When should 'the' be pronounced 'thuh' and when 'thee'?

I heard that 'the' should be used as 'thee' before vowels and in some particular cases. All other cases should employ 'thuh'. What are the 'particular cases'?

And when is 'a' pronounced 'eh' and when 'uh'?

  • You forgot an.
    – tchrist
    Jan 9 '14 at 20:05
  • @tchrist: I must be missing something here, but that question you mentioned (and all the associated answers) is about using a and an but I particularly asked how to pronounce them in a situation. Please shed some light on it so that I can delete my question.
    – Bee
    Jan 9 '14 at 20:12
  • 1
    I don't have "thee" answer, but I think your question could benefit from edits to make it clearer what you are asking, eg, "I am unclear about when to use the different pronunciations of..." rather than just "when to use"; "I've heard that 'the' should be pronounced 'thee'..., while, in other cases, it should be pronounced 'thuh'."; "and when does one pronounce 'a' as in 'hay' and when as 'uh'?" Different wording should help make it immediately clear what you are asking.
    – nxx
    Jan 9 '14 at 20:30
  • @tchrist This question has nothing whatever to do with the use of 'an'. It is about when to say thee instead of thuh and ay instead of uh.
    – WS2
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:19
  1. The 'thee' sound is used in front of words starting with a vowel sound (of which 'United States' is NOT one) such as 'apple', 'elephant', 'ink', 'orange', and 'ultrasound device'.

  2. It is also used where one is called upon to distinguish a special instance of something. For example you might say to me 'I was speaking to Bill Clinton the other day'. Unsure of who you meant I might say 'Do you mean the (pronounced thee) Bill Clinton, who used to be President?' Or you could tell me that I had not spoken to the right person when reporting something, and I might reply 'I spoke to the (thee) very person who deals with such matters.

It works slightly differently with 'a'. (For this purpose you can ignore 'an'.) You say 'I saw a man breaking into that house', I reply 'Was it a (eh) man, or were there more than one? Or I could say 'Was it a (eh) man (meaning any man) or was it the one we suspect'.

This is a fine-tuned area of our language and one that is only perfected with much listening and practice, I fear.

  • Good answer. I've noticed that the "ay" pronunciation for "a" comes up in some songs, too, where it may happen because the singer is reciting from a script (or from the memory of a script); as well as when certain unskilled public speakers read aloud. One example of the former is the Byrds song "Hey Mr. Spaceman" where the singer asks the alien he's encountered "won't you please take me along for ay ride?" I suspect that these instances are artifacts of the origin of the words in written rather than spoken English.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:32
  • @SvenYargs Thank you for the compliment. Yes, when to use 'thee' and 'ay' is a highly nuanced matter, and would certainly pick out a native, or very experienced speaker, from someone who was simply 'fluent' in the language.
    – WS2
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:39

"The" and "A" should be pronounced "thee" and "eh" always, or if you prefer, both ways for both words are the same thing.

"Thuh" and "uh" are, more or less a standard amount of slack that most people barely notice in themselves and others. If you can manage to never use these pronunciations, people will probably consider you "well spoken."

This is similar in a lot of ways to "probably." Where I come from, in a spelling bee you might hear someone say "Prolly. P-R-O-B-A-B-L-Y. Prolly." Nobody notices.

  • 3
    This is quite ill-informed and misleading, and I have down-voted it. The specific instances in which the different sounds are used is given in my answer above.
    – WS2
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:15
  • fair enough, but I will say your answer really only speaks to why people choose to be more careful about proper pronunciation. Your examples are all about emphasis, which is the opposite of "slack." Regarding your point number one: "uh apple" probably has a better than 50/50 chance in spoken language.
    – horatio
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:42

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