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How do you pronounce the vowel in the article "the" when used before "evil"? (American English)

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The general rule has [ði] before phonological vowel sounds, [ðə] before phonological consonant sounds. This is parallel to the use of "an" and "a". However, there are a few complications:

  • [ði] is also used in some cases as an emphasized form of the definite article; this can occur no matter what sound the following word starts with.
  • You might on occasion hear an English speaker say something more like [ðə] or [ðɪ] before a word that starts with a vowel rather than the standard [ði]. Apparently, the use of a non-standard reduced form like [ðə] is most likely before words that start with a stressed /i/ or /ɪ/ sound, such as "evil". Even in this case, though, the standard pronunciation is still the most common one and the one that I would recommend for an English language learner.

If you want to learn more details, the following linguistics article is where I got this information: Constraints on definite article alternation in speech production: To “thee” or not to “thee”? (by M. Gareth Gaskell , Helen Cox, Katherine Foley, Helen Grieve, Rachel O’Brien; Memory & Cognition July 2003, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 715-727)

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  • An awesome reference. The research is based on British English, not American. The question is about American English. – Darius Miliauskas Mar 12 '15 at 10:22
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    @Darius: Good catch! I think the phenomena discovered might apply to American English as well, though... I did spend a few minutes "testing out" how I said the phrase "the evil" which seemed to me to confirm the conclusions of the paper. – herisson Mar 12 '15 at 11:01
  • Are you sure that [ði] is more common even before ['i]? I find [ði'i] very unnatural. – ruakh Jun 27 '16 at 23:27
  • It seems that way in my personal usage. Gaskell et al. report that they found "more deviations from the normative rule (i.e., reduced forms) for the high front vowels (15.1%) than for the other vowels (9.9%)," but 15.1% is still clearly less common. They group together /i/ and /ɪ/; unfortunately I haven't been able to find separate data in their paper for just /i. – herisson Jun 27 '16 at 23:37
  • 'Phonetic vowels' like /w, j, l, r/ for example? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 29 '16 at 12:27
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the is pronounced with as a long "thee" [ði] before the vowels.

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