Th-fronting is the pronunciation of the English "th" as "f" or "v". When th-fronting is applied, [θ] becomes [f] or [ɸ] (for example, three is pronounced as free) and [ð] becomes [v] or [β] (for example, further is pronounced as fervour). (Here "fronting" refers to the position in the mouth where the sound is produced, not the position of the sound in the word, with the "th" coming from the tongue as opposed to the "f" or "v" coming from the more-forward lower lip.) Unlike the fronting of [θ] to [f], the fronting of [ð] to [v] usually does not occur word-initially. For example, while further is pronounced as fervour, that is rarely pronounced as *vat, although this was found in the speech of South-East London in a survey completed 1990–1994).[1] Th-fronting is a prominent feature of several dialects of English, notably Cockney, Essex dialect, Estuary English, some West Country and Yorkshire dialects, African American Vernacular English, and Liberian English, as well as in many non-native English speakers (e.g. Hong Kong English, though the details differ among those accents).[2]


Actor Simon Pegg wearing a t-shirt with the slogan Norf London, representing "North London" with th-fronting

The first reference to th-fronting is in the "low English" of London in 1787, though only a single author in that century writes about it, and it was likely perceived as an idiosyncrasy, rather than a full-fledged dialect feature of Cockney English, even into the early half of the twentieth century.[3] The feature was presumed to be reasonably common in London speakers born around 1850 and in Bristol by 1880.[4] The use of the labiodental fricatives [f] and [v] for the dental fricatives [θ] and [ð] was noted in Yorkshire in 1876.[5] In his 1892 book A Grammar of the Dialect of Windhill, Joseph Wright noted variable th-fronting in his district in words such as think, third and smithy.[6]

In some words, th-fronting has been lexicalised. For example, the word without was lexicalised to wivoot in some dialects of Northern England and Scotland.[7]

In the Survey of English Dialects of the 1950s and early 1960s, th-fronting was found in two main areas of England. One was the area around Bristol in the West Country. The other was in the area around London and Essex.[8] It was also noted in the Suffolk dialect by AOD Claxton in 1968, albeit only for certain words (e.g. three and thumb but not thaw or thought).[9]

Comparing his studies over time in Norwich, Peter Trudgill concluded that th-fronting had been completely absent in 1968 and then very common amongst younger people by 1983.[10] Although th-fronting is found occasionally in the middle and upper (middle) class English accents as well, there is still a marked social difference between working and middle class speakers. Th-fronting is regarded as a 'boundary marker' between Cockney and Estuary English, as depicted in the first descriptions of the latter form of English[11][12] and confirmed by a phonetic study conducted by researcher Ulrike Altendorf. Nevertheless, Altendorf points out that th-fronting is found occasionally in middle class (Estuary) speech as well and concludes that "it is currently making its way into the middle class English accent and thus into Estuary English".[13]

In popular music, the singer Joe Brown's 1960s backing band was christened The Bruvvers (that is, "the brothers" with th-fronting). The 1960 musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be was stated to be a Cockney Comedy. Rock musician Keith Richards is commonly referred to as “Keef”.[14]

Up until the late 20th century th-fronting was common in speakers of Australian English from North Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. This may stem from the relatively high number of London cockneys who settled there during the Queensland gold rushes of the 19th century.[citation needed] The practice is gradually dying out as the influx of interstate and international immigrants increases.


The following is a sample of a speaker of the Cockney accent who has th-fronting (affected words are in bold):

My dad came from Wapping and me mum came from Poplar. Me dad was one of eleven kids… and Wapping in them days really was one of the poorest parts of London. I mean they really didn't have shoes on their feet. I'm talking about seventy years ago now. Erm… and Poplar was… sli… just slightly a cut above Wapping; erm… you was either East End respectable or you was sort of East End villain, you know, and my family was respectable on both sides. But me father had a very tough time because his father died when he was nineteen, leaving him the only one working to bring up eleven brothers… ten brothers and sisters and on a Thursday night he'd sometimes go home and the youngest two would be crying in the corner and he'd say “What's the matter with them, ma?” “Oh, well, Harry, you know it's Thursday night, and you don't get paid till tomorrow.” and they literally didn't have any food in the house.

