Pronunciation: clothes

ampurdan

Senior Member
Català & español (Spain)
According to dictionaries and traditional English teachers, it should be /kləʊðz/ (BrE) or /kloʊðz/ (AE), but I'm told most people say /kləʊz/ or /kloʊz/ in everyday speech. So, "clothes" and "close" (as in "Close the door, please!) sound exactly alike. So, how do you pronounce "clothes" normally?
 
  • Welshie

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I don't believe I've ever heard anyone drop the 'th'. It is unstressed and might be difficult to hear but it is definitely there.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree with Welshie. I pronounce the "th" (because I have always done so; I have never referred to dictionaries or teachers for advice). I have never heard anyone claim that most people omit the "th".
     

    Majorbloodnock

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't believe I've ever heard anyone drop the 'th'. It is unstressed and might be difficult to hear but it is definitely there.
    Really? In contrast, I've heard lots of people dropping the "th". They also typically say:
    • "innit" instead of "isn't it"
    • "arf" instead of "half"
    • "wossup" instead of "what's up"
    • "oi" instead of "excuse me"
    Don't get me wrong; I'm not being a snob. I can easily understand what they're saying, so their communication is perfectly effective. However, no matter how regularly their pronunciation is used, it's still currently incorrect.
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    Well, I learned that from an American English teacher on the Spanish radio. He said he was of the opinion that ALL native speakers (including British ones) dropped the "th", even though some would never admit to doing so (because they were unaware of their own relaxed pronunciation).
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I've never heard it - which of course means never noticed it - without the [ð]. I've seen the ð-less pronunciation recorded in older dictionaries, as if it was once (like, 1900) the RP standard; but if it ever was a majority form, it's been entirely replaced by the spelling pronunciation. Of course in very fast or casual speech, it and a lot of other sounds are going to drop out, but in normal speech it's clearly [ðz] regardless of local accent.
     

    Majorbloodnock

    Senior Member
    British English
    Well, I learned that from an American English teacher on the Spanish radio. He said he was of the opinion that ALL native speakers (including British ones) dropped the "th", even though some would never admit to doing so (because they were unaware of their relaxed pronunciation).
    We have a saying in the UK (and probably elsewhere as well)

    Those who can - do.
    Those who can't - teach.

    It implies that anyone who's any good at something will be busy using their skills, whilst it's the second-rate people who teach, since (being surrounded by people who don't know any better) it's an easy way to look good with relatively little skill.

    Obviously, that's a huge exaggeration, since good teachers are incredibly valuable, and it's actually difficult to be a good teacher. However, as with many sayings, there is a grain of truth. There are indeed quite a few incompetent or mediocre teachers, so don't assume something is fact just because it was a teacher who said it.
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    To be fair, he expounded on it as his opinion and acknowledged that other teachers/people hold dissenting views, not as an incontrovertible fact.

    He nevertheless recommended Spanish learners not to try to pronounce "clothes" with the "th", because that /ðz/ clutch is tricky for us, and just pronounce it like "close". Purportedly, everybody should understand it and no one would notice the difference.
     

    Majorbloodnock

    Senior Member
    British English
    Probably better to assume native speakers will notice the difference, but understand what you're saying nonetheless. If your goal is speaking to be understood, that's as far as you'll need to take it. However, if your goal is to speak English like a native, it's worth practicing the alien sounds.

    Eventually, it's simply a matter of deciding how good is good enough for you?
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    Interesting. There's no smoke without fire, after all.

    Now I've checked the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.

    clothes kləʊð z kloʊð z

    Please, notice that "ð " is in italics; which according to this same dictionary means that this sound "may be ommited".

    When I click to hear the two records available (AE and BrE), the first one clearly does not include "ð " while it is still audible in the second one.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Interesting. There's no smoke without fire, after all.

    Now I've checked the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.

    clothes kləʊð z kloʊð z

    Please, notice that "ð " is in italics; which according to this same dictionary means that this sound "may be ommited".

    When I click to hear the two records available (AE and BrE), the first one clearly does not include "ð " while it is still audible in the second one.


    This sort of thing was not taught in my school days (or maybe it was and it was "my school daze").

    So please explain what this means: clothes kləʊð z kloʊð z
     

    Welshie

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Really? In contrast, I've heard lots of people dropping the "th". They also typically say:
    • "innit" instead of "isn't it"
    • "arf" instead of "half"
    • "wossup" instead of "what's up"
    • "oi" instead of "excuse me"
    Don't get me wrong; I'm not being a snob. I can easily understand what they're saying, so their communication is perfectly effective. However, no matter how regularly their pronunciation is used, it's still currently incorrect.

