Pronunciation: the + vowel/consonant

Discussion in 'English Only' started by adviliax, Mar 22, 2006.

  1. adviliax New Member

    This is a question I'd really like to pose to English-speakers from UK considering US English differs to ours greatly!

    Years and years ago when I was a wee nipper I learnt that the word 'the' is pronounced 'the' when a word it precedes starts with a consonant, and 'thee' when it precedes one starting with a vowel.

    How correct is this?

    I know the word 'thee' is a different word to 'the' and has a different meaning, but that's how they taught us to pronounce th word.


  2. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Perfectly correct.
    That is the traditional pronuciation for BE and Commonwealth English, and also the way I speak.

    However, under American influence, /the/ in all positions is becoming more and more common among younger people in Australia.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Yes, that is standard, normal BE pronunciation.
    To say is just as difficult as saying
    Changing the e in the to a long ee solves the problem.

    Just like a/an, the pronunciation depends on the sound that follows, not necessarily the letter. So the uniform has a short e whereas the umbrella gets a long one.
  4. adviliax New Member

    Excellent! Thanking you kindly! :D

    Hehe, I love it when I'm right! ;)
  5. nmuscatine Senior Member

    English, USA
    Interesting!!!! I had noticed that there were two different ways of pronouncing "the," but I could never figure out the rule!

    I think that in American English, the pronunciation "the" is used with consonants. At least among the younger generations, both "thee" and "the" are possible with vowels (although I guess "the" sounds more informal). Correct me if I'm wrong.... I'm just trying to figure out what sounds natural and right when I say it in my head.
  6. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I think "the" is also pronounced [thee] even before a consonant when you want to emphasize the noun that follows.

    In such a sentence as
    XXX is the solution for that kind of problem
    (meaning the ultimate solution/the one solution)

    A road map is the thing you mustn't forget if you plan to travel to that place.

    I suspect the would be pronounced [thee]
    Not sure how good my examples are, though. :eek: Anyway, is the above still true? And is that means of stressing a particular word equally used in AE and BE?
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thee for an emphasised the is common BE.
  8. jokker Senior Member

    I am not an English-speaker, but it is exactly what I was taught when I was a nipper. Years later, one day, I met an English teacher who was a rather young American. He said he had never known this and felt strange. He said no matter the word started with a consonant or a vowel, he always pronounced "the".
  9. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    Yes, some Americans learned to, and do, say thee before a vowel (and for emphasis as well). However, some Americans say the and insert a glottal stop instead.
  10. COLsass

    COLsass Senior Member

    I mean, it's kind of insane that I was never taught this or noticed it, but it's also because my nipper days were in an eliding land of nasally voices and clipped vowels.

    The result:

    Th'apple. Th'oyster. Th'irrigation pits.

    Thus, no reason for theeeee. :)
  11. chabz_99 New Member

    philippines - filipino
    how do you pronounce the determiner THE if it follows a consonant/ vowel letters? is there any exceptions to the rule?
  12. mrbilal87

    mrbilal87 Senior Member

    English (NAmE)
    Hi chabz_99,

    Generally before consonants, THE is pronounced "thuh" and before vowels it's pronounced "thee".

    I hope that makes sense.

  13. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    Hi chabez, and welcome to the forum!

    Do you mean how do we pronounce "the" if it precedes a consonant or if it precedes a vowel? This has been discussed recently. You can find the thread HERE.

    I can't think of any examples where the letters 'the' follow a consonant! When these letters follow a vowel (as in "either"), the "the" letters sound like eee-thur
  14. epistolario

    epistolario Senior Member

    I learned the "rule" that the article the has two pronunciations:

    1. the (sounds like 'thee'), used before vowel-sounding words and silent h

    [thee] apple
    [thee] orange
    [thee] hour

    *It is also used before consonant sounds for emphasis:

    I am [thee] way, [thee] truth, and [thee] life. - Bible

    2. the (rhymes with 'duh'), used before consonant-sounding words

    [thuh] man
    [thuh] tree
    [thuh] place

    It is better sounding, in my humble opinion. But I have heard a lot of Americans who do not follow this "rule". How about in Britain and other English-speaking countries? Does one have to be strict about this?
  15. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    It is not a simple issue, as this quote from the M-W entry on "the" suggests:
  16. It tends to be followed in BrE, but very few people even know that there is a rule about it.

