Deeper Dive: THE
Word Story Text
THE is the highest frequency word in English. It’s used more often than any other word.

The dictionary says that the word is pronounced THE.
We don’t usually say it that way, however.

What did I just say? “the dictionary says that the word is pronounced THE.
Not “THE dictionary says that THE word is pronounced THE.”

It’s fine to say that the pronunciation of THE is “thuh”. It’s a useful simplification. It just isn’t exactly true.

THE doesn’t have any close neighbors. It’s an oddball. Students have to just memorize it. It’s a very high frequency word, so they get lots of practice with it reading even simple books aloud.

THE actually has two dictionary pronunciations
THE and THEE. as in “thee one and only”
Katy Perry lyric with both in one sentence: “THEE eye of the tiger”

The pronunciation THEE is used for emphasis. The meaning is different than the standard “the”.

Children learn about the pronunciation and use of THEE from spoken language. You just have to teach them how to read THE.

Here’s the interesting thing: The same things happen with A, which is THE’s partner. They are both “determiners”; sometimes they are called “articles”.

A is indefinite, as in “a book”, meaning some book or another, whereas THE is definite, as in “the book” as in “the book I’m reading”.

Like THE, A has a dictionary pronunciation that we don’t use very often, and a reduced form, ‘uh’. A book. A time of day. A large bowl of beans.

Children who learn english as their first language have no difficulty learning to use THE and A.

But, this is very difficult for many people who learn English when they are older. It’s especially hard for people who learned Chinese as their first language because Chinese does not have words corresponding to A and THE. It does not employ determiners. It uses other expressions to do what A and THE do in English.

That is THEE story about the.

More Rhymes






The (thē), intransitive verb See Thee. [Obs.] Chaucer. Milton.
The (thē, when emphatic or alone; thē̍, obscure before a vowel; the, obscure before a consonant; 37), definite article [AS. ðē, a later form for earlier nom. sing. masc. sē, formed under the influence of the oblique cases. See That, pron.] A word placed before nouns to limit or individualize their meaning.

The was originally a demonstrative pronoun, being a weakened form of that. When placed before adjectives and participles, it converts them into abstract nouns; as, the sublime and the beautiful. Burke. The is used regularly before many proper names, as of rivers, oceans, ships, etc.; as, the Nile, the Atlantic, the Great Eastern, the West Indies, The Hague. The with an epithet or ordinal number often follows a proper name; as, Alexander the Great; Napoleon the Third. The may be employed to individualize a particular kind or species; as, the grasshopper shall be a burden. Eccl. xii. 5
The, adverb [AS. ðē, ðȳ, instrumental case of sē, seó, ðæt, the definite article. See 2d The.] By that; by how much; by so much; on that account; – used before comparatives; as, the longer we continue in sin, the more difficult it is to reform. “Yet not the more cease I.” Milt
So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate. --Milton.

-- Webster's unabridged 1913

morpheme phoneme statistics idioms