How to Pronounce “the”

There are two ways to pronounce “the” and it’s important to know that the pronunciation changes based on the first sound in the following word.  What we say is important, not what we read or write.

When “the” comes before a consonant sound, it’s pronounced “thuh”.  When it comes before a vowel sound, it’s pronounced “thee”.

Consonant Sounds:

  • Thuh Canadian
  • Thuh dog
  • Thuh man
  • Thuh school

Vowel Sounds:

  • Thee American
  • Thee energy
  • Thee information
  • Thee office
  • Thee ugly dog

The tricky part is that the letter “h” can sometimes be silent, and the letter “u” can take either a consonant or a vowel pronunciation, depending on the word.

  • Thuh house  – hæʊs, consonant sound
  • Thuh honey  – həniː, consonant sound
  • Thee hour  – æʊr, silent h, vowel sound
  • Thee honest man  – ɑnəst, silent h, vowel sound
  • Thuh university  – ˌjuːnəˈvərsətiː, consonant sound
  • Thuh unique antique  – jʊˈniːk, consonant sound
  • Thee umpire  – əmˌpaɪr, vowel sound
  • Thee umbrella  – əmˈbrelə, vowel sound

Also, when pronouncing initials, it depends how you pronounce the first letter, not what you see.

  • Thuh CBC  – siː, consonant sound
  • Thuh WWF – dəbəljuː, consonant sound
  • Thee NBA – en, vowel sound
  • Thee SPCA  – es, vowel sound

When we want to emphasize a specific word, we use “thee” no matter what sound follows.

  • He’s THEE best boyfriend ever!
  • I just met THEE president!
  •  I had THEE time of my life last night!

“ough” Pronunciation

The “ough” letter sequence has the most random pronunciation. It can be pronounced six different ways in North America, and over ten ways in British English.

We’re going to keep it simple for now, and just look at the six North American pronunciations.

ʌf tough, rough, enough     Stuff, suffer
ɒf cough, trough    Off, offer
aʊ  bough, plough, draught    How, flower
oʊ  dough, though, thorough    Toe, know
ɒ thought, bought, taught    Not, saw.  Usually used before /t/, except in drought /draʊt/
through    Too, knew