Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marking Thee Son Red

No, the title is not any mistaken attempt to incorporate Shakespearean English into my blog. It is my attempt at a tongue-in-cheek title for my entry into the Red Marker Blogathon
Sue is hosting the blogathon and she says "If some word/ phrase/ idiom/ spelling/ syntax/ punctuation incorrectly used drives you up the wall, blog about it"

I have been thinking about writing this particular post ever since she announced the blogathon but it's only while writing the last paragraph that I realised that my post is not technically eligible because this is about pronunciation (one in particular), which does not figure in Sue's list of errors. Anyhow, I shall post nonetheless.

The culprit is this case is none other than my very own son and the word he mispronounces is 'the'. And he says it as 'thee', instead of 'thuh'. Typically, it goes like this:
I want to watch thee Bee Move? 
Mama, can I help you with cooking thee pasta?
I am looking for thee box of crayons 
Thee milk has fallen on thee floor and I looking for thee cloth to wipe it with.

And so on and so forth. And I wince every time, a thee leaves him mouth. I look at him, arch an eyebrow and say, 'Thee pasta?' His typical response is to look at me rebelliously and repeat 'Thee pasta'. Not one to let such matters rest, I repeat the question somewhat sternly, 'Thee pasta?'. At which point, he sees the steely, stubborn glint in my eye and caves and mutters, 'Thuh pasta'.

I wonder where he picked this up because it is a relatively recent phenomenon.

It could be because his teacher might be pronouncing 'the' in this fashion. I have not had a chance to verify this theory though and am waiting for an opportunity to meet her to do so.

My other theory is that he might have heard the thee pronunciation being used correctly in conversation and decided that this is the way the word is always pronounced. Because (Sue, don't look now, I started a sentence with because) there are sentences in which the thee pronunciation is necessary and correct.

When researching the correct pronunciation of 'the', I learnt something new as well. My own thinking was that one only used the 'thee' pronunciation when one wanted to place special emphasis on the word immediately after it. For example,
It is thee place in town for margaritas
He is thee person to talk to if you want to understand thuh current financial crisis.
What I did not know is that there is another appropriate usage of this pronunciation. We must also say thee instead of thuh if the word that follows starts with a vowel sound. For example:
He moved her deck chair so that it was shaded from thuh sun under thee umbrella
He took thee orange for himself and offered her thee apple
The important thing to remember here is that it is the sound of the first syllable, not the actual letter that requires the change in pronunciation. Therefore,
Thuh university campus is full of greenery (because university sounds like is starts with a Y')
Thee hour hand on thuh clock is on three (because the H is silent)
That ends my grammar lesson for the day.

Thee End :)


  1. Oh! We really cant stop writing blogs on the wrong usage of English by people in this city...

    And sorry I couldnt resist, few spelling mistakes on this blog of yours....:-)

  2. Physician, heal theeself:(

  3. Thank you for posting this and precisely explaining the correct usage. I've always been baffled by people saying thee instead of thuh all the time. Whenever I tried to explain the correct usage they wouldn't have the patience to listen. From now on I shall direct them to this post.

  4. You leave Ayaan alone, he's just channeling his inner Bongness.

    Maybe he was a Bengali babu in a previous life. Maybe you should call him Poltu or Tubul for a week or two.

    Pronunciation is red marked by us Nazis, only, us Nazis are often quite shaky on the pronunciation ourselves.

  5. Thanks for explaining thuh rule, Ro.
    Only a control freak like you would go and check thee exact rule, and not be content with just using thee for emphasis alone.

    I am glad to be avoiding thee incorect grammer in thuh future.


  6. My English teacher was rabid about this rule! We thought she was crazy like all prop-ah English teachers are. She's on my facebook friend list now :)

  7. You know Rohini, that is the one pronunciation wrong-doing that irritates me no end, especially when kids are being taught English. I emphasize that all the time--thee before a vowel sound word!

  8. [Sai] I am the world's worst proof-reader so I wouldn't be surprised. Do point them out.

    [Dipali] :)

    [TFD/ Zen] You're most welcome :)

    [Sue] LOL! You know, most Bong nicknames sound like the title-holder is a roly-poly, plump person. My skinny bag of bones won't be able to carry off Tubul :D

    [HGM/ Munchkin] You know, I was never taught this rule. Hence I learn it now at the ripe old age of 34...

  9. Ripe old age of 39 is far worse than 34 :( I was never taught this rule either. Your post made for very interesting reading.

    I tried to determine if I use the correct pronunciation and funnily, I do. MOSTLY. Even though I didn't know the rule.

  10. Huh. I was feeling pretty grammar-savvy after the intensive grammar curriculum I went through with Jude this year, but they never differentiated the rules behind the word "the". It was always coded with a schwa sound. However, now that you point it out, it is so obvious!

    I enjoyed your grammar lesson. Thanks! (I use a similar method of correcting pronunciation with my children, too. I wonder if there is a defined name for that method. Maybe just "The Moms-That-Win Method"? :-D

  11. A very interesting red marker post!
    I did not know the vowel rule... and now I do!

  12. He can be a Poltu. Or a Tukai. :)

  13. Wow, thanks! Something new to learn, and to teach my two naughty class 5 students :D

  14. Preeti10:04 am

    Hey ro! Know what u mean abt pronunciation driving you up the wall. My daughter has this thing where every word with an 'oh' sound gets stretched to an 'oo' sound. Like remoot for remote and fooght for fought etc. While it was cute initially am sick of it an hoping she'll grow out of it soon...

  15. Anonymous11:29 am

    Thee post is lovely! I will pass on this link to a few people who really need this lesson in Grammar!

  16. Ro it could be nay of your hypotheses . He is still to small to learn about thee and vowels and thee and emphasis !

  17. The last bit was an eye-opener. I always switch unconsciously between Thee and Thuh, not given much thought to why it's done!
    Thank you.