    I am perfectly familiar with the 4 contractions you give. But I still don't think I've heard 'clothes' without the 'th' :) Even in very relaxed speech where the 'th' is not pronounced clearly, the word still does not sound the same as 'close', because there is still something coming between the o and the s. (ask a linguist!)
     

    ><FISH'>

    Senior Member
    British English
    I've now come to the realization that I'm one of those who says "Cloze" instead of "Clothes". Even in non-relaxed speech all I can say is Cloze. I'd say it's pretty common and natural for it to be pronounced this way as well. It's quite a difficult word to pronounce fully, even for a native speaker.
     

    Majorbloodnock

    Senior Member
    British English
    I am perfectly familiar with the 4 contractions you give. But I still don't think I've heard 'clothes' without the 'th' :) Even in very relaxed speech where the 'th' is not pronounced clearly, the word still does not sound the same as 'close', because there is still something coming between the o and the s. (ask a linguist!)
    No, I quite understand what you mean, Welshie. I've heard the word without a "th", but I do admit I find it more common for "cloves" to be pronounced in full ;).
     

    bronsonduerden

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Coming from another North American speaker, i say -clothes- exactly the same as -close (as in, 'close the door')-. It's probably us just being lazy, but most people that I know say it the exact same way. But as was mentioned earlier, I do say the -th- in -clothing-.
    The only time I might pronounce the -th- in the word -clothes- is if someone didn't hear me, then might say it a little bit slower and pronounce the -th-. However in everyday speech in the US, it is said as if it was the word, "close (as in, 'close the door)."
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    This sort of thing was not taught in my school days (or maybe it was and it was "my school daze").

    So please explain what this means: clothes kləʊð z kloʊð z

    It's the pronunciation of clothes represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet. The symbols əʊ represent the vowel in pose in British English while oʊ is the same vowel as pronounced in American English. The symbol ð represents the first consonant of the word this. Making it italic to show that it can be omitted is a practice of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    It's the pronunciation of clothes represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet. The symbols əʊ represent the vowel in pose in British English while oʊ is the same vowel as pronounced in American English. The symbol ð represents the first consonant of the word this. Making it italic to show that it can be omitted is a practice of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.


    Thank you. It has been around since 1888 so I can't claim I predated it (or I can't claim that and still sound credible).

    Best regards,

    Packard
     

    Kittiwake

    New Member
    English - British
    No, I quite understand what you mean, Welshie. I've heard the word without a "th", but I do admit I find it more common for "cloves" to be pronounced in full ;).

    I'm guilty of saying "cloves" instead of "clothes" when I'm not keeping my common-as-muck London accent in check. I say "v" instead of "th" way too often in many different words. :eek:
     

    Topsie

    Senior Member
    English-UK
    No, I quite understand what you mean, Welshie. I've heard the word without a "th", but I do admit I find it more common for "cloves" to be pronounced in full ;).
    I admit to being guilty of encouraging my (French) students to pronounce their "th"s like "f"s or "v"s - rather than "s"s, "z"s, "t"s or "d"s... if they can't manage a perfect "th", that is!:( It hadn't occurred to me to teach "cloze" though - until now!:D
     

    missMD

    Member
    US
    Vietnamese
    As a non-native English speaking, pronouncing has always been difficult to me, especially with hard words like clothes. I always tried very, very hard to somehow get the"th" sound in there with not much success. One day I was just talking with my ESL teacher and she told me that she pronounces clothes the same as the verb "close" That's when I let out a sigh of relief, yay I don't need to pronounce the th! close is so much easier! Just a little personal story. I'm not trying to say which way is right and which one is wrong, but that's the way my teacher teaches me, and I have to admit that new realization makes life easier for me
     
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    ><FISH'>

    Senior Member
    British English
    Just a note... if "clothes" is too difficult to pronounce, don't just say it as "cloze/close". It can still sound ambiguous. Say "Klo-es" instead. English-speakers do tend to omit sounds often, but sometimes the sound is replaced with a thingy (I don't know the proper term) which is kind of like emphasizing the absence of a sound. "Clowes/Kloes" is a better substitute for the missing "th" sound.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Just a note... if "clothes" is too difficult to pronounce, don't just say it as "cloze/close". It can still sound ambiguous. Say "Klo-es" instead. English-speakers do tend to omit sounds often, but sometimes the sound is replaced with a thingy (I don't know the proper term) which is kind of like emphasizing the absence of a sound. "Clowes/Kloes" is a better substitute for the missing "th" sound.
    I think that you're making a similar point to one I was planning to on reading this thread.

