How do you pronounce ‘the’?

That is the question!

There are two different ways of pronouncing the definite article ‘the’. 

Normally, we pronounce the with a short sound (like /ðə/ (“thuh,” rhymes with “duh.”) 

However,  when the comes before a vowel sound, we pronounce it as a long sound /ði:/ (“thee,” rhymes with “free.”)

So for example we will say:

The fruit = The here is pronounced /ðə/

Now if we add an adjective that starts with a vowel sound such as amazing then the pronunciation of the changes:

The (/ði:/) amazing fruit

Let’s look at some more examples:

Vowel phonetic vowelWrittenPronounced
a/æ/the apple/ði:/
e/e/the egg/ði:/
i/aɪ /the ice-cream/ði:/
o/ɒ/the orange/ði:/
u/ʌ/the ugly fruit/ði:/

It is important to understand that it is what we say that matters, not what we write.

It is the sound that matters, not the letter used in writing a word. So we use a long “thee” (/ði:/) before a vowel sound, not necessarily before a vowel.

Let’s look at these examples:

we writewith the letterwe saybecause
the houseconsonant ‘h’/ðə/ (thuh) Houseconsonant sound /h/ 
the hourconsonant ‘h’/ði:/ (thee) hourvowel sound /aʊ/
the universityvowel ‘u’/ðə/ (thuh)
consonant sound /j/
the umbrellavowel ‘u’/ði:/ (thee) Umbrellavowel sound /ʌ/

There is another reason we say the long ‘the’ /ði:/

When we wish to place emphasis on a particular word, we can use “emphatic the” /ði:/ , whether or not the word begins with a consonant or vowel sound.

For example:

  • the (ði:) one and only
  • the (ði:) queen of hip-hop
  • the (ði:) Titanic

Check out my video explaining how to pronounce this small but important word:


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