“Do you mean 1 or more than 1?”
Have you ever been asked a question like that after trying to say something with the word “this” or “these”? If so, you’re not alone. It can be hard to clearly pronounce these two words.
The primary difference between “this” and “these” is the vowel sound, and that’s the tricky part.
The word “this” uses the Short-i sound, and “these” uses the Long-E sound. These two sounds are very similar, but there is one key difference that many students of English do not know about. The key is tongue tension. Long-E and Short-i use basically the same tongue position, but for Long-E the tongue (which is a muscle) is tense, and for Short-i the tongue is relaxed.
Here is how I coach students:
Say “E”, then keeping your tongue in the same place, relax it: “E” > “i”
There are actually quite a few words that can be confused because of these two vowel sounds. Here are a few examples:
beat – bit
cheap – chip
deed – did
each – itch
eat – it
ease – is
feel – fill
heat – hit
he’s – his
leap – lip
leaving – living
steal/steel – still
seat – sit
seek – sick
wheel/we’ll – will
Even if a word with Short-i does not have a similar word with Long-E, it can make it hard to understand if you do not relax your tongue. I recently heard a U.S medical doctor (who was not born in the U.S.) in a TV news interview say “…this is the beegest breakthrough in cardiology…” Even though this doctor spoke English quite well, his vowel error stood out. He was trying to say “biggest” but his tongue was not relaxed for Short-i, so it sounded like “beegest”.
Back to “this” and “these”. The second difference between these two words is the “S”. In “these” the “S” should sound like “Z”.
So that’s the difference between “this” and “these”!