I read that the definite article is pronounced differently depending on the word that follows it. Which is the exact pronunciation of the?

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    Whoever voted to close as General Reference should perhaps think more carefully on such matters. The answer may be obvious to native speakers, but because of the way Google indexes things, it doesn't seem to be all that easy to actually look it up online if you're not familiar with spoken English. – FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 21:10
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    The rule is stated here. It turns out it's the same rule as for a vs an. – John Lawler Jul 22 '12 at 22:37

I’m adding this answer because no one seems to have used IPA, or explained the matter simply. The word has three standard pronunciations, which vary by context.

The definite article ‘the’ is normally pronounced /ðə/ before a consonant sound and /ði/ before a vowel sound. Neither of these is a stressed syllable.

However, it also has a ‘stressed’ pronunciation used for emphasis, which is always /ðiː/ no matter what sound should follow it. The vowel here is held longer than in the unstressed version.

That’s really all there is to it.

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    Some people use /ðə/ in all positions though. – Mechanical snail Sep 17 '12 at 8:20
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    Another note: when /ði/ is followed by a word starting with /i/, that triggers glottal stop insertion (/ði.i/ rather than /ðiː/). – Mechanical snail Sep 17 '12 at 8:22
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    @Mechanicalsnail is right - some people always use [ðə], and insert a glottal stop if the following word start with a vowel. Such speakers only use [ði] for emphasis. – alcas Dec 30 '12 at 17:50
  • Could you pronunce "the" like [ɾə] or something like that? – El borito Aug 27 at 7:14

If the following word starts with a vowel it's pronounced like 'thee'.

For other details I would recommend Pronunciation of the voiced & voiceless "TH" sound.

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    Just to add, it corresponds to the a/an rule. For a word that would take "a" as the indefinite article, you use "thuh" ([ðə]), so "a book" -> "thuh book" (if I write it as it sounds). For a word that would take "an", you use "thee" ([ði]), so "an apple" -> "thee apple". – Kosmonaut Aug 16 '10 at 21:52
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    The answer to the question has nothing to do with the pronunciation of the "TH sound". – delete Aug 16 '10 at 23:58
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    I just did a quick survey in my office and people here say "thuh apple, thee egg, thuh eel". So I'm not sure if this is a rule. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 17 '10 at 14:00
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    Actually, like many "rules", in actual use there is a lot of interspeaker (and even intraspeaker) variation. That is, in many dialects there is a certain degree of further "the" reduction. (Btw, "thuh" can be considered more reduced than "thee".) Certain dialects might only say "thuh" -- while only saying "thee" would be surprising, at least for American English. Here is one dialect example where "the" variation occurs: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definite_article_reduction . That said, if one's goal is to clarify for a non-native speaker, the "vowel rule" will definitely cover it. – Kosmonaut Aug 17 '10 at 17:01
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    In singing, "thee" is used before all vowels except "ee"; there can be a number of pronunciations of "the eternal": "thee ihternal", "thih eeternal", "thee heeternal", or "theeyeeternal", depending upon rhythm and context. In spoken usage, the word is often pronounced "thuh" when unstressed, even before vowels, and "thee" when stressed, even before consonants. "That's thuh record store": the speaker is saying a record store exists, and the indicated store is it". "That's THEE record store": There's only one record store worthy of consideration (the indicated one). – supercat Mar 6 '11 at 23:15

If you want to emphasize that what follows is really a single entity, you can pronounce the in the "vowel" - way.

THE single most important question to answer is: If I extract out of a relative clause, do I still get a Nintendo for Christmas?

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There is no hard-and-fast rule for the pronunciation of this word, as it depends strongly on where you grew up speaking. I am from the northern United States, so in my dialect, I have "the" before words that start with consonants and "thi" before words that start with vowels, usually. I also use "thi" to add emphasis (as in "That is the best pie I have ever had").

That's my two cents. Just keep in mind that it may be different for other regions of the US and other countries.

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  • This answer is wrong. – tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 21:21
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    Where's the problem? – Adele C Jul 22 '12 at 23:36
  • @tchrist I think I see it. I am interpreting "thi" as ði (rhymes with "be") and "the" as ðʌ (sort of rhymes with "sofa"). Do you think it was meant to be the other way? – Adele C Jul 23 '12 at 2:17
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    Interestingly, I was never explicitly taught a rule (thus, no "hard-and-fast"). I seem to have just picked it up. I'm sure it varies by dialect (AAVE comes to mind). – Adele C Jul 23 '12 at 22:39
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    @tchrist: "it’s not mandatory, provided you don’t mind sounding like a non-native speaker who doesn’t understand how English works and sounds". That's not consistent with the other answers and comments here. I'm not saying that the rule as mentioned by John Lawler is wrong at all, just that it is not as hard and fast as you say. I think you've just called all the variants of English non-native. – Mitch Jul 23 '12 at 23:19

I'm in Toronto, Canada. The region is useful info if we are going to "argue" about pronunciations. When I hear someone say "thuh army", I hear an uneducated person (or a non-native speaker, if you want to give the person an out). I've read that people in the South always say "thuh", regardless of the word following. I'm hearing "thuh" so often now before vowel sounds, that I'm sure it's more than just in the South.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage. This reads more like a comment on existing answers. When you post an answer, please make sure it is a true answer to the question, not a comment on another post. Thanks. – MetaEd Apr 13 '13 at 15:46
  • The south of Canada or what? – Arm the good guys in America Nov 7 '17 at 17:50

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