How to pronounce THREE in American English

How to Pronounce THREE in American English

How to pronounce THREE in American English?

Do you know how to pronounce three? How do you pronounce three in American English? Students may either say “TREE” or “FREE” or they might say “SREE”, but not “Three”. It’s such a simple word that people around the world use every day.

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Why is Three Pronounced Free?

Let’s take a look at why children and adults alike pronounce ‘THREE’ as ‘FREE’. Why is that? Well here’s the answer. If you take your top teeth and bite your lower lip, then you will make an ‘F’ consonant sound and you will say ‘FREE‘ like most do in the UK and Europe. This is the answer. It’s much easier to just keep your tongue inside your mouth and take your top teeth and bite down on the bottom lip. To pronounce ‘THREE’ you have to bite your tongue as the tongue goes out of your mouth slightly. If you just bite your bottom lip with your top teeth then it will always be ‘FREE’. It’s quite an easy thing to correct. That’s the difference between ‘FREE’ and ‘THREE’.

How do Americans Say Three?

(There are 3 parts on how to pronounce three perfectly)

Why Can’t I Pronounce THREE?

How do I pronounce three? Why can’t I say three in American English? The trouble lies in pronouncing two difficult sounds: 1. “TH” sound and 2. “R” sound. These two sounds on their own pose a big challenge to you as a student of English trying to get the right sound. Both of these are actually quite hard for non-native speakers of English. However, in this post I want to show you the correct mechanics of how to physically make this sound, so it’s no longer a problem for you. Let’s now focus on those two sounds.

We’re going to focus on how to pronounce the “TH” sound and second on how to pronounce the “R” sound. After this, I will finally show you how to pronounce three in American English. Ready to start saying three correctly? Let’s go!

1. How to Pronounce Three in American English? – TH Voiceless Sound

How do Americans pronounce three? The first part is to say the ‘TH Voiceless Sound‘ correctly. The “th” voiceless sound is simply made by placing the tongue in between the upper teeth and lower teeth, gently biting down with your teeth on the tip of your tongue.DO NOT stick your tongue out of your mouth all the way. However, if you want to pronounce ‘THREE’ in American English, I recommend that you practice sticking your tongue more out of your mouth at first, since it is important to exaggerate the sound, so feel free to stick your tongue just like a little kid would do this, and then over time push it back in, but not completely. In my experience, students really struggle to actually put the tongue out of their mouth, so I like to use a prop such as a pen or a straw. Place the straw against your mouth and stick your tongue out between your teeth as mentioned earlier. Your tongue will feel the straw or the pen and your brain will know if you are actually sticking your tongue out or not. Now, once you’ve done this, push air through the top teeth and between the tongue and you will get what in linguistics we call a Voiceless TH Sound. You may think that you look like an idiot to place your tongue out of your mouth, but you are not. Pronouncing the voiceless TH sound correctly may mean you will have to humble yourself and stick your tongue out. It may seem embarrassing to start for you, but don’t let that stop you. In Europe for example, many teachers would punish students for sticking out their tongue to avoid making a correct TH sound because it sounds like a “lisp”. But in North America, you have to let go of this thinking and just follow the correct mechanics to sounding more like a native speaker of English. To learn how to make the TH Sound Voiceless perfectly, I recommend watching the following video below.


2. How to Pronounce Three in American English – R Sound Pronunciation

Once you have learned how to make the TH sound, the second part is the R sound. The “R” sound is made by curling your tongue upwards but NOT touching the roof of your mouth. If you touch your tongue to the top or roof of your mouth you will make an L sound, which is not what you want to do for this word. Also, to make an R sound you want to make sure your lips are rounded like you are going to whistle or give someone a kiss. Now, in English, the ‘R’ sound is not a “trill”. In other words, it is a SLOW ‘R’ sound, not a fast one like in Spanish or Punjabi. Once you can round your lips like you are going to whistle and curl your tongue upwards in your mouth without touching the roof of your mouth. An awesome tip on how to curl your tongue to make the ‘R’ sound, is pretend that you have food stuck to the back of your top teeth and with your tongue you start trying to scrape the food from your teeth in an upward motion to the curl is bending to the back of your mouth and then just hold your tongue in that curled position. The more curling, the better the ‘R’ sound will be and that’s what you want to achieve. Also, you must make sure that your vocal cords are vibrating, just like when you make the ‘M’ sound and you feel with your fingers below your throat that it is vibrating. This is called a “voiced” sound. The air isn’t just blown through, but it is pushed through like a guitar that has its strings strummed and are vibrating. This is an important point to remember. The hardest part of making an R sound is precisely the curling of the tongue, so it will take some practice to bend your tongue in a different way then you might be used to. You can do it though using the tip mentioned earlier, and please don’t give up! To learn and see more on how to make the “R” sound, please watch the video below.

3. How to Pronounce Three in American English – Long E Vowel

The third and last part is blending the TH & R sound together with the long e “ee” vowel sound. To make the long e vowel sound, you want to smile and put the middle to back of your tongue all the way up to the roof of your mouth with the front of your tongue drooping down slightly. This long e vowel sound is commonly found in words like “see,” “tree,” and “me.” To produce the long “e” sound, follow these steps:

  1. Relax your facial muscles and jaw.
  2. Position your tongue slightly higher and closer to the roof of your mouth compared to the short “e” sound (as in “bet”).
  3. Keep your lips relaxed and slightly apart.
  4. Make sure your vocal cords vibrate while producing the sound. The long “e” sound is voiced, meaning you should feel vibrations in your throat when pronouncing it.
  5. Say “ee” as in “see” or “tea,” holding the sound for a longer duration compared to the short “e” sound.

Once you have made the long e vowel sound, then you are ready to combine both the voiceless ‘TH’ & ‘R’ sound. Remember, this is an important word that is said on a regular basis every day. OK, so how to pronounce three in American English? Well, first remember to make the “TH” sound , second then immediately go into an “R” sound with the curled tongue without touching the top of your mouth, and third finishing with the Long E Vowel sound like in the word “see, me, or bee” for example.

Now, to really learn how to pronounce three in American English, please watch the following video below.


Maybe you’ve tried to say the word “three” and keep saying “free” for a while and haven’t had any luck fixing your pronunciation or maybe it’s the first time you are trying to get it right. In any case, I hope you now know there are three parts to focus on with the first two being the most difficult.

First, make sure to pronounce the “TH” voiceless sound correctly before moving on. Second, practice pronouncing the “R” sound until it sounds right. Lastly, all you have to do is add the long e vowel “ee” to it and you will be an expert on how to pronounce the word “three” in American English with much less difficulty than when you started. It will take some practice to perfect it, but with the right mechanics and re-training of your mind, you will definitely now be able to say this word with less trouble. Now you know how to pronounce three in American English! Congratulations.

Have you had trouble pronouncing the word three in American English? If so, has this post helped to correct your mistakes and improve your ability to say it with more confidence? Leave a comment below!


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