Normally, we pronounce "the" with a short sound (like "thuh"). But when "the" comes before a vowel sound, we pronounce it as a long "thee".
|vowel sound||we write||we say|
|A||the apple||thee apple|
|E||the egg||thee egg|
|I||the ice-cream||thee ice-cream|
|O||the orange||thee orange|
|U||the ugli fruit||thee ugli fruit|
|we write||with||we say||with|
|the house||consonant (h)||thuh house||consonant sound|
|the hour||consonant (h)||thee our||vowel sound|
|the university||vowel (u)||thuh youniversity||consonant sound|
|the umbrella||vowel (u)||thee umbrella||vowel sound|
When we wish to place emphasis on a particular word, we can use "emphatic the" [thee], whether or not the word begins with a consonant or vowel sound. For example:
A: I saw the [thuh] President yesterday.
B: What! The [thee] President of the United States?
A: Yes, exactly.
When to Say "a" or "an"
The indefinite article is a or an. But how do we know when to say a and when to say an?
The rule is really very simple. It depends on the sound at the start of the following word. (It does not depend on the way we write the following word, it depends on the way we say it.)
A + consonant soundIf the following word starts with a consonant sound, then we say a.
|a game of golf|
|a human emotion|
|a very fat woman|
AN + vowel soundIf the following word starts with a vowel sound, then we say an.
|an extremely easy job|
|an interesting film|
|an old man|
The importance of soundNormally, we pronounce consonant letters with a consonant sound, and vowel letters with a vowel sound. But there are some exceptions. The rule about a or an is still the same. You just need to think about the sound, not the writing. Look at these examples:
|consonant letter with vowel sound|
|an honest man||on-est|
|an FBI agent||eff-bee-eye|
|vowel letter with consonant sound|
|a European country||you-ro-pe-an|
|a one-day conference||won-day|
- 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”
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.