Whatever happened to thee EU?

Sorry, I’m not asking what you think happened to the European Union, it’s about the pronunciation of the word ‘the’.

It’s my pet peeve Number One. People saying ‘thuh EU’.

Even announcers on the BBC say it. Even BBC European correspondents say it.

We Brits (used to?) say thee ocean, and thee EU, because ‘ocean’ and ‘EU’ both begin with a vowel. This is what is shown in the dictionary that I was involved with for many years, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

the /ðə; before vowels ði; strong ðiː/ 

Sorry about the phonetic symbols there, but trust me, it’s telling us that thee is the recommended pronunciation for ‘the’ in front of a word beginning with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). (In the online version of the dictionary, you can hear audio pronunciations of the.)

Of course, for words that begin with a consonant, thuh is right. And if you are giving strong emphasis to the word ‘the’, the pronunciation is more like theee.

So what is behind this change from thee EU to thuh EU?

American influence on English

It’s probably due to the influence of the American pronunciation. Americans say thuh ocean, and this is perfectly correct – in American English. Americans basically only have one pronunciation of ‘the’.

So says Merriam Webster, the leading dictionary of American English.

Young versus old

Maybe young people are more influenced by American English – through music, TV, social media, and the internet. Maybe they don’t care so much about ‘correct’ English. Older people – yep, that definitely includes me – seem to care more about speaking, writing, and pronouncing correctly.

Correct English? Correct grammar?

Can we even say what is ‘right’ or ‘correct’ or even ‘standard’ any more?

Friends of a similar age to me get just as annoyed as I do when they hear what they think is a mistake, but these days it seems as though ‘mistakes’ quickly become the norm, just because so many people start using that ‘mistake’.

I’m bored of this

Take ‘bored of’. Only a few years ago, I would have said that was a mistake – not shown in dictionaries, and frowned on in writing. It should always be ‘bored with’. But I suspect that’s already a lost battle, and you will not be able to persuade any young person that ‘bored of’ is not perfectly correct.

Theresa May and thee EU

Theresa May is an honourable exception with regard to the drift towards thuh EU – of course, only in pronunciation terms! Theresa always says thee EU. Which I think is good. On the other hand … she also suffers from what is called ‘hypercorrect pronunciation’. For example, she pronounces ‘negotiate’ as nigousiate instead of the universally accepted nigoushiate. Which I think is not good.

Well, I’ve had my say. Let me know what YOU think. Thuh EU or thee EU?

2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to thee EU?

  1. This is not something I’d noticed, but now you’ve drawn attention to it, it will probably irritate me, though not as much as some other pet hates that would once have been seen as errors but probably aren’t now. These include: the disappearance of ‘fewer’ and its replacement by ‘less’; use of ‘amount’ rather than ‘number’; use of ‘different to’ and even ‘different than’ (!) rather than ‘different from’; and worst of all, ‘off of’ rather than ‘off’.
    But language changes, and we can’t stop the process, nor should we. It does make life difficult for language learners though.

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