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Pronunciation of the definite article "The"

I have noticed that there is an increase is use of a change in pronunciation of "the" before a vowel, most notably within the media, and has grown since the decision to leave "the EU". I was always taught that before a vowel the sound was like a clipped "Thee" or "Thi" to give "Thi EU". Many broadcasters now use the same sound as for a consonant, so we have "Th' EU" and many other examples. To me this sounds stilted and wrong. Am I just failing to move with the times?

Apologies but I have limited knowledge of phonetic spelling but hopefully I have made the point clear enough.


  • The basic or 'unmarked' pronunciation of the definite article, pridge, is what we might represent as thuh. Similarly, the 'unmarked' pronunciation of the indefinite article is uh or uhn. But sometimes we want to stress the words — often to contrast one with the other — e.g. not the Customs Union but a customs union. the pronunciations we use for these stressed forms are THEE and EIGH. To contrast an — e.g. not the association but an association, we use the pronunciations THEE and ANN.

    Before a vowel sound (including the Y-sound), it's not impossible to use the 'primary' thuh pronunciation. The trick is to use the little cough noise know as a glottal stop. However, many (most?) speakers of English use a variant of the 'secondary' THEE sound. I say 'a variant' because the exact choice differs between accents. The highly clipped THI pronunciation is taught as the RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION prestige version. However, even among RP-speakers, I think a little glide — a very short Y-sound — is common. In other accents, the pronunciation is closer to THEE — only other shorter.

    So, to take another set of initials, for many speakers the ABC calls for a pronunciation with a Y-sound:
    • either as part of the EE sound — THEE EIGH BEE SEE
    • or tagged on to the Isound — THI-y-EIGH BEE SEE

    The problem with letter-E is that it's pronounced with the full version of EE. So it's awkward for many speakers to say
    • either THEE EE YOO
    • or THI-y-EE YOO
    Some RP-speakers (including you, perhaps) can say THI [little cough] EE YOO.

    So what we often hear is a simplification such as
    • a single extra long EETHEEE YOO
    • a full Y-sound — THIYEE YOO or even THEEYEE YOO

    The pronunciation you object to is just a further simplification — THEE YOO. personally, I find it neither stilted nor wrong — just casual and perhaps little hurried.

  • Pridge, there are two more serious ways to represent pronunciation.

    1. with the special alphabet of the International Phonetic Association

    This is not easy to learn. Besides, it exaggerates the importance of difference between different accents. (For some purposes, IPA is essential. But not for comparing accents.)

    1. with LEXICAL SETS — see

    With these we can write of the KIT vowel and the FLEECE vowel for stressed sounds. For unstressed the we can write of the happY vowel. In one accent, the happY vowel may be the same as the KIT vowel. In another accent, it may be the same as the FLEECE vowel. In a third, it may be different from either.

    The primary pronunciations of the, a and an are with the commA vowel. The stressed pronunciations are with the FLEECE, FACE and TRAP vowels respectively.

  • Very comprehensive response from DavidCrosbie - much appreciated. It still grates on my nerves but I hear it more and more and it will probably take precedence at some point. I have noticed that many of the "guilty parties" use it pointedly, e.g. "thuh EU" but in the same report will revert to the clipped "thi" sound for their general prose (e.g. ...thi inevitable result was ...). I should get out more!

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