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How to Pronounce "The"

Learn when to say "thuh" and when to say "thee."

By
Mignon Fogarty
thee event, thuh concert

Did you know there are two ways to pronounce the word the, and the rule that governs which pronunciation you choose is kind of like how you choose between a and an?

I didn’t know this until I started the Grammar Girl podcast and people wrote in to complain that I was doing it wrong. Then I checked the Merriam-Webster dictionary (because you’d be amazed how many times people tell me I’m doing something wrong without checking first that know what they’re talking about), and lo and behold, they were right! There are pronunciation guidelines that I never learned.

At one of my book signings, I talked about this with the attendees, and a lot of them said they were taught this rule in choir classes. I never took choir, so maybe that’s why I didn’t know. 

Here’s the deal:

How to Pronounce ‘The’

Pronounce it “thee” if the next word starts with a vowel sound. 

Pronounce it “thuh” if the next word starts with a consonant sound.

Just like with a versus an, it’s not the first letter of the next word that matters, it’s the first sound. Here are some examples:

When the next word starts with a consonant sound

Did Aardvark bring "thuh" cheese platter?

Where is "thuh" universal remote? (Note that universal starts with a consonant sound: Y.)

When the next word starts with a vowel sound

I prefer "thee" effervescent water.

Did Squiggly get "thee" MRI? (Note that MRI starts with a vowel sound: E.)

People Also Use ‘Thee’ for Emphasis

The big exception to these rules is that people also use the “thee” pronunciation when they want extra emphasis or to indicate that something is important. For example, if you really want to make a point, you might say that someone is “thee” big kahuna or that the summer gala is “thee” social event of the year. 

I Still Get It Wrong Sometimes

I also notice when I go back and listen to the podcast that I still sometimes get these wrong, so I apologize in advance. I try to remember, but since I spent decades of my life not making a distinction between the two pronunciations, I still get it wrong sometimes. 

 

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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