Did you know there are two ways to pronounce the word ‘the’? It comes as no surprise since ‘the’ is the most used word in the English language. Americans use the word so often that we’d become verbally incapacitated if we could not use it.
During accent modification trainings, I notice many clients forget to add this definite article before their nouns; but just as often I notice that they don’t use the correct form of ‘the’ when they speak either. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty (the details).
Two ways to say ‘the’
Phonetically /ðə/ or spelled like ‘thuh’ with a short ‘uh’ sound
Phonetically /ði/ or spelled like ‘thee’ with a long ‘eeee’ sound
So is there a general rule for when to use each? Yes sir! Which version of ‘the’ we use depends on the starting sound in the word following ‘the’.
If the word following ‘the’ starts with:
a consonant sound = we say ‘thuh’
a vowel sound = we say ‘thee’
Did you buy ‘thuh’ shirt?
Are you going to ‘thuh’ store?
Do you play ‘thuh’ piano?
Can you give me ‘thee’ orange juice?
Please pass ‘thee’ ice cream.
Did you turn off ‘thee’ iron?
Alternate Vowel Sounds:
The key for all of these is the starting sound, not the starting letter. For instance the candy M&M’s, starts with the alphabet letter M, but phonetically it starts with an ‘e’ sound spelled like /ɛmənɛm/. Therefore, we’ll use ‘thee’ in front of it.
On ‘thee’ hour
Did you get ‘thee’ M&M’s?
Have you ridden ‘thee’ L-train?
When Stressing 'The'
There’s one more rule when we say ‘the’, and that’s when we use more stress on the word. Regardless if the following word starts with a vowel or consonant sound, if you want to stress the importance of someone or something very specific and with more emotion, then you would say it like ‘thee’. For example:
“Guess who I saw yesterday?”
“Yes, I saw her grocery shopping, I couldn’t believe it!”