Study English Phrases with the word ‘the’: ‘at the’, ‘in the’, ‘is the’, ‘with the’, ‘for the’, and ‘on the’. The TH sounds can be very tough — learn tips and shortcuts to make the TH sound in these phrases easier.
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A lot of non-native speakers have problems with the TH sound. In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to study the word THE in several phrases to show you the tricks and shortcuts that Americans use easily link the TH to other sounds.
We are going to study several examples of function word phrases with ‘the’. I’ve already made a video that goes over the pronunciation of ‘the’. To see that video with real-life examples, follow the link at the end of the video.
Here we’re going to focus on linking the word THE to other words. We’ll study up-close, slow motion video of the mouth saying various two-word phrases with THE. At the, in the, is the, with the, for the, and on the. All of these common combinations are made up of two function words, so they’ll be very fast and not too clear. If you pronounce these words very clearly and fully, it will not sound natural. She’s AT THE store. This is not how we speak. She’s at the store, at the, at the. It’s important to capture the character of American English by saying function word phrases this way. Linking the TH can be hard when you’re trying to do it quickly, so let’s learn some short cuts to make it easier.
Let’s start by studying AT THE. The vowel in AT can be AA, but you’ll usually hear it as the schwa, uh, at the, at the, uht the. In the slow motion video, you’ll see AA, with more jaw drop. How do we quickly make the T followed by TH? At the, at the, at…the. You probably don’t hear a T, do you? That’s because it’s a Stop T here, followed by another consonant. So just stop the air in your throat, at … the. What does the tongue do? Let’s watch.
Jaw drops for the AA vowel. As the jaw comes up, the tongue tip is still down, behind the bottom front teeth. It comes through the teeth. It never went to the roof of the mouth, the position of T.
When I bring my tongue through my teeth, at… I’m in position for the TH, but I stop the air. So I’m ready to go for the TH as I’m making the Stop T. At…the. Uht…the. Same thing when the vowel in AT is the schwa: Uht…the. Uht…the. This is easier than making a T: you don’t have to bring the tongue up into position for the T and then through the teeth. Just bring it through the teeth and stop the air. This is how Americans do it. At the, uht the. Let’s keep watching.
Now the tongue tip comes back into the mouth and goes down behind the bottom front teeth, where it needs to be for either the EE vowel or the schwa in ‘the’. Let’s watch the phrase again. Jaw drops for the vowel, tongue tip comes through the teeth, then back down for the vowel. Note that it’s just the tip of the tongue that comes through the teeth, not more.
Try that with me. At…the. At…the. At the, at the. Or, with the schwa, uht the, uht the, uht the, uht the. I’m at the store. At the, at the. I’m at thuh store. At the, at the.
Next, the phrase ‘in the’. Let’s take a look.
In an unstressed syllable, the jaw barely drops for the IH vowel. Now the tongue tip comes through the teeth.
But wait. Isn’t the tongue supposed to go to the roof of the mouth for the N, nn. Yes, that is usually how the N is pronounced. But, I can make the sound with the tip of my tongue through the teeth, nn, while the part that’s just a little further back is at the roof of the mouth. Nn, nn. Innnthe.
Now the TH, and the tongue tip goes back in the mouth and down for the vowel. Let’s watch the phrase again.
Tongue comes through the teeth for the N T H.
This is simpler than making the full N position and then the TH position. This is how Americans do it. So now you have two short cuts: The Stop T can be made with the tongue tip in position for the TH, and so can the N. Let’s watch AT THE and IN THE again. Notice the movements of the mouth are small and simple.
Next, the phrase ‘is the’. A lot of people have a hard time linking the S or Z sound with the TH.
The jaw drops just a bit for the IH vowel and the tongue tip touches the back of the bottom front teeth. Next you’ll see the tongue tip move, it will point up. The tongue tip can either point up or down to make the S and Z sounds. I do both, depending on the word and the sounds around it. The teeth come together for the Z sound.
Is, is. Now the tongue tip does something interesting. It doesn’t come through the teeth for the TH! When the voiced TH begins a function word, like in the, these, this, we can do a shortcut. Rather than the tip coming through the teeth, it presses behind closed teeth. Important: it is not at the roof of the mouth. That would make a D sound and that is not correct. Let’s look at the correct position.
