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    pronunciation of "clothes" with 2 syllables in Germany


    pronunciation of "clothes" with 2 syllables in Germany

    I have noticed that almost ALL of my German students (adults, at a language school) pronounce the word clothes with two syllables, sounding like:
    close es

    When I ask them about that, they say they learned it that way in school. I think they are mistaken (false memory). While a few teachers can be wrong, not all of them are teaching this two syllable clothes. But it is so widespread that some of my students even think that I am mistaken when I tell them it has one syllable!

    So where are they getting this? Have any of you also noticed this?
    Author miamibremen (279037) 01 Jun 09, 20:25
    It is just VERY hard for Germans to get the pronunciation right. Teachers are no exception. I don't remember my English classes that well but I dare say that teachers will be happy enough if students get the o-sound and the th right and maybe it is easier for to teach it with two syllables. We had a similar discussion on the pronunciation of 'men' taught as 'min':

    related discussion: Ausspreche der Pluralform "men"(pronunciation...
    #1AuthorZora [de] (593998) 01 Jun 09, 20:33
    yes I have noticed that as well as people saying whizit instead of visit.

    I think your students really learnt it that way as it is a common mistake among German speakers.
    #2AuthorGillespie01 Jun 09, 20:34
    It has to do with the inability of Germans to pronounce voiced "th" immediately followed by "s". So, in order to get out the "th" right, many of us make it two syllables.
    #3Authordodo01 Jun 09, 20:34
    It isn't easier to teach it with two syllables, just incorrect. It would be easier to teach them to say it like the word close, especially since that's how many natives say it anyways.
    #4Author miamibremen (279037) 01 Jun 09, 20:36
    As others have said, it's simply because the "th followed by an s" sound is very hard for us Germans to pronounce. If you ask your students to say "months", you'll get the same result.
    #5Author Jalapeño (236154) 01 Jun 09, 20:38
    Stimmt. Nur leider wird dem 'th' so viel Aufmerksamkeit geschenkt, dass solche Vergleiche wenig bedacht werden.
    #6AuthorZora [de] (593998) 01 Jun 09, 20:40
    Meine Nachhilfeschüler machen auch immer diesen Fehler, bekommen es aber garantiert nicht so beigebracht. Ich denke, es sind wirklich diese zischenden Laute. Was bei box - boxes richtig ist, passt hier nur nicht. Ich persönlich hasse auch "with the" Kombinationen.
    #7Author LottiZ (593435) 01 Jun 09, 20:43
    ..noch schwerer, lass deine Schueler mal widht aussprechen;)
    #8AuthorGillespie01 Jun 09, 20:51
    na das ware zu schwer, width tuts auch:)
    #9AuthorGillespie01 Jun 09, 20:52
    >>It would be easier to teach them to say it like the word close

    I think that would be entirely reasonable. Or rather, not necessarily tell them to say it like that, but tell them it's okay if it helps them feel better about it. They really don't need to worry, since even if it's ideally better to say the TH in slow, careful speech, it's often nearly inaudible in faster speech anyway.

    #10Author hm -- us (236141) 01 Jun 09, 20:55
    I think a lot of people really do think that 'cloth-es' is the correct pronunciation, simply because it looks like a plural, and then the 'e' is normally pronounced: kisses, whishes... 'months' is different because there's no 'e'.

    I can't say 'clothes' at all, I always say 'close', and when I was a teenager, my favourite band were 'The Smiths' - jeden Tags aufs neue die Zunge gebrochen :(
    #11Author Gibson (418762) 01 Jun 09, 21:01
    miamib, if you think it wouldn't totally discourage them, you might also check a couple of rather useful verbs like 'bathes' and 'breathes.' Unfortunately you can't leave out the TH as easily there, though, so maybe better not ...

