The or Thee (Pronunciation)

Our Story

The or Thee (Pronunciation)?

The word "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.

In speech, the word "the" can be 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".)
The four-letter word "thee" is an archaic version of "you." 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).

Examples:
  • 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 word "thee" (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."
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? When to use an and a What are vowels? What are consonants? What are articles? What are adjectives? What are abbreviations? What are acronyms?