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Stories behind Words: thrice

www.wordle.netTen years ago (has it been that long?) I started my studies of English philology, linguistics and literature. I loved reading for hours upon hours and one of my favourite authors was Charles Dickens. There was one class I wasn’t too keen on though: language lab. Spending hours in a tiny booth recording and listening to your own voice, stumbling over tongue twisters … Who invented that?!

In his post ‘These three things‘, Jonathan Marks writes that the th-sounds (think, this) are something that many learners of English find difficult to master, but that learners shouldn’t worry too much about pronouncing them correctly.

Not so for me: I felt I had to get it right! I spent several hours a week in the booth, trying to master those sounds that were not native to me. Three was sree and though was dough. On learning about my frustration, a teacher advised me to do the following exercise: push the tip of your tongue against the back of your top front teeth, and repeatedly make a d sound: d-d-d-d-d. After hours of practice at school and at home (sorry mum!) I finally got it right.

A few months later I was visiting an English friend at her home in London. She asked me a question about how many times I’d read a particular book. “Thrice!” I said with confidence, knowing that this time my pronunciation wouldn’t fail me. “Thrice?” she said, laughing at my comment. What kind of old-fashioned word is that? You mean ‘three times’!

And so I learned that pronunciation isn’t everything and not everything can be taught from a book (not even one written by Dickens).

About Saskia Iseard
Saskia studied at Leiden University before moving to Newcastle to work as a Linguist Monitor/Translator. She then relocated to Edinburgh and later Oxford to pursue a career in publishing at Macmillan Education.

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Saskia Iseard


  • Well, here’s another trick that might have helped you master those sounds a little more quickly. Place a piece of breakfast cereal such as a Cheerio or Fruit Loop on the front of your tongue and bring it up against the back of your upper teeth. It will create the bit of space that you need to create a ‘th’ sound. Then blow air through your mouth. You’ll have a nice ‘th’ sound, and a bit of practice with the cereal makes it much easier to get the loose resting of your teeth on tongue that you need when speaking these sounds. The practice sessions taste good too.

  • I would not ashamed to say thrice,because I prefer old fashioned words to many now-up -to-date words that are created to simplify every thing! One day ,we might end up with telegraphic- styled or business-styled literature.

  • Yes, but why does the construction stop with once, twice and thrice – what happened to fouice, fivice, etc? Anybody know? BTW Saskia, I sympathise with your ‘th’ experience – as someone who had to correct his lateral sibillance by repeating t-t-t-t-ts-ts-ts-ts…s-s-s-s! My own “tonguetwister: tsilly tsusan’s tsecret tsexual extravaganzas”. Many Leicester pedestrians gave me funny looks in summer 1970 as I marched along London Rd practising my “s’s”.

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