198: Pronouncing 'clothes,' 'close' (verb), and 'close' (adjective)

Make these difficult words easier to say!


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 198th episode.

Before I get into today's topic, I want to tell you about my recent guest appearance on the All Ears English Podcast. We were featured in their episode #128. I'll add their iTunes podcast link in this episode's transcript page. Or, just go into iTunes and search "All Ears English." Their podcasts cover a wide range of topics for English learners and you should definitely check them out! Thanks again to Lindsay and Gabby for giving me the opportunity to chat with your audience about English pronunciation!

Today I want to talk about the word "clothes." No, I'm not talking about the verb close, c-l-o-s-e, but the noun clothes, c-l-o-t-h-e-s, as in She wants new clothes. You heard that right, though, I pronounced both of those words the same. "Clothes" c-l-o-t-h-e-s is a rather frequent word in American English; it's number 1,458 in the frequency dictionary, meaning there are only 1,457 words that are used more often in American English. Just like many of our highest-frequency words, native English speakers don't really think about its pronunciation.

So you can compare pronunciations, I'll say the word c-l-o-t-h-e-s without and with the th sound. I'll use the more commonly-used version, that is the version without the th sound first, then the version with the th sound:

clothes (no th) clothes (including th)

I'll say those again:

clothes (no th) clothes (including th)

It's not just me who says that c-l-o-t-h-e-s and the verb c-l-o-s-e are homophones; Longman Pronunciation Dictionary agrees. Actually, when I checked Longman Pronunciation Dictionary on this, I was surprised at one small detail. One of the things I love the about the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary is that it lists both main pronunciations and alternative acceptable pronunciations for both British English and American English. I expected the LPD to list the version of the word clothes with a voiced th sound as the main pronunciation, and the version without the th sound as an alternative. But for American English, the non-th sound version was listed first, meaning it's more common here! The British, however, seem to have opposite preferences.

The word clothes is a plural noun, and it's an odd word in that is has no singular form. Sure, we have the word cloth but that's a different thing. Cloth is fabric, it's what clothes are made from. The word clothes is not the plural of cloth, yet clothes is a plural noun. I hope you followed all of that. My point here is to think about that s at the end of the word clothes. For those people who are extremely articulate and do say the th sound in clothes, a voiced th sound (voiced th) is the th sound to use. Since the th is voiced, the letter 's' after it would also be voiced and would be pronounced as a z sound. This is the standard -s ending pattern.

This small detail is why c-l-o-t-h-e-s is a homophone of the verb close and not the adjective which shares the same spelling, close. If you didn't know that c-l-o-s-e is a heteronym, you do now!

What? You need a review of what a heteronym is? Sure.

A heteronym is two words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations. Episode #33, about the -ate suffix, and episode #188, about the word l-e-a-d being pronounced as lead and lead cover this topic in more detail. I'll put links to that podcast from this episode's transcript page. For now, your bonus lesson in this podcast is that you should be pronouncing the verb c-l-o-s-e with a z sound, close: Please close the door. You should be pronouncing the adjective c-l-o-s-e with an s sound, close: Keep close to your mother.

Let's practice these words a bit. I'm going to say the word and leave time for you to repeat it, then say the word in a sentence and again leave time for you to repeat it.

First, the noun, c-l-o-t-h-e-s: clothes. She wants new clothes.
The verb, c-l-o-s-e: close. Please close the door.
The adjective, c-l-o-s-e: close. Keep close to your mother.

Very good.

Now, if you're a purist and want dictionary-like pronunciation, you can stick with trying to include the th sound in the word clothes.. There's nothing wrong with that. My point is that it'll probably be easier, and you'll sound more like an American native English speaker if you drop it. The choice is always yours.

I mentioned a bit ago that I'll like to those other heteronym podcast pages from this episode's transcript page. You can find that by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking the link for this episode, which is episode 198. Or, you can go into the archives and go straight to numbers 33 or 188. We keep all of the audio from our old episodes up on iTunes, as well, so you can always go back and download older episodes whenever you want. Also, don't forget to check out Lindsay and Gabby's All Ears English Podcast.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.