In that recording, either, both, father, brothers and Thursday are pronounced [ˈɪjvə], [ˈbɐʊ̈f], [ˈfɑ̹ːvə], [ˈbrɐvəz] and [ˈfɜːzdi]. Pronouns (they, them, their) and the are not affected.

Increase in use

Th-fronting in the speech of working-class adolescents in Glasgow was reported in 1998, provoking public as well as academic interest. The finding of th-fronting in Glaswegian creates a difficulty for models of language change which hinge on dialect contact associated with geographical mobility since the Glaswegian speakers who used [f] most in the 1997 sample are also those with the lowest geographical mobility. In addition, th-fronting was reported as "a relatively new phenomenon" in Edinburgh in March 2013.[15]

Homophonous pairs

Homophonous pairs
/f, v/ /θ, ð/ IPA Notes
barf bath ˈbɑːf Non-rhotic accents with trap-bath split.
deaf death ˈdɛf
duff doth ˈdʌf
elf health ˈɛlf With H-dropping.
even heathen ˈiːvən With H-dropping.
ever heather ˈɛvə(ɹ) With H-dropping.
fain thane ˈfeɪn
fain thegn ˈfeɪn
fane thane ˈfeɪn
fane thegn ˈfeɪn
faun thorn ˈfɔːn Non-rhotic accents.
fava farther ˈfɑːvə Non-rhotic accents.
fava father ˈfɑːvə Non-rhotic accents.
fawn thorn ˈfɔːn Non-rhotic accents.
feign thane ˈfeɪn
feign thegn ˈfeɪn
fie thigh ˈfaɪ
fief thief ˈfiːf
fin thin ˈfɪn
fink think ˈfɪŋk
Finn thin ˈfɪn
firm therm ˈfɜː(ɹ)m
first thirst ˈfɜː(ɹ)st
fissile thistle ˈfɪsəl Some accents pronounce fissile as /ˈfɪsaɪl/.
for thaw ˈfɔː(ɹ) Non-rhotic accents.
for Thor ˈfɔː(ɹ)
ford thawed ˈfɔːd Non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger.
fore thaw ˈfɔː Non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger.
fore Thor ˈfɔː(ɹ) With horse-hoarse merger.
fort thought ˈfɔːt Non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger.
fought thought ˈfɔːt
four thaw ˈfɔː(ɹ) Non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger.
four Thor ˈfɔː(ɹ) With horse-hoarse merger.
Fred thread ˈfɹɛd
free three ˈfɹiː
frees threes ˈfɹiːz
freeze threes ˈfɹiːz
fresh thresh ˈfɹɛʃ
fret threat ˈfɹɛt
frieze threes ˈfɹiːz
frill thrill ˈfɹɪl
fro throe ˈfɹəʊ
fro throw ˈfɹəʊ
froze throes ˈfɹəʊz
froze throws ˈfɹəʊz
funder thunder ˈfʌndə(ɹ)
furred third ˈfɜː(ɹ)d
furrow thorough ˈfʌɹəʊ Some accents pronounce thorough as /ˈfʌɹə/, although some also pronounce furrow as /ˈfʌɹə/.
fervour; fervor further ˈfɜː(ɹ)və(ɹ)
golf goth ˈɡɒf Some accents pronounce golf as /ˈɡɒlf/.
half hearth ˈhɑːf Non-rhotic accents with the trap-bath split.
lave lathe ˈleɪv
lever leather ˈlɛvə(ɹ) Some accents pronounce lever as /ˈliːvə(ɹ)/.
live lithe ˈlaɪv
loaf loath ˈləʊf
loaves loathes ˈləʊvz
miff myth ˈmɪf
Murph mirth ˈmɜː(ɹ)f
never nether ˈnɛvə(ɹ)
oaf oath ˈəʊf
phi thigh ˈfaɪ
Ralph wraith ˈɹeɪf Some accents pronounce Ralph as /ˈɹælf/, /ˈɹɑːlf/ or /ˈɹɑːf/
Ralph wrath ˈɹɑːf Some accents pronounce Ralph as /ˈɹælf/, /ˈɹɑːlf/ or /ˈɹeɪf/. Some accents pronounce wrath as /ˈɹæf/, /ˈɹɒf/ or /ˈɹɔːf/.
reave wreathe ˈɹiːv
reaves wreathes ˈɹiːvz
reaves wreaths ˈɹiːvz
reef wreath ˈɹiːf
reeve wreathe ˈɹiːv
reeves wreathes ˈɹiːvz
reeves wreaths ˈɹiːvz
rive writhe ˈɹaɪv
roof ruth ˈɹuːf Some accents pronounce roof as /ˈɹʊf/.
sheave sheathe ˈʃiːv Some accents pronounce sheave as /ˈʃɪv/.
sheaves sheathes ˈʃiːvz Some accents pronounce sheaves as /ˈʃɪvz/.
sheaves sheaths ˈʃiːvz Some accents pronounce sheaves as /ˈʃɪvz/.
sliver slither ˈslɪvə(ɹ)
V the ˈviː Stressed the.
V thee ˈviː
van than ˈvæn
vat that ˈvæt
vee the ˈviː Stressed the.
vee thee ˈviː
vees these ˈviːz
Venn then ˈvɛn
vents thence ˈvɛn(t)s With prince-prints merger.
vie thy ˈvaɪ
vine thine ˈvaɪn
vow thou ˈvaʊ
whiff with ˈwɪf With wine-whine merger. Some accents pronounce with as /ˈwɪv/ or common reduce it to /ˈwɪ/.

