Consonants // versus /z/, 38 pairs     [thenzen.html]

The // sound is spelled with <th> or <the>. The /z/ sound is spelled with <z>, <zz>, <s> or <se>.

This is a contrast between a dental fricative and a sibilant, both voiced and close together in the mouth. It is a problem for many learners including Dutch, French, German, Russian, Chinese and Thai. It is worth noting that the sequence /z/ is often assimilated to /z/, so that "Put your clothes on" sounds like "Put your close on", which may lead to spelling mistakes.

Thanks to the rarity of the // sound and the commonness of the /z/ sound, the mean density value is very low at 0.4%. The list makes 29 semantic distinctions, a loading of 73%.

bathe baize  
bathe bays
booth boos 
booth booze
breathe breeze 
  breathed breezed 
  breathing breezing 
clothe close 
  clothed closed
  clothing closing
Hythe hies 
Hythe highs
lathe lays 
lathe laze
lithe lies 
loathe lows 
seethe seize 
  seethed seized 
  seething seizing 
scythe size 
  scythed sized 
  scything sizing 
soothe sous 
swathe sways 
teethe teas
teethe tease 
  teethed teased 
  teething teasing 
tithe ties 
thee zee 
these zees 
then Zen 
thither zither 
with whiz 
withies whizzes 
withered wizard 
writhe rise 
  writhing rising   

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, April 2012.