ENGLISCH/858: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (167) "The" or "thi:" (SB)


167. "The" or "[thi:]"

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I have just one question that worries me for quite a while. Why is it that the little word "the" - the definite article - is sometimes pronounced " t h i e ", in the television advertisements for example, when I would expect it to be just a short "the" according to the rules of pronunciation.


Andreas M. (from Munic/Germany)


Dear Mr M.

Thank you for your question about the pronunciation of the definite article "the". To repeat the rules of pronunciation in a nut shell, we say "t h e" [the] when a consonant follows. We say "t h i e" [thi:] when a vowelsound follows unless the vowelsound is "u". The [the] union for example.

So where else can we or do we say [thi:]. Well we can say it in order to emphasize the unique character of something or someone and certainly this is what you mean:

"If you want a healthy contented cat "Happy Cat" is [thi:] food to give your pet"

- meaning that Happy Cat is the one catfood that will have this result.

So those are the legitimate uses of pronunciation. But when people hesitate they automatically say [thi:] even in front of a consonant, like in the following example:

"I went to ...[thi:]... concert hall, to hear a concert by .... [thi:]... London Symphonic Orchestra ... [Thi:] ... soloist was a well known pianist ... [thi:] ..., you know the young American that won the competition in ... [thi:] ... "

We also hear examples from reporters on radio or television who want to be very emphatic. They want to put great stress on what they say to make it sound grander. And they than use the pronunciation [thi:] when it should be [the].

And we hear the same type of pronunciation from politicians, in particular american politicians, when they make speeches and want the audience to remember every word they say. And sport journalists are sometimes very fond of the usage too. I think this is a very lazy way to express yourself and there are a lot more fascinating aspects to the English language, so that one can bring to right an enormous range of usage, such as figurative expressions, idioms etc. instead of stressing the little "the".

But there is a tendency to plain English these days that everybody understands at once. A considerable amount of words which enriches our language is considered to be not bad language but inappropriate language or - I have to admit to say - gobbledygook (too complicated to understand).

Hoping you got [thi:] idea now,


Mrs Gobbledygook

1 July 2009