    I think that the "th" can be dropped (but by no means consistently is) but if it goes then you need to drag out the "es" for an extra syllable to compensate. It sounds strange to me if you simply say "close".

    If I had to guess, this would be because the "th" is still there - the mouth is making a vague gesture with the tongue, which still takes some time - but it's become so assimilated (for those who speak like this) that it's not that easy to hear the sound itself, but you can hear where it should be.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    I have now repeated the word in question out loud 20 times, with and without the "th".
    Frankly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone pronounce clothes like close (as in close the door), on either side of the Atlantic.
    Although as a Londoner I am quite familiar with the version "cloves".
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I have now repeated the word in question out loud 20 times, with and without the "th".
    Frankly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone pronounce clothes like close (as in close the door), on either side of the Atlantic.
    Although as a Londoner I am quite familiar with the version "cloves".
    I'm not sure that you necessarily would convince yourself that it sometimes happens by repeating the word to yourself, because I suspect that whatever it may sound like native-speakers still make some sort of gesture with the muscles of their mouths for the syllable (and so in you own head you can feel that you are pronouncing something). Just how much that sound comes through to other listeners depends on how assimilated the sound is. After all, it is a short step from "cloves" to "clowes" which is what I'm suggesting it is (in other words a vowel stretched out to cover the beat of the missing consonant).
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    From all your answers, I gather that there might be a AE-BrE difference here:

    Some or Americans, or maybe all of them, generally pronounce "clothes" like "cloze". They do not do that "thingy" with the tongue FISH was talking about.

    Britons pronounce "clothes", although they may transform it to "cloves", "clowes" or "clo-es" (akin to a glottal stop, maybe?). However, as "clothes" with its "th" is what they have in mind, they always "hear" a sound, even when American speakers drop the "th".

    Converselly, an American speaker, used to his pronunciation, might hear "close" when a British speaker pronounces "clowes" or "clo-es".

    Just an ad-hoc home-made hypothesis.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    After all, it is a short step from "cloves" to "clowes" which is what I'm suggesting it is (in other words a vowel stretched out to cover the beat of the missing consonant).

    It might be a short step, but it is unrelated. The "v" is pronounced by those unable or too lazy to form the "th" sound. These people would not eliminate the "v" to produce clowes (cloze).
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    From all your answers, I gather that there might be a AE-BrE difference here:
    I don't think there's really a BrE/AmE divide, ampurdan....

    I'm pretty sure I don't pronounce the /ð/ in fast, connected, casual speech. But I do think I pronounce "clothes" a bit differently from "close": there's a - very slight - difference in the quality of the vowel. My 'basic' long 'o' is better represented by /oʊ/ than by the (to me) ultra-RP /əʊ/. What I think happens when I say "clothes" quickly is that, even though I don't really articulate the /ð/, my tongue moves towards the /ð/ position, and this ends up flattening the vowel slightly. However, the only way to prove that would be to get hold of one of those speech-analyser-machine things. And would anyone notice the difference if I substituted "close" for "clothes"? Almost certainly not: we hear what we expect to hear, after all.

    I think it's a good idea to teach your students that they can say "close" for "clothes" when they're speaking quickly and casually. (That said, I'd probably take a different view on "breeze" and "breathes". I suspect we're more likely to pronounce at least a residual /ð/ in "breathes" than in "clothes" - perhaps because the transition from the vowel to the /ð/ is easier?)

    At this point, I should probably say that I've never done much in the way of phonetics....:cool:

    Who said "it shows":mad:?
     
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    It might be a short step, but it is unrelated. The "v" is pronounced by those unable or too lazy to form the "th" sound. These people would not eliminate the "v" to produce clowes (cloze).
    How do you know?

    In any case, I didn't mean that one follows on from the other but rather the two sounds are very similar and both are related by being realisations of the assimilated "th".
     
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    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    This is the line that parodied the famous "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" of My Fair Lady, in an episode of The Simpsons called "My Fair Laddy":

    "What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes".

    That pretty much settles the issue for AE, right?
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Fowler says that the original pronunciation was "close". E.g Shakespeare:
    Then up he rose, and donned his clothes.

    Fowler adds that "this is often deliberately abstained from in the mistaken belief that it is 'vulgar or careless'".

