Henry Poon's Blog

The Pronunciation of the Word “The”

Day 189

During a conversation with one of my German friends, the topic of the use of articles in languages came up and my friend told me that in his English class, he learned two different pronunciations of the word “the”.  One way, the way that most people should be familiar to, is pronounced like “thUH”, while the other had a “thEE” sound.  He also mentioned that he learned that these two ways of saying the word had a “rule” associated with it.  He said that the “thUH” pronunciation was used for words that had an opening sound of a consonant while the “thEE” pronunciation was used for words with an opening sound of a vowel.  For example, he would say “thUH” car, and “thEE” others.  There’s also “thUH” time, or “thEE” hour.  I learned no such rule in any of my English classes as far as I was concerned.  It didn’t matter to me which pronunciation people used.

I too noticed that some people say “the” differently, but I had no idea there was a pattern.  I tried it for myself, but I couldn’t really test it while thinking about it.  Eventually, as we kept talking, I found myself following this same pattern.  I followed this pattern without even knowing it.  I probably did this since I learned how to speak English.  I didn’t do it just once, but on multiple occasions.  I wondered how it could be that I followed the pattern so implicitly.

I sought to find out why this was.  Eventually, I learned that this was a difference between British English and American English.  Many Americans would simply say “thUH” for everything (maybe except for some who have a more Northern accent for English).  The distinction in the pronunciation lie in British English.  Me being from Canada, similarly follow this aspect of British English.  Now whenever I use the word “the”, I often find myself thinking about which way I said it.

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  1. amy yee 2011-12-12

    fascinating~~ i follow it unconciously too.

    • hp 2011-12-12

      I guess it just sounds/flows better when it is spoken. There are similar sound changes in Japanese too, just to make the speech flow better.

      Glad you liked it!

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