Tip for the Tongue: When to use “Thee” vs. “Thuh”

As a voice and diction professor in General American English for the past 30 years, I’m often asked this question by my Mass Communication and Media Studies majors about how to pronounce the definite article “the.” This kind of question only applies to when we are “reading aloud,” as in a prepared speech or paper presentation. We typically never say “thee” when we are just speaking in casual situations. For example, if we are just talking to a friend casually, we never say…”Hey! Did you see THEE cute dog over by THEE tree?”

However, when we are “reading” written material aloud to others, we do want to be conscientious of when to use “thee” vs. “thuh,” especially if we want to sound “natural” and “conversational” when we speak. Otherwise, we risk sounding as if we are “reading,” and therefore can give an impression of being disconnected with the text or our audience.

Here is the general rule regarding the pronunciation of the definite article “the” in oral communication situations: When “the” is followed by a consonant sound, we say “THUH.” When “the” is followed by a vowel sound, we say “THEE.” A good mnemonic sentence to remember this simple rule would be: “THUH dog ate THEE apple.”

My students also were confused on how to pronounce the indefinite article “a.” Do you say “AYE” or “UH?” The general rule when speaking aloud is to always pronounce indefinite article “a” as “UH.” For example, “UH dog sat on UH chair eating an apple.” Again, if we say “AYE,” then it sounds as if we are reading, and can cause a sense of detachment between us and our audience.

I hope you enjoyed this speech tip, and that you will use it next time you want to become UH more natural sounding speaker for THEE audience at THUH presentation you may be giving.

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