Friday, December 24, 2010

How to Pronounce "the" in English

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 soundwe writewe say
Athe applethee apple
Ethe eggthee egg
Ithe ice-creamthee ice-cream
Othe orangethee orange
Uthe ugli fruitthee ugli fruit
It is important to understand that it is what we say that matters, not what we write. It is the sound that matters, not the letter used in writing a word. So we use a long "thee" before a vowel sound, not necessarily before a vowel. Look at these cases:
we writewithwe saywith
the houseconsonant (h)thuh houseconsonant sound
the hourconsonant (h)thee ourvowel sound
the universityvowel (u)thuh youniversityconsonant sound
the umbrellavowel (u)thee umbrellavowel sound
Emphatic the [thee]
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 sound

If the following word starts with a consonant sound, then we say a.
a cat
a game of golf
a human emotion
a Peruvian
a very fat woman

AN + vowel sound

If the following word starts with a vowel sound, then we say an.
an apple
an extremely easy job
an interesting film
an old man
an umbrella

The importance of sound

Normally, 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 hour our
an FBI agent eff-bee-eye
vowel letter with consonant sound
a European country you-ro-pe-an
a one-day conference won-day
a university you-ni-ver-si-ty

  • 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.

You may find additional information at one of these places: