I was reading an article the other day and I came across an interesting passage:

Notice that the weak form of the is typically [ði] before a vowel-initial word (the apple) but [ðə] before a consonant-initial word (the pear), although this distinction is being lost in the United States. [26]

I'm concerned with the United States part. Is it true that American speakers don't make this distiction? I have never found this information in any book on accents for English learners or actors. It seems to have been taken from this book:

Ladefoged, Peter (2006), A Course in Phonetics, Thomson.

Since I don't have it, and I can't find it anywhere on the Internet, I can't really check its contents. Are there any American speakers here who don't make this distinction when speaking? And even could provide some additional sources? As I can't find any. Thanks for your time.

The link to the article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_and_vowel_reduction_in_English

  • 5
    American English speakers make the distinction, though they are generally unaware of it. It comes as a surprise to them when they learn that the definite article has two forms (they're both spelled alike and Anglophone schools teach that pronunciation comes from spelling, rather than the reverse), and that they're subject to the same kind of rule as the allomorphs of the indefinite article (which are not spelled alike). Nov 13, 2015 at 19:26
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    What John said. Furthermore, "the" exists on a continuum, and the pronunciation may "slide" toward one version or the other based on various contextual details, including particularly the rate of speech.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 13, 2015 at 19:33
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    In The + vowel letter, a lack of distinction is also reported anecdotally of South Africans and Australians.
    – choster
    Nov 13, 2015 at 20:00
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    Since there is no difference in meaning involved, the difference [ði] / [ðə] is not really a "distinction". So far as I have heard, both forms are still normal in American English speech.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 13, 2015 at 20:18
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    There are a lot of other relevant questions linked to the one choster mentioned, like this : the and thee (I prefer to pronounce it as thuh all the time) Though from what I remember, none of them have great answers. Just thought you might like to look over previous questions and answers though.
    – herisson
    Nov 14, 2015 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


A recent Geoff Lindsey video addresses this issue; see the section starting at 8:18.

To summarize: many American speakers will sometimes use the weak form [ðə] before vowel sounds, but they will then add a glottal stop to the beginning of the following word ("hard attack"). This prevents an awkward hiatus between the vowel in "the" and the vowel in the next word. This is much more common among younger speakers and is never universal; he mentions that some younger Brits are now adopting this pronunciation also.


This is certainly not the case in all American English speakers. It definitely is for some. I have some examples

"In the alley" at the beginning of this video. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8mjQCG4gLYo

"We know that dinosaurs lived on the earth" around this timestamp https://youtu.be/9iVOZ_-Xwrc?t=155

Both of these examples seem to come from African American Vernacular English, but might not be peculiar to that dialect. I don't have any other sources, this is my own research, but there is definitely evidence that this chamge exists.

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