In this section, we discuss the spelling characteristics of a number of consonants that are often confused.
/θ/ or /ð/ ?
Note first of all that the only way that these phonemes can be spelled is th(e), but that th may also represent /t/. It does so in the following words:
posthumous – /ˈpɑːstjəməs/
thyme – /taɪm/
Chatham – t͡ʃæt̬əm/
Esther – /ˈɛstər/
Mathilda – /məˈtɪldə/
Thames – /tɛmz/
Theresa – /təˈriːsə/
Thomas – /ˈtɑːməs/
Thom(p)son – /ˈtɑːmpsən/
Thai(land) – /ˈtaɪ(lænd)/
Anthony – /ˈænθəni/
In words other than these, the situation is as follows:
Initial th (/ð/) only occurs in function words:
the – /ðə/
this – /ðɪs/
that – /ðæt/
these – /ðiːz/
those – /ðoʊz/
they – /ðeɪ/
them – /ðɛm/
their(s) – /ðɛr(z)/
there – /ðɛr/
then – /ðɛn/
than – /ðæn/
thus – /ðʌs/
(al)though – /ðoʊ/
All other words with initial th have /θ/ (‘major-class words’).
think – /θɪŋk/
thumb – /θʌm/
thorough – /ˈθɜroʊ/
Initial th: /ð/ only occurs in function words: the, this (/ðɪs/), that, these, those, they, them, their(s), there, then, than, thus, (al)though. (In Archaic English also thou, thee, thine, thy, thither, and thence.) All other words with initial th have /θ/: think, thumb, thorough, etc. (‘major-class words’).
Medial th: /ð/ normally occurs in words of Germanic origin, like gather, leather, mother, while /θ/ normally occurs in words that have come into English from Greek or Latin, like author, method, pathos /ˈpeɪθɑːs/. However, rhythm and logarithm have /ð/.
Final -the: always represents /ð/. Final -th almost always represents /θ/, except in to mouth and smooth. The verb to bequeath (nalaten van erfenis) has either /ð/ or /θ/.
Note: In the following cases a word with final /θ/ has a related word with /ð/: (north) northern/ˈnɔrðərn/, (south) southern /sʌðərn/, worthy/ˈwɔrði/. The word smithy (smidse) has either /ð/ or /θ/.
/s/ or /z/ ?
First of all, note that ss, c, sc represent /s/, as in lesson, mice, science.
In a number of words ss represents /z/, however. These are dessert /dɪˈzɜrt/ (id.), dissolve, hussar /hʊˈzɑr/, posses(ion) /pəˈzɛs, pəˈzɛʃn/ and scissors /ˈsɪzərz/.
Secondly, note that final s represents /s/, except:
in the words as, does, has, his, is, was
in lens, series (/ˈsɪriːz/ ag. And pl.), species (/ˈspiːʃiːz/ or /ˈspiːsiːz/ biologische soort, sg, and pl.), Mrs /ˈmɪsɪz/ and Ms (/mɪz/, used to avoid a choice between Miss and Mrs);
in many proper names geographical names, like Dickens, Knowles, Leeds, Williams. Note that Greek names in –es have / /i:z/, like Socrates (/ˈsɑːkrətiːz/), Ulysses (/ˈjuːləsiːz/), and Latin names in –us have /əs/, like Brutus, Tiberius (/taɪˈbɪriəs/).
Thirdly, note that ns is almost always /ns/, as in defensive, consonant, rinse, while rs is /rs/ conversation, university, coarse, except in –rsion, where /rʒən/ is used (e.g. immersion).
The following words are exceptional, because they end in /z/, not /s/: lens, to cleanse, Mars.
The prefix trans– has either /z/ or /s/.
Fourth, s before b, d, m, 1 usually represents /z/, as in husband, wisdom, prism, muslin (/ˈmʌzlɪn/ neteldoek, katoen).
For s as the plural of nouns or as the third person sg. of verbs there are separate rules: see 2.1.
In some words -s is not pronounced, as in chassis /ˈʃæsi/, Illinois /ɪləˈnɔɪ/, etc.
The prefix mis is always /mɪs/. The prefix dis is always /dɪs/, except when an accented vowel immediately follows, in which case usage varies between /dɪz/ and /dɪs/. Examples are dishonest and disorder. Note that disaster, disease, dismal and dissolve are pronounced with /z/: /dɪˈzæstr̩, dɪˈziːz, dɪzml/ and /dɪˈzɑːlv/.
/ʃ/ or /ʒ/ ?
/ʃ/ in Ci, ti, Csi, Csu
/ʒ/ in Vsion, Vsu, Vzu, rsion
/g/ or /d͡ʒ/ ?
Before i, e and y, the letter g represents either / d͡ʒ /, as in German, or /g/, as in Gertrude.
In other situations, only /g/ occurs, as in bargain (n/v: koopje; onderhandelen), goal. An exception is margarine /ˈmɑrd͡ʒərɪn/). Note that veg /vɛd͡ʒ/ is short for vegetable(s) /ˈvɛd͡ʒ(ə)təbl(z)/.
/f/ or /v/ ?
f, ph only represent /v/ in Stephen(son) and of (/ʌv/ or /əv/, see Chapter 7.) In Stephen some speakers use /f/ (spelling pronunciation).
/j/ or /d͡ʒ/ ?
Initial j is always / d͡ʒ /, as in jam, jet, Jones, while initial y is always /j/, as in yet, yoke.
There is no /h/ in:
herb, heir, honest, honor, hour and their derivatives. (NB Herb(ert) hs an /h/!);
Word-final -gm and -gn are pronounced /m/ and /n/ respectively: diaphragm /ˈdaɪəfræm/, deign /deɪn/, reign /reɪn/, sign.
Word-initial kn-, gn, and mn- are /n/: knight, gnat, mnemonic /niˈmɑːnɪk/noun/ adj.: ezelsbruggetje; geheugen-)
Word-final -mb and -mn are pronounced /m/: climb, limb /lɪm/, plumb(er) /ˈplʌm(r̩)/, comb /koʊm/, tomb /tuːm/, womb /wuːm/ (baarmoeder); autumn, condemn, solemn, etc. However, /mn/ occurs in derivations like autumnal, condemnation, solemnity /səˈlɛmnəti/, etc.
Word-initial ps- is /s/: psyche /ˈsaɪki/, pseudo /ˈsuːdoʊ/.
Word-final -ten is pronounced /n̩/ after s and f: hasten, moisten, soften. Often /ɑːfn̩/ has an alternative pronunciation /ˈɑːftən/.
Word-final -tle is pronounced /l̩/ after s: castle, jostle (tegen iemand aanduwen), thistle, mistletoe.
There is no /w/ in who(m), whose, whole, whooping-cough, whore and in words beginning with wr (wrench, write, wrong).
There is no /b/ in debt, doubt, subtle(ty) /ˈsʌtl(ti)/.
Place Name Suffixes
The following regularities may be noted with respect to place name suffixes: -borough, -burgh are /bɜroʊ/: Middlesborough, Peterborough. A British-type /ˈɛdnbɜrə/ would be used for the well-known capital of Scotland, however. -bury is /bɛri/, as in Canterbury, Shaftesbury. (Note that also berry is pronounced this way; as in cranberry, strawberry.)