When to Say ‘the’ (thuh), When to Say ‘the’ (thee)

Have you noticed how many people do not differentiate the sound of the (thuh) and the (thee)? I have.

It was mentioned as a grammar pet peeve by a blog follower in 2016.

When I hear someone say “thuh only thing … thuh other side … thuh arrival time … thuh entrance,” I consider it a bit clunky, awkward or unrefined. Such pronunciation might not reflect well on the speaker in some circles.

Parts of Speech: The is an article

In terms of parts of speech, the is an article. Its role is to introduce nouns.

When the noun that follows the begins with a consonant — letters with a “hard” sound — you pronounce the as thuh.

Pronounced as thuh:
The girl rode her bicycle to school.
The bicycle disappeared from the rack.
The police wrote a report.

When the noun that follows the begins with a vowel — a, e, i, o, u — you pronounce it as thee.

Pronounced as thee:
The accident occurred at the intersection.
The elevator stopped at the sixth floor.
Tourists descended on the island.
Please set the oven at 350 degrees.
The usher showed us to our seats.

We can count on English to have exceptions. Here they are:

Some words start with a vowel, but they are pronounced with a consonant sound:

You are the (thuh) one I wanted to meet. (one begins with the w sound)
The (thuh) uniform was too large for the cadet. (uniform begins with the y sound)

Some words begin with consonants that are pronounced as vowels:

Did she say the (thee) MBA program was too challenging? (M sounds like em)
May I have the (thee) honor of your company? (h sounds like ah)

Sometimes we pronounce the as thee for emphasis:

It was the (thee) party of the decade!
The movie was the (thee) must-see on everyone’s list.

Parts of Speech: A and An also are articles

A and an share the article category with the, and they also are used before nouns

Use a before nouns that begin with a consonant:

a (uh) meeting
a (uh) luncheon
a (uh) pen

Use an before words that begin with a vowel:

an apple
an event
an invitation
an opera
an ultimatum

Standard American English does not always have written-in-stone rules for pronunciation. However, it does have guidelines and standards. These suggestions for pronouncing the articles thea and an are worth considering.

Do you have pronunciation pet peeves? Sent them my way!

Like it? Share it!

Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

6 thoughts on “When to Say ‘the’ (thuh), When to Say ‘the’ (thee)

  1. AvatarAnn Caron

    Thank you so much for publishing this pet peeve of mine! When I hear someone say thuh instead of thee make me crazy! It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Unfortunately it is happening more and more, even in the media. It’s so disappointing!

    1. AvatarKathy AdminTemp

      I know grammar is taught differently in schools these days, and maybe this is part of the fallout of less attention to pronunciation AND writing.

  2. AvatarElizabeth Brewer

    Of course, as a native Chicagoan I pronounce these article “du” and “dee”.

    1. AvatarKathy AdminTemp

      Hah! You and what some of us view as pronunciation stereotypes: people from Brooklyn, New York, for example, and maybe New Jersey. Regional pronunciations do indeed vary.

  3. Avatarwilliam

    Maddening! I have heard people say “thuh rice” for the ice, “thuh ruther” for the other, etc. They weren’t ignorami; they just sounded that way.

    1. AvatarKathy AdminTemp

      I must admit, William, that I’ve not noticed that type of pronunciation — or maybe I should say that type of faulty enunciation.

Comments are closed.