How do you pronounce ‘the’?

Have you noticed that our younger speakers almost always pronounce the word ‘the’ as ‘thuh’? It’s something that I have to work on with most young students.

Older speakers use the pronunciation ‘thee’ before a vowel sound, and because of this their speech sounds smoother as the transition to the word which follows is less awkward.

Following are some guidelines and examples, some practice exercises, and if you’re game, a ‘test yourself’ activity!

There are two ways to pronounce ‘the’

 1. ‘thuh’

Pronounce it as ‘thuh’ when it occurs before a consonant sound. For example

  • the cat
  • the dog

It’s the sound that should be considered at the start of the word following ‘the’, not the letter used to commence that word. In these examples, the word following ‘the’ commences with a vowel letter but has a consonant sound. So use ‘thuh’ for these examples

  • the university (university starts with a ‘y’ sound)
  • the once famous (once starts with a ‘w’ sound)

2. ‘thee’

Pronounce it as ‘thee’ when it occurs before a vowel sound. For example

  • the apple
  • the egg
  • the invitation
  • the opportunity
  • the umbrella

In these examples, the word following ‘the’ commences with a consonant letter but has a vowel sound. So use ‘thee’ in these examples

  • the honest person (honest starts with the short ‘o’ sound)
  • the x-ray (x-ray starts with the short ‘e’ sound)

Practice exercises

Pronounce ‘the’ as ‘thee’ for all the following

  • The actor
  • The example
  • The issue
  • The offer
  • The understanding
  • The evening
  • The ice-cream
  • The open day
  • The urgent message
  • The artist
  • The earl
  • The object
  • The usher
  • The aide
  • The hour (‘h’ is silent so the initial sound is a vowel)

Test yourself

Read the following aloud, using ‘thuh’ or ‘thee’ as required, and check your answers at the end of each group.

  1. The ground
  2. The year
  3. The average
  4. The case
  5. The quote
  6. The unique item
  7. The underground
  8. The kettle
  9. The eye
  10. The window

(‘Thee’ should have been used for 3, 7 and 9; but not for 6 because ‘unique’ commences with the consonant sound ‘y’)

  1. The horse
  2. The zoo
  3. The order
  4. The news
  5. The iPad
  6. The heir
  7. The jewell
  8. The X Factor
  9. The dance
  10. The once popular

(‘Thee’ should have been used for 13 and 15; also for 16 because the ‘h’ is silent in ‘heir’ so the initial sound is a vowel sound; also for 18 because ‘X’ commences with the short vowel sound ‘e’; but not for 20 because ‘once’ commences with the consonant sound ‘w’)

  1. The view
  2. The opposite
  3. The earth
  4. The story
  5. The motor
  6. The image
  7. The honour
  8. The upset
  9. The boy
  10. The United States

(‘Thee’ should have been used for 22, 23, 26 and 28; also for 27 because the ‘h’ is silent in ‘honour’ so the initial sound is a vowel sound; not for 30 because ‘United’ commences with the consonant sound ‘y’)

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