    Takes a bath. Takes a breath. Things to wear. (-:
    #12Author hm -- us (236141) 01 Jun 09, 21:16
    width ist einfacher als with the :)
    Ich stimme Gibson zu: es ist einfach das "e" zwischen th und s dass uns dazu bringt, clo-thes zu sagen. Ich habe es garantiert nicht so gelernt, muss mich aber auch selbst immer daran erinnern, dass das e stumm ist.
    #13Authordixie01 Jun 09, 21:47
    Ich wage mal zu behaupten, dass meine Aussprache nicht absolut schrecklich ist, auch mit dem th hab ich eigentlich keine Probleme (hoffe ich, keine Ahnung, wie es für natives klingt). Aber bei clothes bekomm ich trotzdem jedes mal einen Knoten in die Zunge, obwohl ich theoretisch weiß, wie es richtig ausgesprochen wird. Das e verwirrt einen einfach zu sehr, ths ist für Deutsche schwer auszusprechen.
    Ich kann mich gerade nur an einen Englischlehrer erinnern, der uns die Aussprache von clothes meiner Meinung nach sogar richtig beigebracht hat, aber nur weil mir jemand was richtig sagt, heißt das noch lange nicht, dass ich das dann auch selbst richtig aussprechen kann.
    Es hatten ja auch sämtliche Radio- und Fernsehmoderatoren (und ich^^) Probleme, als Sixth Sense rauskam- wie zur Hölle kann man auch einen Film so nennen? ;)
    Dafür können viele Englischmuttersprachler z.B. das "ch" in "ich" oder "sprechen" nicht richtig aussprechen- sowas kommt in der respektiven Muttersprache nunmal nicht vor, und im Nachhinein neue Laute zu lernen, kann richtig schwer werden.

    Ich hoffe, ich werde jetzt nicht zu off-topic, aber mir wurde auch von deutschen Lehrern und von natives immer beigebracht, dass man comfortable ausspricht wie "comftabl"- aber dann hörte ich einen meiner Dozenten (Engländer) "comfortabl" sagen. Das hat mich dann doch verwirrt... Lag das eventuell an der Region, aus der er kommt?
    #14Authordas_pscho (579559) 02 Jun 09, 02:21
    I doubt it; he's probably just trying hard to set a good example and not pronounce anything sloppily, but that sounds overcorrect to me for most contexts.

    Though I currently get easily annoyed by the weather-forecaster trainees on my local public radio station. After about 3 years they've finally learned to say me-te-or-ologist (instead of meterologist), but they still unanimously, slowly, and deliberately say tempature, which drives me absolutely bonkers. I don't insist on tem-per-a-ture, but I'd at least like to hear tem-pra-ture.
    #15Author hm -- us (236141) 02 Jun 09, 05:12
    I really do think "cloth-es" gets taught sometimes. I know that is what my eldest came home reporting. My last name has a "ths" in the middle and it ends up a clear and simple s, not a th-s.
    #16Author Selkie (236097) 02 Jun 09, 07:48
    My daughter was "taught" this the other week, and she reported that her teacher wasn't able to say "clothes" right - or at least, apparently the teacher said they should say "close", as that is how English people say it. (My daughter found it extra funny as the teacher then wrote on the board, to illustrate this, "cloths".) But even when I speak very quickly I still bring my tongue forward slightly in "clothes" and don't in "close". English speakers do not hear "a cloze test" as "a clothes test". "Close" is better than "clo-thess" but students should only be taught that as a way of getting nearer to saying "clothes" right, not as the right way to say "clothes". (If you want to learn an Essex accent, say "cloves" and you really will sound English!)

    (My son was also taught last week in primary school that "Wie macht die Ente?" is "What does a duck do?" in English...)
    #17Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 08:02
    re. comfortable - I'd usually say -ftəbl, but I might say it as -fətəbl if I wanted to draw the word out for emphasis - "this chair is so COMF -or -table!" - or if I was speaking with a sing-song rhythm, e.g. with a child or to make what I said sound funny.
    #18Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 08:08
    I didn't learn "cloth-es", but I can imagine that this happens quite often.

    Slightly OT: Does anyone recall the Disney movie "Susi und Strolch" (Lady and the Tramp)? They give a beaver a tool to pull tree stumps - in German, a "Holzklotzzieher". What did they use in the original version?
    #19AuthorSid2K702 Jun 09, 09:09
    #20Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 09:18
    "clothes" is pronounced "close" (at least in my speech and in the printed Oxford dictionary I just managed to unbury). As all Germans can pronounce "close" (more or less), the fact that they don't pronounce "clothes" properly (and it is true, they don't)is down to wrong teaching and nothing else.