    It's more a question of how things sound. Remember that BrE tends to be more clipped than AmE, so it's occasionally important to distinguish the ends of words more clearly. We tend to shorten the "uh" of "thuh". If we used it in front of vowels (which, in speech, include a vowel coming after a silent h), it would elide with the next word and become unclear. Therefore we emphasise it by saying "thee".
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2009
  17. paradoxa4

    paradoxa4 Senior Member

    Venezuelan Spanish

    The undefined article "THE" is only one, why the people has lot of ways in order to say that?

    I've heard that in 3 ways. (I'm going to write the phonetic)

    THE = DAH (Da car, Da rules, In da club \ The car, The rules, in the club)
    THE = DEE (Dee money, Dee house \ The money, the house)
    THE = DEH (Deh computers \ The computers) (The last one, alike DE in Spanish phonetic)

    Which one is the right way to say that?
    Why the people change the way to say that? There's a reason? (Beside of the slang of the people without education)

    Thanks in advance.
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I've added this question to the end of several others about pronouncing "the". The earlier posts in the combined thread should answer today's question.
  19. peggy000 New Member

    Can you give me examples where you would use 'thuh' before vowels? According to Merriam-Webster sometimes 'thuh' before vowels also. I can't think of any examples!
  20. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    The examples aren't specific—it can be any word beginning with a vowel, I believe. By "sometimes" it means that some speakers, or some speakers sometimes, pronounce "the" as "thuh" before vowels. I don't think there are specific words where this is more likely to happen.

    Most speakers, I think, would find this habit or practice to be awkward, as it takes more effort, but it is certainly heard. Perhaps it is more likely in the speech of certain regions or social groups.
  21. nadanada76 Senior Member

    Romania Romanian
    Hello everyone,

    I was familiar with these rules and had no doubts about this matter until I came across a British educated person who says: thee US.
    In my opinion it is not correct because here "u" is pronounced "ju".

    Can anyone think of a rule that says that we should pronounce: thuh university but thee US?

    Thank you all.
  22. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    "Thuh US" would be the norm, of course, as US doesn't start with a vowel sound. Before consonants, the is pronounced "thee" under two main circumstances, I think. One is when used for emphasis:
    "This restaurant is the [thee] place to go around here."
    "This is the [thee] most expensive restaurant in Manchesterford".

    The other is when hesitating; when the speaker cannot think of the next word, or is making a dramatic pause:
    "Some of the designs were a trifle on thee—how shall I put it?—gaudy side."
    "Capillary dilation of the so called 'blush response'? Fluctuation of thee... pupil?" [Tyrrell, Blade Runner]

    Without hearing the example you are thinking of though, it's impossible to say in that particular case.
  23. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I suspect that what you are hearing is not "thee", but "the" followed by the "ee" sound associated with the sound of "u" in united and university.

    So the schwa of "the" is followed by the diphthong sound of "u", which very crudely could be represented by "ee-oo".
    You don't hear the schwa, just "th" followed by "ee".

    Put another way, the word "united" is pronounced a bit like "yoonited".
    The "y" there is pronounced just like the "y" at the end of "happy" - like "ee".
  24. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    I never knew there was any kind of rule, much less one that people were taught! I do say "THEE" apple most of the time but "thuh orange." Go figure. It's not something I have ever noticed or thought about.
  25. nadanada76 Senior Member

    Romania Romanian
    Ok, so things are more complicated than they seem: it should be thuh US, thuh UK, it really is, but people make it sound like thee US. Just like the unfortunate choice of saying "shirt" instead of "T-shirt" when in fact the difference is important.

    kalamazoo, maybe you weren't taught that as a native speaker, but in my country it one of the rules that one learns when studying English.