Jaw drops for the vowel. Tongue tip up and teeth close for the Z. Tongue tip comes back down and touches the back of the closed teeth. THIS is the correct position. Tongue tip is not at the roof of the mouth. And tongue tip down for the vowel in THE. Let’s watch again.
Amazing. This is a much easier way to make the voiced TH quickly in a function word. This happens a lot. In the first two examples, you can make the sound before with the tongue in position for the TH, the Stop T, and the N. But you can’t make the S or Z sound with the tongue tip through the teeth. So we take a different shortcut. We alter the TH by not bringing the tongue tip through the teeth. Is the. It still sounds like a TH to native speakers. It still sounds right.
The next phrase is ‘with the’. Wow. Two TH’s. What do we do here? Let’s take a look.
The lips round for the W. When the lips part the inside of the mouth looks dark. That’s because the tongue was lifted in the back for the W sound. As the tongue comes forward, the tip heads right for the position between the teeth. There’s the TH. Then the tongue tip goes back inside the mouth and down behind the bottom front teeth for the vowel.
What do we do with the two TH’s? ‘With’ is usually pronounced with an unvoiced TH, and THE with a voiced TH. Here’s what to do: combine them. Just make one TH. Make it unvoiced, and connect the two words with it. With the. A voiced TH would be okay, with the, but it’s much less common and it’s more complicated. So stick with unvoiced. With the. So here the shortcut is, don’t make a voiced TH. Combine it with the ending unvoiced TH in ‘with’. Let’s watch again.
It looks pretty simple, doesn’t it?
Now let’s study ‘for the’. ‘For’ reduces to ‘fer’ in a sentence, fer, fer: for you, for me, for work, for the first time. To pronounce it this way, the bottom lip comes up to touch the bottom of the top front teeth. Fff. Let air pass through. The tongue can be pulled back for the R, it won’t affect the F sound. For the R sound, the middle of the tongue shifts back and up and little. So the tip of the tongue isn’t touching anything. Forrrrr-the. So the tongue tip is pulled back, and we simply bring it forward through the teeth. Let’s take a look.
Wow. This is in slow motion, and yet the tongue tip was through the teeth for just a brief moment. Let’s watch again.
For the, for the. Can you practice that quick movement without making sounds, just bringing the tongue quickly in and out. This is the movement you want. The tongue tip only needs to be there for an instant to make the right sound. Since the sound before, R and the sound after, the vowel, are both voiced, your vocal cords are already doing what they need to do. All you have to do is that quick tongue movement. If it feels awkward, don’t worry. The movement is quite easy to practice, and practice will make it feel more natural to you. Th th, th, th, for the, for the, for the.
Let’s look one more time.
Now the phrase ‘on the’. Do you remember the trick from ‘in the’? You can make the N with the tongue tip through the teeth: NN. Let’s take a look.
Jaw drops for the vowel. The tongue tip is pointed down. Then the tongue tip comes up and out of the teeth. A quick, simple movement. Let’s watch again.
So linking the TH isn’t as complicated as you might think. The movements of the tongue are small, and there are shortcuts you can take to make transitions between consonant sounds easier. Let’s look at the phrases one more time. Notice the simplicity of the mouth movements.
I hope this video makes you more confident with the TH sound. These little phrases with ‘the’ are very common. Can you come up with similar phrases for ‘these’ and ‘this’? Practice them. Practice these little phrases over and over. The more you do this, the more natural these tongue movements will be for you. Then try putting these two word phrases into larger sentences. Focus on making these words simply and quickly. You can do it! Speaking this way will make you sound more natural and American. This is not sloppy English. You want to make function words like these very short in all of your speech, even in a business setting or with colleagues.
Here is the video I mentioned earlier: How to pronounce ‘the’ with real life examples. Also, here’s a video on ‘to the’, with more up close and slow motion speech. And here’s another video on linking TH with other examples. You can click here for these videos, or, in the description below.
Are there some common phrases you need help with? Let me know in the comments.
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