grammar-monster.com

mail tip Sign up for daily tips
Chat about grammar Ask a grammar question
Follow Us on Twitter Like us on Facebook by Craig Shrives

The or Thee (Pronunciation)

The Quick Answer
The word the is often pronounced "thee" before a vowel sound and "thuh" before a consonant sound. This is not a ruling. It's just a tendency to assist with the flow of speech.

In speech, the word the can be pronounced "thee" for emphasis. For example:
  • I spoke to the ["thee"] queen!
  • (I spoke to the actual queen.)
    (When used for emphasis, the is always prononced "thee" never "thuh".)
The four-letter word thee is an archaic version of you. For example:
  • I beseech thee [you].

The or Thee (Pronunciation)

The or Thee?

People often ask whether the should be pronounced "thuh" or "thee."

There is no rule as such. You can pronounce the however you like. That is not the whole answer though. Whilst it is not a grammar rule, people tend to use the "thee" version before a vowel sound and the "thuh" version before a consonant sound.

Some people might tell you this is a rule, but it's not. It's just about the flow of speech.

The word "sound" is important. It is not the case that we tend to use "thee" before vowels and "thuh" before consonants because some vowels start with consonant sounds (e.g., unicorn, one) and some consonants start with vowel sounds (xray, RTA).

Examples:
  • the ["thuh"] house
  • the ["thee"] hour
  • the ["thuh"] unicorn
  • the ["thee"] uninvited
Note: Each pair above starts with the same three letters, but one in the pair attracts "thuh" while the other attracts "thee."

So, in a way, the use of "thuh" and "thee" is a lot like a and an. The big difference is that you are compelled to use a before a consonant sound and an before a vowel sound. In other words, that is a ruling.

Emphatic The

There is another quirk. The word the (always pronounced "thee") can be used for emphasis. When used in this way, it is irrelevant whether the next word starts with a vowel sound or a consonant sound. The word is stressed by the speaker. For example:
  • I saw the ["thee"] spider today.
  • (This could refer to a specific large spider that was seen previously.) (Using the "thee" version for emphasis is not a writing technique. It is only a spoken one.)
  • I talked to the ["thee"] president today.
  • (I talked to actual president.)

Archaic Thee

The word thee (with two e's) is an archaic version of you in the objective case. For example:
  • I beseech thee [you] not to take her life, my lord.
  • I ask nothing of thee [you].
Beware

Beware of Abbreviations

Abbreviations that start with the consonants F, H, L, M, N, R, S, and X attract the ["thee"] because they start with vowel sounds.

Beware the Letter U

Abbreviations that start with the vowel U attract the ["thuh"] because U starts with the consonant sound y.