, them, there, these, they, this, those, though, writhe

2-Syllable Words

bother, clothing, breathing, either, farther, father, feather, further, leather, gather, northern, rhythm, weather

3-Syllable Words

gathering

Other Phonemes

The letters “th” can represent other phonemes as well. They can less commonly (but more accurately) stand for the phonemes /t/ and /h/ as in boathouse. They can also simply represent the phoneme /ttt/ as in Thai, Thomas, thyme.

Instruction

When providing examples to aid students with discrimination, it can be useful to give examples that only differ in the way you wish to highlight. However, there are not many words that differ solely in /θthth/ and /ðt͟htH/. A few examples are provided below:

/θthth

/ðt͟htH/

sooth (as in a sooth sayer) soothe (as in to comfort)
ether (chemical compound) either (as in either/or)

Hearing Students

While hearing, native English speakers generally do not confuse the different pronunciations of “th” while speaking, they do have difficulty consciously perceiving which they are targetting in order to assign a handshape. So while they can say the right sound, they may not be sure which they are saying in a given word. These students are encouraged to feel their vocal cords and assess the “breathiness” of their production to help them decide which handshape to use. It is essential that students be reminded not to whisper while trying to feel for vocal cord vibration as whispering is the act of speaking without using the vocal cords.

Deaf Students and English Language Learners

The linguistic background of students is essential. Many traditional techniques for teaching “th” words rely on the fact that students produce the targets correctly in speech but need to assess what they say in order to cue properly. However, students who have had limited, incomplete, or inaccurate exposure to English may not have an internalized target to assess. In other words, students who learned English as a second language may not know which “th” sounds to produce while speaking. So, they aim for the wrong target because a different pronunciation is in their mind. These students will frequently ask for a pattern to know which words use which “th”. Unfortunately, phonemes are arbitrary and follow no such pattern. Some rules of thumb can be given, but students must be cautioned that exceptions will be common:

Links

  • Which “th” is it? The Games and Quizzes section of DailyCues.com offers this interactive exercise. Ten words are randomly selected from a bank of words. You must decide if the “th” would be cued with handshape 2 (these), handshape 7 (thief), or neither one (Thai). Your answers are checked and you get a percentage of your right answers.
 

