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I found in American English, "the first" is pronounced as [ ði:] [fə:st] but not [ðə:] [fə:st], the word “first” starts with a consonant, why we don’t say [ðə:] [fə:st]? Are there any regulations? Thanks!

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    There seem to be slight errors in your transcription, as far as I know, a schwa is never long or stressed in IPA (no colon). Also in American English you will most likely have an "r" (upside down) in "first". The "e" should also be represented by that sign that looks like a "3". Sep 8, 2016 at 9:18
  • You are right dukerasputin, there is something wrong with my soundmark because I used a Chinese dictionary, and its soundmarks are all appeared in English way not in American way.Thanks!
    – selina
    Sep 8, 2016 at 9:30
  • The first is pronounced /ðə fɚst/ in American English. That is the normal pronunciation. (Note, however, that first is usually not pronounced /fəːst/ with no pronounced /r/ in American English; that's a typical British English pronunciation.) Oct 9, 2016 at 0:25
  • Thank you Janus Bahs Jacquet! I heard it in the movie<The Great Dane Marmaduke>, Phil announced: It is the first annual of Bark Organics dog surfing competition. He definitely said/"ði:/ first". I was confused, but now I figure maybe it is the actor's unique accent.
    – selina
    Oct 9, 2016 at 7:29

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Generally speaking, the difference in pronunciation stems from whether "the" is stressed or not. If stressed, long /iː/ sound. If not, a schwa.

These differences are called weak/strong forms. Example: "Shakespeare is not only a poet he's the poet." (Both are stressed, therefore in their strong forms)

Weak forms can also appear in writing, for example "I am" and "I'm".

As to whether Americans always stress "the" I can only say that you must have misheard that, or that the schwa sounded closer to a short [ɪ] sound and you therefore perceived it as a long /iː/ sound.

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  • dukerasputin, I really appreciate for your answer, now I know some new rules about the pronunciation of "the" I never knew before!
    – selina
    Sep 8, 2016 at 9:42
  • I am glad I could help! Sep 8, 2016 at 9:48

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