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How to say “a” and “the” – even if you think you already know   Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in English Vocabulary

The letter ‘a’ is so many things, it is the first letter of the alphabet, a vowel, an indefinite article, and one of the shortest words in English!

Today I wanted to talk a little about how to say ‘a’ when it is used as an indefinite article and also how to say ‘the’ the definite article.

You might be surprised to know that there is more than one way to say both of these small simple words.

First of all let’s define what an indefinite article is.

indefinite article: an article (either ‘a’ or ‘an’) that is used to introduce a noun phrase when the thing referred to is nonspecific

There are two ways to say ‘a’ when it is used as an indefinite article, these two pronunciations are: “aye” (/eɪ/) or “uh” (/ə/).

Both pronunciations are correct and it is really a matter of personal preference which one you use.  Most American (as well as Brits and Australians) use both forms, switching between the two depending on which one flows best with the word that follows ‘a’.  There are no real rules for deciding which pronunciation to use.  Using the different pronunciations is something native English speakers don’t consciously think about for the most part, it just happens.  You might want to practice both pronunciations and see which one you like best.

Now, the definite article ‘the’ in English also has more than one way that it can be pronounced too!

definite article: a determiner that introduces a noun phrase and implies that the thing mentioned has already been mentioned, is common knowledge, or is about to be defined

There are two ways to say this article.  The can be pronounced as “thuh” (ðə) and “thee” (ði).  With ‘the’ there is a general rule for knowing which pronunciation to use. If the word following ‘the’ starts with a consonant sound, you pronounce ‘the’ as ‘thuh.’ If the word following ‘the’ starts with a vowel sound, you pronounce ‘the’ as ‘thee.’ This is not a absolute rule and there is also a certain amount of personal preference in how native English speakers pronounce ‘the’ much like the preference in how English speakers pronounce ‘a’.  So, there is no need to worry if you do not follow the “rule” stated above.

Luckily for you, there is only one more article in English, which is the article ‘an’ and this article can only be pronounced one way “ann” (æn).

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


Comments:

  1. Júlia de Sousa:

    Thank you for this post. This is one of the questions my students always ask. Apparently, I have been using both forms in the classroom without being very much aware of the fact.

    • Gabriele:

      @Júlia de Sousa Julia,
      I’m so glad this post was helpful to you!
      -Gabriele