thief

  • /θiˈf/
  • /theeˈf/
  • /thēˈf/
  • 7m5s

throw

  • /θroʊˈ/
  • /throhˈ/
  • /thrōˈ/
  • 7s3sf

both

  • /boʊˈθ/
  • /bohˈth/
  • /bōˈth/
  • 4sf7s

bath

  • /bæˈθ/
  • /baˈth/
  • /băˈth/
  • 4t7s

both

  • /boʊˈθ/
  • /bohˈth/
  • /bōˈth/
  • 4sf7s

cloth

  • /klɔˈθ/
  • /klawˈth/
  • /klôˈth/
  • 2s6c7s

death

  • /dɛˈθ/
  • /dehˈth/
  • /děˈth/
  • 1c7s

eighth

  • /eɪˈθ/
  • /ayˈth/
  • /āˈth/
  • 5c5t7s

fifth

  • /fɪˈθ/
  • /fiˈth/
  • /fĭˈth/
  • 5t7s

fourth

  • /foˈrθ/
  • /fohˈrth/
  • /fōˈrth/
  • 5sf3s7s

ninth

  • /nɑɪˈnθ/
  • /nieˈnth/
  • /nīˈnth/
  • 4s5t4s7s

north

  • /noˈrθ/
  • /nohˈrth/
  • /nōˈrth/
  • 4sf3s7s

seth

  • /sɛˈθ/
  • /sehˈth/
  • /sěˈth/
  • 3c7s

sloth

  • /slɔˈθ/
  • /slawˈth/
  • /slôˈth/
  • 3s6c7s

south

  • /sɑʊˈθ/
  • /sowˈth/
  • /sowˈth/
  • 3s5t7s

teeth

  • /tiˈθ/
  • /teeˈth/
  • /tēˈth/
  • 5m7s

tenth

  • /tɛˈnθ/
  • /tehˈnth/
  • /těˈnth/
  • 5c4s7s

thank

  • /θæˈŋk/
  • /thaˈngk/
  • /thăˈngk/
  • 7t8s2s

theme

  • /θiˈm/
  • /theeˈm/
  • /thēˈm/
  • 7m5s

thigh

  • /θɑɪˈ/
  • /thieˈ/
  • /thīˈ/
  • 7s5t

think

  • /θɪˈŋk/
  • /thiˈngk/
  • /thĭˈngk/
  • 7t8s2s

thing

  • /θɪˈŋ/
  • /thiˈng/
  • /thĭˈng/
  • 7t8s

third

  • /θɚˈd/
  • /thurˈd/
  • /thûrˈd/
  • 7m1s

thick

  • /θɪˈk/
  • /thiˈk/
  • /thĭˈk/
  • 7t2s

thin

  • /θɪˈn/
  • /thiˈn/
  • /thĭˈn/
  • 7t4s

thought

  • /θɔˈt/
  • /thawˈt/
  • /thôˈt/
  • 7c5s

thread

  • /θrɛˈd/
  • /threhˈd/
  • /thrěˈd/
  • 7s3c1s

threw

  • /θruˈ/
  • /thrueˈ/
  • /thro͞oˈ/
  • 7s3c

thrill

  • /θrɪˈl/
  • /thriˈl/
  • /thrĭˈl/
  • 7s3t6s

through

  • /θruˈ/
  • /thrueˈ/
  • /thro͞oˈ/
  • 7s3c

throw

  • /θroʊˈ/
  • /throhˈ/
  • /thrōˈ/
  • 7s3sf

thumb

  • /θʌˈm/
  • /thuhˈm/
  • /thŭˈm/
  • 7sd5s

threat

  • /θrɛˈt/
  • /threhˈt/
  • /thrěˈt/
  • 7s3c5s

thrust

  • /θrʌˈst/
  • /thruhˈst/
  • /thrŭˈst/
  • 7s3sd3s5s

truth

  • /truˈθ/
  • /trueˈth/
  • /tro͞oˈth/
  • 5s3c7s

anthem

  • /æˈnθəm/
  • /aˈnthəm/
  • /ăˈnthəm/
  • 5t4s7sd5s

athlete

  • /æˈθliˌt/
  • /aˈthleeˌt/
  • /ăˈthlēˌt/
  • 5t7s6m5s

author

  • /ɔˈθɚ/
  • /awˈthur/
