Pronouncing "the" Definite Article

Two people in the past week have requested information on pronouncing the definite article, “the.” This issue lies outside my area of expertise, so I can’t reply with authority. What I can offer instead is the consensus among the results of a quick Google search, which happens to coincide with what my opera-singing sister-in-law thinks:

  • When the definite article (“the”) comes before a word that begins with a vowel, pronounce it like “thee.” E.g. “<thee> elephant”
  • When “the” comes before a word that begins with a consonant, pronounce it like “thu” (with a schwa sound). E.g. “<thu> car”

If you emphasize “the,” it is often pronounced “thee,” even when it comes before a word beginning with a consonant. Try saying, “He is the master of English.” It comes out sounding like “thee,” doesn’t it?

One writer on a linguistics mailing list claims that some people pronounce “the” as “thu,” regardless of the word that follows. However, this pronunciation isn’t standard (when followed by a word beginning with a vowel). It might be attributable to a regional or class dialect, but I don’t know for sure.

References

You may find additional information at one of these places:

This entry was posted in general. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Or, follow comments via email (without commenting yourself) here:

4 Responses to Pronouncing "the" Definite Article

  1. Camelia says:

    A generalization is a broad statement about something. Generalizations often include words such as most, none, everything or all. Read each passage then write a generalization about it on the line below.
    1. When Walter took out the trash he dumped everthing into one can. He didn’t care that there were 3 can for 3 different kinds of trash. He wanted to get back to watching television. 2. In the story Walter wished that he ad his own plane robot in a maching to make jelly donuts. 3. Walter saw houses buried under huge piles of trash. He gasped when he saw the street sign that had the name of his street on it. A man told him no one lived there anymor. 4. When Walter was on the edge of a smoke stack he coughed and the smoke burned his throat and made his eyes itch. 5. When Walter awoke he ran outside in his pajamas to find the jelly donut wrapper his had discarded earlier that day.

  2. Jon says:

    To me, the is always just the. You don’t say it “THEE” regardless of what comes after it. It’s just not the correct way of saying THE word, hehe. When you write “He is the master of English,” with “the” itaclized, I just emphasize THE, I don’t say it differently. He is THE master, not he is THEE master, that sounds like Ah-nold Scwharzenegger saying it. ;)

  3. N says:

    The comment made by Jon is most ridiculous. You should certainly follow the rules of pronunciation, unless you’re trying to sound like an uneducated baffoon. It certainly can’t help you in any situation I can think of, unless you mistakenly stroll through a bad part of town, or end up in a pub with a bunch of slappers. Of course language evolves, but one should try to hold on to the language of one’s generation, else suffer sounding like a youth. In addition, you should learn to pronunce words beginning with “wh” correctly, and learn the grammatical difference between who and whom and the spelling difference between your and you’re!

  4. John says:

    I agree with N. No one sounds “cool” saying the instead of thee, except to one’s peers, who, frankly, all sound just as ridiculous as each other. I believe the (thee) Americans started it, and who ruled that we all must try to sound like them?