    Thank you all.
  26. r7dexufa New Member

    Atherton, CA

    Long time reader and first time poster here. I language-exchange with a Japanese friend and the inevitable a/an/the/some question came up. I managed to explain it to the best of my ability (and with help from WordReference!), but then he asked me, why do I use both the and the, respectively prouned thuh and thee, and when should he use it?

    I thought long and hard, thinking that perhaps I could come up with a general rule, but I'm at a loss. Is there some sort of guideline for this, could it be regional variation, or am I simply inarticulate? At best, I just know something "feels" wrong, like "thuh apple". I always use "thee apple".

  27. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    Depends on whether the next word begins with a vowel or not.
  28. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    To add to that, it depends on whether the next word begins with a vowel sound.
  29. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    And the (thee) can be used for emphasis.

    A: "Where's the key?"
    B: "Here!" [offers it to A]
    A: "That's the wrong one! I said I wanted the (thee - said with heavy emphasis) key, not a(ay - said with heavy emphasis) key!"
  30. r7dexufa New Member

    Atherton, CA
    Thank you so much, everyone! I think I know how to proceed now and I'm glad that I'm not crazy (at least in this particular case). Just to ensure I've understood correctly:

    - the (thuh) precedes consonant sounds
    - the (thee) precedes vowel sounds and is used to emphasize

    I suppose my follow-up question to this is, do long and short vowel sounds have any bearing? While (thee) apple sounds fine, (thee) acorn leaves me on the fence. Any thoughts on this?

    Thank you!
  31. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    As JulianSmart points out it is a "sound" issue. This is parallel to the indefinite article. "A red apple" and "An apple." Would you say "A acorn"?
  32. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Mod note: r7's thread (post 26) has now been merged with an older thread on the same question
  33. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    I remember learning the "British" rule in first grade, although I'm pretty sure I had already acquired it at home.
  34. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I first encountered the thuh before a vowel when I came to the US (never in the UK before then - in that sense I can see why the rule might be considered British). Ever since, I tried to figure out what the US rules are that some follow but have since decided there are no rules. Some people seem to try to use Thuh all the time but often fail because euphony takes over. I have never heard any AmE speaker score 100% in this effort. Some American radio reporters and personalities will do this. At the beginning of the sentence or segment there will be a "... thuh (vowel) ...... " And often later in the sentence or in the next one, it's the same vowel sound preceded by thee". I would have suggested that the thee thuh distinction follows the an/a distinction but then I started hearing people say "I'd like a orange and a apple". That's when I gave up looking for rules :)
  35. r7dexufa New Member

    Atherton, CA
    Thank you so much, moderators, for merging this (and cluing me in that it'd already been asked) and Julian, for responding! I feel confident now that I can thoroughly explain this.
  36. Tony_86 New Member

    I'm sorry I revive this topic, but I really came a across a doubt about this just now and I can seem to find a proper answer about it after having read the entire thread.
    What if the vowel sound is /i/, like in "the internet", or "the internship"?
    In this case, does the cacophony affect the pronunciation in any way?
    Thanks so much in advance.
  37. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    No, we still use the /i/ pronunciation, as it's before a vowel. The two sounds are not identical. (As you're Spanish you might not be able to hear this difference clearly, as they both sound close to the Spanish /i/.) The /i/ of 'the' is actually closer to the /i:/ of 'evening', 'east'. In both cases there is usually a slight consonant [j] (as in 'yes') between them; the i-sound doesn't go continuously through.
  38. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In normal speech, I think it would result in a more prolonged vowel /ɪː/. In fast speech you'd get a single vowel - th'internet as it were.


    Added: Yes, an added /j/ is also possible for me.
  39. Tony_86 New Member

    Thank you very much to you both. Very clarifying and complete answer.

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