  • /ôˈthûr/
  • 5c7m

bathtub

  • /bæˈθtəb/
  • /baˈthtəb/
  • /băˈthtəb/
  • 4t7s5sd4s

Catholic

  • /kæˈθlɪk/
  • /kaˈthlik/
  • /kăˈthlĭk/
  • 2t7s6t2s

faithful

  • /feɪˈθfəl/
  • /fayˈthfəl/
  • /fāˈthfəl/
  • 5c5t7s5sd6s

hundredth

  • /hʌˈndrədθ/
  • /huhˈndrədth/
  • /hŭˈndrədth/
  • 3sd4s1s3sd1s7s

nothing

  • /nʌˈθɪŋ/
  • /nuhˈthing/
  • /nŭˈthĭng/
  • 4sd7t8s

python

  • /pɑɪˈθɑn/
  • /pieˈthahn/
  • /pīˈthän/
  • 1s5t7sf4s

something

  • /sʌˈmθɪŋ/
  • /suhˈmthing/
  • /sŭˈmthĭng/
  • 3sd5s7t8s

thankful

  • /θæˈŋkfəl/
  • /thaˈngkfəl/
  • /thăˈngkfəl/
  • 7t8s2s5sd6s

thirty

  • /θɚˈtiˌ/
  • /thurˈteeˌ/
  • /thûrˈtēˌ/
  • 7m5m

thunder

  • /θʌˈndɚ/
  • /thuhˈndur/
  • /thŭˈndûr/
  • 7sd4s1m

threatening

  • /θrɛˈtnɪŋ/
  • /threhˈtning/
  • /thrěˈtnĭng/
  • 7s3c5s4t8s

thrilling

  • /θrɪˈlɪŋ/
  • /thriˈling/
  • /thrĭˈlĭng/
  • 7s3t6t8s

Thursday

  • /θɚˈzdeɪˌ/
  • /thurˈzdayˌ/
  • /thûrˈzdāˌ/
  • 7m2s1c5t

toothbrush

  • /tuˈθbrəʃ/
  • /tueˈthbrəsh/
  • /to͞oˈthbrəsh/
  • 5c7s4s3sd6s

Athena

  • /əθiˈnə/
  • /ətheeˈnə/
  • /əthēˈnə/
  • 5sd7m4sd

Anthony

  • /æˈnθəni/
  • /aˈnthənee/
  • /ăˈnthənē/
  • 5t4s7sd4m

catheter

  • /kæˈθətɚ/
  • /kaˈthətur/
  • /kăˈthətûr/
  • 2t7sd5m

Cynthia

  • /sɪˈnθiə/
  • /siˈntheeə/
  • /sĭˈnthēə/
  • 3t4s7m5sd

synthetic

  • /sɪnθɛˈtɪk/
  • /sinthehˈtik/
  • /sĭnthěˈtĭk/
  • 3t4s7c5t2s

theatre

  • /θiˈətɚ/
  • /theeˈətur/
  • /thēˈətûr/
  • 7m5sd5m

thematic

  • /θimæˈtɪk/
  • /theemaˈtik/
  • /thēmăˈtĭk/
  • 7m5t5t2s

therapy

  • /θɛˈrəpi/
  • /thehˈrəpee/
  • /thěˈrəpē/
  • 7c3sd1m

authority

  • /əθɔˈrəti/
  • /əthawˈrətee/
  • /əthôˈrətē/
  • 5sd7c3sd5m

forsythia

  • /fɔrsɪˈθiə/
  • /fawrsiˈtheeə/
  • /fôrsĭˈthēə/
  • 5c3s3t7m5sd

thermometer

  • /θɚmɑˈmətɚ/
  • /thurmahˈmətur/
  • /thûrmäˈmətûr/
  • 7m5sf5sd5m

anthropology

  • /æˌnθrəpɑˈləʤi/
  • /aˌnthrəpahˈləjee/
  • /ăˌnthrəpäˈləjē/
  • 5t4s7s3sd1sf6sd7m

apothecary

  • /əpɑˈθəkɛˌri/
  • /əpahˈthəkehˌree/
  • /əpäˈthəkěˌrē/
  • 5sd1sf7sd2c3m

photosynthesis

  • /foʊˌtoʊsɪˈnθəsɪs/
  • /fohˌtohsiˈnthəsis/
  • /fōˌtōsĭˈnthəsĭs/
  • 5sf5sf3t4s7sd3t3s

those

  • /ðoʊˈz/
  • /tHohˈz/
  • /t͟hōˈz/
  • 2sf2s

brother

  • /brʌˈðɚ/
  • /bruhˈtHur/
  • /brŭˈt͟hûr/
  • 4s3sd2m

worthy

  • /wɚˈði/
  • /wurˈtHee/
  • /wûrˈt͟hē/
  • 6m2m

smooth

  • /smuˈð/
  • /smueˈtH/
  • /smo͞oˈt͟h/
  • 3s5c2s

soothe

  • /suˈð/
  • /sueˈtH/
  • /so͞oˈt͟h/
  • 3c2s

than

  • /ðæˈn/
  • /tHaˈn/
  • /t͟hăˈn/
  • 2t4s

that

  • /ðæˈt/
  • /tHaˈt/
  • /t͟hăˈt/
  • 2t5s

the

  • /ðʌˈ/
  • /tHuhˈ/
  • /t͟hŭˈ/
  • 2sd

them

  • /ðɛˈm/
  • /tHehˈm/
  • /t͟hěˈm/
  • 2c5s

there

  • /ðɛˈr/
  • /tHehˈr/
  • /t͟hěˈr/
  • 2c3s

these

  • /ðiˈz/
  • /tHeeˈz/
  • /t͟hēˈz/
  • 2m2s

they

  • /ðeɪˈ/
  • /tHayˈ/
  • /t͟hāˈ/
  • 2c5t

this

  • /ðɪˈs/
  • /tHiˈs/
  • /t͟hĭˈs/
  • 2t3s

those

  • /ðoʊˈz/
  • /tHohˈz/
  • /t͟hōˈz/
  • 2sf2s

though

  • /ðoʊˈ/
  • /tHohˈ/
  • /t͟hōˈ/
  • 2sf

writhe

  • /rɪˈð/
  • /riˈtH/
  • /rĭˈt͟h/
  • 3t2s

bother

  • /bɑˈðɚ/
  • /bahˈtHur/
  • /bäˈt͟hûr/
  • 4sf2m

clothing

  • /kloʊˈðɪŋ/
  • /klohˈtHing/
  • /klōˈt͟hĭng/
  • 2s6sf2t8s

breathing

  • /briˈðɪŋ/
  • /breeˈtHing/
  • /brēˈt͟hĭng/
  • 4s3m2t8s

either

  • /ɑɪˈðɚ/
  • /ieˈtHur/
  • /īˈt͟hûr/
  • 5s5t2m

farther

  • /fɑˈrðɚ/
  • /fahˈrtHur/
  • /fäˈrt͟hûr/
  • 5sf3s2m

father

  • /fɑˈðɚ/
  • /fahˈtHur/
  • /fäˈt͟hûr/
  • 5sf2m

feather

  • /fɛˈðɚ/
  • /fehˈtHur/
  • /fěˈt͟hûr/
  • 5c2m

further

  • /fɚˈðɚ/
  • /furˈtHur/
  • /fûrˈt͟hûr/
  • 5m2m

leather

  • /lɛˈðɚ/
  • /lehˈtHur/
  • /lěˈt͟hûr/
  • 6c2m

gather

  • /gæˈðɚ/
  • /gaˈtHur/
  • /găˈt͟hûr/
  • 7t2m

northern

  • /nɔˈrðɚn/
  • /nawˈrtHurn/
  • /nôˈrt͟hûrn/
  • 4c3s2m4s

rhythm

  • /rɪˈðəm/
  • /riˈtHəm/
  • /rĭˈt͟həm/
  • 3t2sd5s

weather

  • /wɛˈðɚ/
  • /wehˈtHur/
  • /wěˈt͟hûr/
  • 6c2m

gathering

  • /gæˈðɚɪŋ/
  • /gaˈtHuring/
  • /găˈt͟hûrĭng/
  • 7t2m5t8s

boathouse

  • /boʊˈthɑʊˈs/
  • /bohˈthowˈs/
  • /bōˈthowˈs/
  • 4sf5s3s5t3s

Thai

  • /tɑɪˈ/
  • /tieˈ/
  • /tīˈ/
  • 5s5t

Thomas

  • /tɑˈməs/
  • /tahˈməs/
  • /täˈməs/
  • 5sf5sd3s

thyme

  • /tɑɪˈm/
  • /tieˈm/
  • /tīˈm/
  • 5s5t5s

sooth

  • /suˈθ/
  • /sueˈth/
  • /so͞oˈth/
  • 3c7s

soothe

  • /suˈð/
  • /sueˈtH/
  • /so͞oˈt͟h/
  • 3c2s

ether

  • /iˈθɚ/
  • /eeˈthur/
  • /ēˈthûr/
  • 5m7m

either

  • /iˈðɚ/
  • /eeˈtHur/
  • /ēˈt͟hûr/
  • 5m2m

mother

  • /mʌˈðɚ/
  • /muhˈtHur/
  • /mŭˈt͟hûr/
  • 5sd2m

father

  • /fɑˈðɚ/
  • /fahˈtHur/
  • /fäˈt͟hûr/
  • 5sf2m

brother

  • /brʌˈðɚ/
  • /bruhˈtHur/
  • /brŭˈt͟hûr/
  • 4s3sd2m

they

  • /ðeɪˈ/
  • /tHayˈ/
  • /t͟hāˈ/
  • 2c5t

them

  • /ðɛˈm/
  • /tHehˈm/
  • /t͟hěˈm/
  • 2c5s

this

  • /ðɪˈs/
  • /tHiˈs/
  • /t͟hĭˈs/
  • 2t3s

that

  • /ðæˈt/
  • /tHaˈt/
  • /t͟hăˈt/
  • 2t5s

these

  • /ðiˈz/
  • /tHeeˈz/
  • /t͟hēˈz/
  • 2m2s

those

  • /ðoʊˈz/
  • /tHohˈz/
  • /t͟hōˈz/
  • 2sf2s

teeth

  • /tiˈθ/
  • /teeˈth/
  • /tēˈth/
  • 5m7s

teethe

  • /tiˈð/
  • /teeˈtH/
  • /tēˈt͟h/
  • 5m2s

breath

  • /brɛˈθ/
  • /brehˈth/
  • /brěˈth/
  • 4s3c7s

breathe

  • /briˈð/
  • /breeˈtH/
  • /brēˈt͟h/
  • 4s3m2s

bath

  • /bæˈθ/
  • /baˈth/
  • /băˈth/
  • 4t7s

bathe

  • /beɪˈð/
  • /bayˈtH/
  • /bāˈt͟h/
  • 4c5t2s

cloth

  • /klɔˈθ/
  • /klawˈth/
  • /klôˈth/
  • 2s6c7s

clothe

  • /kloʊˈð/
  • /klohˈtH/
  • /klōˈt͟h/
  • 2s6sf2s