Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: the.

the. The pronunciation rule for the definite article parallels the usage rule for the indefinite articles “a” and “an.” Before a word that starts with a vowel sound, say /thee/ (rhymes with “bee”) {/thee/ ant} {/thee/ elephant}. Before a word that starts with a consonant sound, say /thuh/ (rhymes with “duh”) {/thuh/ bee} {/thuh/ condor}. There is a twist, however: when using the word for emphasis, say /thee/ no matter what word follows {that was /thee/ worst movie I’ve ever sat through}. Take the advice of Charles Harrington Elster, an expert on pronunciation: “Most of us, when speaking naturally, get THUH distinction between THEE and THUH right without even thinking about it. It’s when we start dwelling on it and imposing a misguided standard of correctness on ourselves that we begin to make a fetish out of saying THEE [before consonant sounds]. Then our speech becomes stilted and stagy, because we are always trying to say things THEE ‘right’ way instead of THUH natural way.” The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations 465 (2d ed. 2005). For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Pronunciation, like life, is governed by repetition but rife with ambiguity, passion, and caprice; it is forever vulnerable to change and open to interpretation.” Charles Harrington Elster, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations xiii (1999).
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