See also


  1. ^ Laura Tollfree, South East London English: discrete versus continuous modelling of consonantal reduction, p.172 in Urban Voices, edited by Paul Folkes and Gerard Docherty, published 1999 by Arnold, London
  2. ^ Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 96–97, 328–30, 498, 500, 553, 557–58, 635. ISBN 0-521-24224-X.
  3. ^ The Oxford Handbook of the History of English, edited by Terttu Nevalainen, Elizabeth Closs Traugot. Oxford University Press. p. 71.
  4. ^ Of Varying Language and Opposing Creed': New Insights Into Late Modern English, edited by Javier Pérez-Guerra. Verlag Peter Lang. p. 38.
  5. ^ Upton, Clive (2012). "Modern Regional English in the British Isles". In Mugglestone, Lynda (ed.). The Oxford History of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 395.
  6. ^ A Grammar of the Dialect of Windhill, Joseph Wright, page 91
  7. ^ English Dialect Dictionary, Volume 6, page 525, entry for without
  8. ^ Britain, David; Cheshire, Jenny, eds. (2003). "Dialect levelling and geographical diffusion in British English". Social Dialectology: In Honour of Peter Trudgill. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. p. 233.
  9. ^ Claxton, AOD (1981). The Suffolk Dialect of the Twentieth Century. The Boydell Press. p. 78. ISBN 0851151442.
  10. ^ Trudgill, Peter (1988). "Norwich revisited: Recent linguistic changes in an English urban dialect". English World-Wide. 9: 33–49. doi:10.1075/eww.9.1.03tru.
  11. ^ Rosewarne, David (1984). "Estuary English". Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)
  12. ^ Wells, John (1994). Transcribing Estuary English - a discussion document. Speech Hearing and Language: UCL Work in Progress, volume 8, 1994, pages 259-267
  13. ^ Altendorf, Ulrike (1999). Estuary English: is English going Cockney? In: Moderna Språk, XCIII, 1, 1-11
  14. ^ McNair, James (20 August 2005). "Keith Richards: Being, Keef". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  15. ^ Schleef, Erik; Ramsammy, Michael (2013). "Labiodental fronting of /θ/ in London and Edinburgh: a cross-dialectal study" (PDF). English Language & Linguistics. 17 (1). Cambridge: 25–54. doi:10.1017/S1360674312000317. hdl:20.500.11820/9cf56e1c-feb6-4f4b-93cb-2637f915eda6. S2CID 54822655.