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Pronunciation of Definite and Indefinite Articles in English

In this lesson, you will learn each situation where you pronounce the definite ( “the”) and indefinite articles ( “a” and “an”) diffently.

The pronunciation of the articles in English change depending on where the article appears in the sentence and how you emphasize it. The differences are small, but speakers of English know the differences naturally.

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Pronunciation of the Definite Article “The”

The definite article (“the”) has three different pronunciations.

before consonant sounds.

before vowel sounds.
In connected speech, insert a “Y” sound (a /j/ in phonetic transcription) to connect /ði/ and the vowel. See examples under number 2 in the box below.

(with a long /i/ sound) when saying “the” it with emphasis; it does not matter what sound follows it.

1. “The” followed by consonant sounds

  • the cake → /ðəˈkeɪk/
  • the fork → /ðəˈfɔrk/
  • the woman → /ðəˈwʊmən/
  • the lesson → /ðəˈlɛsən/
  • the university → /ðəˈjuːnəˈvɚsəti/

Note. The letter “U” is a vowel in spelling but, in the “university,” it is has a consonant in pronunciation. /ju/ has a “Y” sound, which is a consonant.

2. “The” followed by vowel sounds

  • the apple cake → /ðiˈjæpəl keɪk/
  • the → orange → /ðiˈjɔrɪnʤ/
  • the ugly dog → /ðiˈjʌgli ˈdɑːg/
  • the Earth → /ðiˈjɚθ/
  • the hour → /ðiˈjawɚ/
  • the honest man → /ðiˈjɑnɪst ˈmæn/

Note. The letter “H” is a consonant but, in pronunciation, the words “hour” and “honest” start with a vowel sounds because the Hs are not pronounced.

3. Stressing “the” for emphasis

  • He is not just a good teacher. He is the teacher everyone needs to have. (Pronounced /ˈðiː ˈtitʃɚ/ to emphasize that he is a great teacher.)
  • There are many ways to do this. I’ll teach you the way to do it. (Pronounced /ˈðiː ˈweɪ/ to emphasize that it is the best way.)

Pronunciation of the Indefinite Articles “A” and “An”

Think of the indefinite article as just the word “a,” but you add an N-sound when the word after it starts with a vowel sound. That sound is also in writing, so “a” becomes “an”.

Pronouncing “A”

Pronounce “a” in normal, connected speech.

Pronounce “a” when you say the word by itself or when you want to emphasize it. Some people also pronounce it /ˈeɪ/ normally.

Pronouncing “AN”

Pronounce “an” in normal, connected speech.

Pronounce “a” when you say the word by itself or when you want to emphasize it. Some people also pronounce it /'æn/ normally, especially if they are speaking slowly and carefully.

“A” followed by consonant sounds

  • a cake → /əˈkeɪk/
  • a fork → /əˈfɔrk/
  • a woman → /əˈwʊmən/
  • a lesson → /əˈlɛsən/
  • a university → /əˈjuːnəˈvɚsəti/

Note. The letter “U” in “university” is a vowel in spelling, but it is as a consonant in pronounciation: /ju/ has a “Y” sound, which is a consonant.

“AN” followed by vowel sounds

  • an apple cake → /ənˈæpəl keɪk/
  • an orange → /ən'ɔrɪnʤ/
  • an ugly dog → /ən'ʌgli dɑːg/
  • an English movie → /ən'ɪŋglɪʃ 'mu:vi/

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