The or Thee (Pronunciation)

The or Thee (Pronunciation)?

"The" is often pronounced "thee" before a vowel sound and "thuh" before a consonant sound. This is not a ruling. It's just a tendency to assist with the flow of speech.

Also, in speech, the word "the" is pronounced "thee" for emphasis. For example:
  • I spoke to the ["thee"] Queen!
  • (I spoke to the actual Queen.)
    (When used for emphasis, "the" is always pronounced "thee" never "thuh".)
Also of note, the four-letter word "thee" is an archaic version of "you." It has nothing to do with "the." For example:
  • I beseech thee [you].
the or thee pronunciation?

More about the Pronunciation of "The" and "Thee"

There is no rule as such. You can pronounce "the" however you like. That is not the whole answer though. While it is not a grammar rule, people tend to use the "thee" version before a vowel sound and the "thuh" version before a consonant sound.

Some people might tell you this is a rule, but it's not. It's just about the flow of speech.

The word "sound" is important. It is not the case that we tend to use "thee" before vowels and "thuh" before consonants because some vowels start with consonant sounds (e.g., unicorn, one), and some consonants start with vowel sounds (xray, RTA).

  • the ["thuh"] house
  • the ["thee"] hour
  • the ["thuh"] unicorn
  • the ["thee"] uninvited
Note: Each pair above starts with the same three letters, but one in the pair attracts "thuh" while the other attracts "thee."

So, in a way, the use of "thuh" and "thee" is a lot like "a" and "an". The big difference is that you are compelled to use "a" before a consonant sound and "an" before a vowel sound. In other words, that is a ruling.

Emphatic "The"

There is another quirk. The word "the" (always pronounced "thee") can be used for emphasis. When used in this way, it is irrelevant whether the next word starts with a vowel sound or a consonant sound. The word is stressed by the speaker. For example:
  • I saw the ["thee"] spider today.
  • (This could refer to a specific large spider that was seen previously.) (Using the "thee" version for emphasis is not a writing technique. It is only a spoken one.)
  • I talked to the ["thee"] President today.
  • (I talked to actual President.)

Archaic Thee

The four-letter word "thee" (i.e., the one with two e's) is an archaic version of "you" in the objective case. For example:
  • I beseech thee [you] not to take her life, my lord.
  • I ask nothing of thee [you].

Beware of Abbreviations

Abbreviations that start with the consonants F, H, L, M, N, R, S, and X attract "the" ["thee"] because they start with vowel sounds.

Beware the Letter U

Abbreviations and some words (e.g., unicorn, united) that start with the vowel U attract "the" ["thuh"] because U starts with the consonant sound "y."
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.