What would be the correct way to pronounce "the"? According to my Swedish-English dictionary at home, it follows the same rule as for the articles "a" and "an". Is this really true in every situation? I've noticed that native speakers doesn't always follow this rule, and I've catched myself pronouncing (or thinking) it as [ðɜ] before words beginning with the "a" sound (like in "play" or "age"). Is that incorrect? Or does it just depend on dialect?
Definition of "the". JSBangs sums up for the most part, though I'd like to add that it's mostly interchangeable in that if you pronounce it in one way and not in the other, nobody would notice.
However, one thing I've noticed is that if "the" is used to emphasize the noun that follows, it's always pronounced "thee". Such as "thee" commander and chief or "thee" single best sandwich in the world.
In American English you have:
- [ðə] before consonants
- [ði] before vowels
This doesn't depend in any way on what the following consonant or vowel is. Of course, in rapid, informal speech the vowel may disappear altogether. Other dialects may treat this differently, but the basic principle should apply.