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I've been told that when "the" is proceeded by a vowel sound, like "apple" or "hour", it's pronounced as "thee" and not as "thu".

But after listening to a couple of songs, I noticed that sometimes this "rule" is not followed. Take for example the two Katy Perry's songs, "Roar" and "The one that got away". In the first she sings "I got thee eye of thu tiger", but in the second she sings "Thu one that got away".

I don't know if it was sang this way to better suit the song melody (I understand nothing about those techniques), but I got confused. What's the correct pronunciation?

Thanks in advance.

  • 8
    One doesn't start with a vowel, but with a /w/, which is almost a vowel, but not quite. Now if you want to hear the thee used profusely even before consonants, listen to Oliver Stone narrating his The Untold History of the United States. – Talia Ford Oct 13 '13 at 21:08
  • Thanks, I didn't realize "one" didn't start with a vowel sound. I've just watched one episode of The Untold History of the United States as you suggested and noticed that he says thee even before final and sovietics words. Does this vary or is there a correct pronunciation? – Samir Aguiar Oct 13 '13 at 21:17
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    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/5795/… – Talia Ford Oct 13 '13 at 21:17
  • +1 This is a very interesting question. I have never stopped to consider the rules I apply when pronouncing "the." This calls for retrospection. – Lumberjack Oct 13 '13 at 21:48
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    koplersky, this is not exactly a rule. The word "the" does not have to be pronounced as "thee". It varies. Some people pronounce it like that and other people do not. – Tristan Oct 14 '13 at 11:27
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You are correct, English speakers generally pronounce the with a long E (ði) before vowels and with a schwa (ðə) before consonants, just as we say an before vowels and a before consonants.

However, the rule follows pronunciation rather than spelling. While words like one and unicorn are spelled with initial vowels, the actual sounds are consonants (specifically, the labio-velar approximant [w] and the palatal approximant [j], often called semivowels). Therefore, these words use the articles for consonants:

A one-dollar note.
The (ðə) one-dollar note.

A unicorn.
The (ðə) unicorn.

Likewise, words like hour are spelled with initial consonants but actually sound as vowels, so they use the articles for vowels:

An hour.
The (ði) hour.

As others have mentioned, we don't follow the rule for the as rigorously as we do for a/an. There's some regional and personal variation, and we generally pronounce the with the long vowel (ði) when the word is stressed, regardless of the following sound.

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You are correct about how it is supposed to typically work. A decent explanation can be found here at The English Club. The simple fact of it all is that there is no accounting for the inconsistency of people - sometimes people will pronounce the word incorrectly simply due to a failure to understand this rule, as it is very rarely ever discussed and is only known largely by subconscious feel.

  • This is not an answer. The comment by Talia Ford actually answers the question. – siride Oct 14 '13 at 3:06
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Roughly:

thee before a vowel

prolonged thee when stressed or emphatic

thu before a consonant

I advise you to go on Google Translate, write a very short sentence in your language giving the translation into English for the various cases, with the loudspeaker on, for lack of better.

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English isn't completely followed in songs - I listen to Eminem, and I don't think he follows any rule he just breaks the words and makes the english more funny! Love his work! :)

Short Answer:

However, You might try calling a word which would start with a vowel or not.

For example: If the comes with man, then you will say tha man. But if its beside apple as in your example, it surely will be thee apple

Roar, Ummm never heard that one! But the example is simple,

thee eye of thu tiger

Eye starts with a vowel, and sounds like vowel a'ee (correct me please, I am not perfect in this type of punctuation) so it was thee, tiger neither starts nor sounds like a vowel, so thu!

Similarly, when you're saying, what is the hour? You're saying it as, thee a'r not the other word!

2

The fact is that most English speakers, most of the time, make the distinction you describe. There are some who don't usually do so, or who do so in some circumstances but not others; and there are some contexts in which most people would pronounce the like thee.

If you want to call this observational fact a rule, you can do so.

  • Who decides who can call observational facts rules? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 '13 at 22:32
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I would like to add that there may also be a regional variation.

South African English speakers often use thu even before a vowel sound.

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Songs are closer to poetry. They may emphasize the "theeee" for dramatic effect. In speech, it depends on the flow of the sentence. You might hear "thuh thing is, ..."; "thuh elephant"; thuh clock". You might say "thee" to emphasize what comes next.

Yorkshiremen solve the problem by not saying "the" at all: "Sam's down at barn".

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    The Yorkshire dialect does indeed pronounce the, but as t', so the listener might miss it in your example (after at), but try instead "Sam's down in t'barn". – DavidR Oct 14 '13 at 8:46
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    Though t' doesn't represent any kind of /t/, but a pure glottal stop: I would write the two phrases phonetically as [əɂ'ba:n] and [ɪmɂ'ba:n] – Colin Fine May 31 '14 at 0:08
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I have noticed recently that several professional broadcasters on our public broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, routinely use 'a' and 'thuh' before everything, which makes me think that things are achanging, perhaps because they regard 'an' and 'thee' as old fashioned and to be avoided?

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