    In light of that, I am sorry to say that I pronounce the "th".
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    This is the line that parodied the famous "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" of My Fair Lady, in an episode of The Simpsons called "My Fair Laddy":

    "What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes".
    That pretty much settles the issue for AE, right?
    In these forums?:D No, I'd say either they're wrong in their attempt at a pastiche, or that they are having a double level of irony. Even if "clothes" might be pronounced "cloze" by many (perhaps most) AE speakers in daily speech, I think they'd agree (I say hiding behind the sofa waiting for the disagreement) that it's not the "posh" or "careful" pronunciation. The point of "the rain falls mainly on the plain..." is someone with an (overly) correct accent teaching someone how they "should" pronounce words. It would be bizarre (unless it's a double layered joke, as I suggest) to use a phrase containing "incorrectly" pronounced words as a pedantic teaching aid for how to pronounce words well.

    Or perhaps it's a triple irony, bearing Fowler's words in mind. Who knowze?:D

    Edit - In any case, I would doubt Fowler's assumption mentioned by Pertinax. Let's say that the word "clothes" was commonly pronounced "cloze", as Fowler implies, in Shakespeare's time. It would take a very literate, and very over-thinking population, to later link this to the word "cloth" and the way that unvoiced "th" of "cloth" becomes voiced "th" of "the" in the plural and influences the vowel to change from that of "hot" to that of "hose" and so reintroduce the vocalised "th" (in the way that a more modern English speaking people has reintroduced the "t" if "often", pronounced "offen" in Shakespeare's time, and still by many today). I really don't think most native speakers link the, relatively unusual, word "cloth" with the common word "clothes". I think this is reflected in the fact that "clothes" is a separate idea and not a plural of "cloth" (which is "cloths" pronounced "cloths" with the unvoiced "th" and an ess) - we don't think of clothes as being a collection of cloths. So I say Fowler is wrong - he can't impute an "original" pronunciation from Shakespeare's rhyme, just that Shakespeare, as many today, pronounced it "cloze".

    That is a long-winded way of me saying that the original form must have been "clothes" with the vocalised "th", and perhaps that predated Shakespeare's time.
     
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    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    In any case, I would doubt Fowler's assumption mentioned by Pertinax.
    I would be more inclined to doubt Pertinax's reformulation of Fowler (and Gowers). In fact, they refer to "the old pronunciation", not the original pronunciation. The original pronunciation — whatever that means — not only contained th, but was also disyllabic. No one would recommend that pronunciation today.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I regret if my use of the word "original" has given rise to some confusion. I was referring to its original pronunciation in modern English. What Fowler 1926 actually wrote, in full, was:

    The old pronunciation is ["close"], with ample authority from rhymes in 17th-c. and 18th-c. poets, including Shakespeare (Then up he rose and donned his clothes). But this is often deliberately abstained from in the mistaken belief (once supported by the OED but abandoned by its successors) that is is 'vulgar or careless', and, unless the articulation of the th is found too difficult, it is likely to disappear under the influence of the speak-as-you-spell movement.

    My OED says this:
    Almost immediately after the reduction of the M.E. disyllabic form to one syllable, by change of "es" to "s", the ["th"] began to disappear in pronunciation in all the dialect types, as shown by the spellings close, cloes etc.

    There follows a list of examples of the "close" form from 1400 to 1845.
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    What Fowler 1926 actually wrote, in full, was: […]
    Not quite… As I indicated above, your quotation is from the 2nd edition (1965), and all of the historical information (about "the old pronunciation" and Shakespeare) appears to have been added by Gowers. What Fowler actually actually wrote in 1926 was:
    clothes. The usual pronunciation is klōz, though this is often deliberately abstained from in the mistaken belief (confirmed by the OED) that it is 'vulgar or careless'. (source, p. 80)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Funny thing: When I speak "clothes" it sounds like "close". But when I read it aloud it comes out with the "th" slightly added. Anyone else seeing this phenomenon?
     

    newname

    Banned
    Vietnamese
    My ð-droppping friends. Would you do the same for all other words that end with /ðz/ like mouths, bathes, soothes?
     

    Korisnik116

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Some English-speaking people tend to follow the penultimate phoneme in the pronunciation of the word "close" with the /ð/ phoneme when pronouncing the noun "clothes" (i.e., in the same manner as they'd pronounce the verb).
     

    dragon warrior 3

    Banned
    Cantonese - Singapore
    <Dragon Warrior's thread added here. Nat, Moderator>

    An American told me there was no audible difference between clothes and close, just as there isn't one between "internet" and "inner net".
     
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