    I taught English phonetics and pronunciation at German universities for years. The students were surprised when I said this, and just as surprised to notice that they couldn't tell whether (in a controlled experiment) I had pronounced the "th" or not. The voiced th is a very weak sound indeed. You can leave it out in many circumstances and no one will notice.
    #21Author escoville (237761) 02 Jun 09, 09:31
    Escoville - my pronunciation dictionary lists "clothes" as /kləʊðz/ first followed by /kləʊz/ (the latter also being the pronunication it lists for "cloze"). So the main pronunciation, which students also need to learn, is not the same as "cloze". As I mentioned, IMHO even when I say "clothes" fast I bring my tongue forward: it isn't a /ð/, but my tongue is almost in position to say a D or L. I don't do that when I say "cloze". I think you can hear a slight difference. Would you pronounce "a clothes test" and "a cloze test" exactly the same?

    (edit: didn't see your last comment before I posted - I guess you do say them the same, then. I guess I'm either deluded or weird :-)
    #22Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 09:44
    I suffer from weird dillusions then as well, since I feel sure my tongue snakes quickly forward with clothes and behaves more sedately with close. I'll have to ask my husband to wake me in the night to say clothes to see if that is really the case when I'm not thinking about it.
    #23Author Selkie (236097) 02 Jun 09, 09:49
    Selkie and CM2DD

    I'm afraid it's VERY well known to phoneticians that there's a world of difference between what people say and what they say they say. You've (presumably) just done a mini-experiment, and I'm sure your observations are correct. I doubt if you would do this in real life, and frankly, unless the acoustic conditions were artificially ideal, I doubt if anyone would hear the difference.

    There's no point in teaching a difficult (and unnecessary) pronunciation if there's an easy and acceptable one. The results of the first strategy can, as has been pointed out, be heard all around us.
    #24Author escoville (237761) 02 Jun 09, 09:55
    @ escoville - but even if my fast pronunciation of "clothes" is the same as "cloze" (as you say, I can't say it realistically if I know what I'm listening for), there is still a more careful pronunciation that students need to learn. The pron. dictionary I have is John Wells's Longman dictionary: that lists /kləʊðz/ as what the introduction describes as the "main pronunciation" and "the form recommended for EFL purposes". The second pron. /kləʊz/ is not in bold; in the introduction JW explains that this is the secondary pron., one which is also in common educated use.

    I would definitely prefer "cloze" to "clo-thess" but will not be happy if my daughter gets "corrected" when she says /kləʊðz/.
    #25Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 10:14
    Re #21, #22, #25: My PONS dictionary says that the "th" in "clothes" can be pronounced, but does not have to. My Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says that pronouncing the "th" yields the BE variant, while ""cloze"" is AE.
    #26AuthorLondoner(GER)02 Jun 09, 10:32

    Germans should learn that this word now has two pronunciations (the one with the th is almost certainly a fairly recent "spelling pronunciation") and that both are correct. They should be encouraged to use the one that is easier for them. Of course if they use the other correctly, no one should tell them it is wrong.

    @ Londoner (GER)
    I am quite certain, incidentally, that the version with "th" is not the "BE variant", whatever the OALD may say, if by that they mean it is the normal BE pronunciation.
    #27Author escoville (237761) 02 Jun 09, 18:03
    I also pronounce "clothes" the same as "close". But I would like to raise another question here (at the risk of taking the discussion on another track):

    My dictionary also shows the phonetic pronunciation of "close" as /kləʊz/.

    WHY? That makes no sense to me! A schwa followed by the vowel of G. Mutter or E. put??? It's nothing like that at all!

    Why don't they transcribe it as /klouz/, or something similar?
    #28Author Martin--cal (272273) 02 Jun 09, 18:49
    #28 - I think the schwa is as when you come out from the "l" most people's mouths are more relaxed than, say, the Queen's or Audrey fforbes-Hamilton's:

    But of course it depends where you come from.
    #29Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 19:15
    BTW, if you say clothes as cloze, do you also say baths as bars, booths as booze and seethes as sees? Or is it just in "clothes" that you drop the "th"?
    #30Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 19:24
    @ Martin cal

    The diphthong with the schwa is RP. If you're American, your transcription is of course correct for you.

    @ CM2DD

    This is an interesting point: in these other words I (like I think everyone else) pronounce the th. The reason why clothes is different is probably that it is only used in the plural*, and the th disappeared with time (something phoneticians call "elision"). I think the word's pronunciation with the th is a re-introduced "spelling pronunciation" (like the t in often).
    However it is surprising how often you can drop a th next to an s/z and not notice. Try "The Times this morning". The th in "this" is often (I'd say: usually) dropped in such circumstances.
    * I think I would pronounce the th when clothes is the 3rd person sing. of "to clothe"
    #31Author escoville (237761) 02 Jun 09, 19:49
    At least in my days at school, we were never taught to say cloth-es in two syllables. It's certainly a hard word to say, no matter if you're German or English, Scottish, Irish or American, unless you skip the th altogether or replace it with an f sound. Which I'm sure I've heard in the UK. As for baths and booths: they're different, aren't they, because the th is voiceless. Or does it become voiced if you add the plural-s? And I would have thought that seethes should be two syllables: I seethe, he see-thes. Am I wrong?
    #32Authorhilfesuch02 Jun 09, 19:52

    @zora 1#
    meine englisch lehrerin sprach fließendes queen's english ...
    #33AuthorSsss02 Jun 09, 19:57
    I would like to correct my statement above: I asked my daughter and she said no, she was NOT taught to say cloth-es. Her teacher says "close" and the other kids say "cloth-es".

    Seethes is like clothes, definately not seeth-es.

    And clothes, baths or booths: None are hard to say with a quick hit of a "th" for this American, and I can't imagine I am alone, hilfesuch.
    #34Author Selkie (236097) 02 Jun 09, 20:05
    Selkie: "He seethes with jealousy." is not seeth-es? But seethes like clothes?
    #35Author candice (447114) 02 Jun 09, 20:11
    #32 Yes, in the plural, baths and booths, the th is voiced*. And in "the sea seethes", "seethes" is one syllable, the same as in the third-person forms moves, soothes, breathes, etc. We only say the plural ending -s/-es as an extra syllable ("-iz") when the word ends in a "z" or "s" sound, e.g. "glasses" or "fizzes".

    "The Times this morning" is "the timezissmorning" for me too.

    I'm still not really convinced that "clothes" with a "th" is a spelling pronunciation. I could swear I'd always pronounced it with some kind of "th" (clearly audible or just a vague movement of the tongue, depending on stress). How about when you stress it, escoville? As in "Someone stole all her CLOTHES!" Saying that as CLOZE sounds like another alternative to the Essex CLOVES to me.

    *though not in regional variants e.g. Birmingham, UK
    #36Author CM2DD (236324) 02 Jun 09, 20:22
    Just for the record, all these are one syllable, and the consonants at the end are voiced:

    clothes, clothed
    seethes, seethed
    soothes, soothed
    bathes, bathed
    breathes, breathed
    wreathes, wreathed
    loathes, loathed

    I say 'baths' and 'cloths' with a voiced TH, but I could imagine other people saying unvoiced TH. For me 'booths' and 'wreaths' might be more likely to be unvoiced. 'With' can be either voiced or unvoiced.

    CM2DD, my tongue definitely forms the TH in 'clothes,' even if the sound isn't audible at a distance. I totally agree with you that there's a difference.
    #37Author hm -- us (236141) 02 Jun 09, 20:24
    @CM2DD (#29): Thanks for pointer to RP and the reference. Since I listen to news broadcasts from BBC fairly often, I thought I was familiar with RP, and though the difference in accent in some words (e.g. pass, calf, etc.) is obvious to me, I can't say I ever noticed a different pronunciation of the "close" words. But out of curiosity, I listened to an interview with Queen Elizabeth (, and have to admit, there really is a difference from my (New York based) pronunciation of this vowel. At 3:40 into the interview, there is a good example, where she emphasizes the word "suppose". I don't think I would transcribe the vowel she uses as /əʊ/, but it is clearly more "closed" than my /ou/.

    @CM2DD (#30): "do you also say baths as bars, booths as booze and seethes as sees?" The TH in both "baths" and "booths" is unvoiced -- at least the way I say it. But looking over hm--us's list (#37), I have to say that "clothes" is the exception - in all other words I do pronounce the TH and the S. (And I also pronounce the TH in the 3rd person singular of the verb, "clothes".)

    @hilfesuch (#32): "It's certainly a hard word to say, no matter if you're German or English, Scottish, Irish or American". Not at all! (Well, maybe my granddaughters will have difficulty with it, but adult native-English speakers don't have to make any special effort.) I really think the dropping of the TH in the noun "clothes" is a special case.
    #38Author Martin--cal (272273) 02 Jun 09, 22:34
    hm-us: thank you for your list. It was quite interesting for me. I´ve never had any problems with clothes (and I have never heard any teacher pronounce it with two syllables, BTW), but I would have struggled with seethes, soothes and breathes, though.
    #39Author candice (447114) 02 Jun 09, 22:48
    @Martin (#38) re: "I thought I was familiar with RP...But out of curiosity, I listened to an interview with Queen Elizabeth"

    I think it's only fair to point out that the Queen is well-known here in Britain for what many would argue is sometimes "idiosyncratic" or antiquated pronunciation, even by RP standards. This is caricatured in transcriptions (by those non-rhotic Brits among us :-)) such as "lorst" and "orf" for "lost" and "off" (i.e. a more closed "o" sound than virtually any of her subjects would use, including newsreaders on the BBC). A study of the Queen's Christmas broadcasts from the past 50 years claimed that she has modified her speech over the years. Nevertheless, I'm still not sure I would unreservedly recommend her as a language model - and despite the expression "the Queen's English"! :-)
    #40AuthorKinkyAfro (587241) 04 Jun 09, 19:16
    All my native German English teachers taught two syllables for clothes, in order not to confuse it with cloth (Lappen). My kids' teachers do the same thing, I have always grouped it under 'the way Germans teach English'. I had some trouble last week, when my 5th grader came home with a test dealing amongst others with that well known phrase 'she runs all round him' (no kidding) and the way dates are spoken and written in British English. '20th of May' was marked wrong for a written date. I found more than one million google hits just for that date, and even though I am not THAT familiar with British English, Channel Four and the Irish lottery used it that way as well.

    I sent a printout of the first google page and a politely worded question to the teacher. Well, the kid got his points, but her explanation was that judging from the textbook it was wrong!!

    This drives me nuts. The book is a catastrophe, I have been composing letters to the editor in my mind ever since I started checking my son's homework, but the teacher fully relies on the crap and doesn't know any better.

    The first time I blew my stack was when the translation of 'to go' was given as 'führen', this being the first time a kid comes across the word 'go'. Oh well, I am probably well known as a troublemaker in school now, I just showed another kid that their physics teacher had told them nonsense (at least she got a big box of chocolates out of it - she dared the teacher to enter into a bet, set up the circuit in question with her brother's kit and went for a final showdown).
    #41Author krazy_mom (D) (238333) 04 Jun 09, 21:12
    I sent a printout of the first google page and a politely worded question to the teacher. Well, the kid got his points, but her explanation was that judging from the textbook it was wrong!!

    I don´t think I would have given the points just because of this google printout. None of the sources seem to be reliable to me. I do not want to argue that you are wrong, but if I were that teacher I would have wanted some better sources. What do the native speakers say?
    #42Author candice (447114) 04 Jun 09, 21:34
    I didn't tell her she was wrong, I just asked whether it was definitely incorrect in BE (me definitely not being a specialist), the printout was just some background. The book didn't expressly mark this version as wrong, it didn't deal with it at all. I truly wanted an explanation, I am always willing to learn (I have learned lots from my children, the day before yesterday I was quite impressed when said 11-year old was able to explain tropische Konvergenzzone 'off the cuff').
    #43Author krazy_mom (D) (238333) 04 Jun 09, 21:43
    I am an EFL teacher myself, and we usually tell our students that you say "the 20th of May" (or "May the 20th") but that you write "20th May" (or "May 20" or "20 May")

    As your children´s teacher I might have suggested this link:
    #44Author candice (447114) 04 Jun 09, 21:51
    I think it is really hard to make sounds in langueges you are not used to in your own language.

    It is the same problem for everybody: French people speaking german "h" or
    English people have their problems with ch

    As I am a student myself with English as a main subject, I remeber that I learnt it as a word with one syllable but for many students it is easier to make 2 syllables and sometimes it differs if you listen carefully during the lessons or not.

    I also know that there are teachers who have strange pronunciations for some words or who "swallow" syllables.
    It also depends if the teacher has been to England or America or maybe Ireland because after some time you adopt the accent and then it is hard for the students to get the pronunciation right.

    One man from England once told me that I pronunce enlish words very well but I do not know if it is still the case because you hear many wrong or strange pronunciations and adopt them

    #45AuthorStudent xy04 Jun 09, 22:50
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