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When you say the United States in normal speech without any emphasis, do you pronounce the word the as thuh or thee?

I know the rule that you pronounce the word the as thuh before words that begin with a consonant sound and thee before ones that begin with a vowel sound and that it's analogous to the usage of a and an. Here, clearly, the word united begins with the consonant sound /j/, but for some reason I usually hear it pronounced as thee United States. Is this some kind of an exception to the rule or do I have something wrong with my hearing?

How about the following?
The United Kingdom?
The United Nations?
The United Federation of Planets? Emotion: smile

Thank you for your responses in advance.
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There's nothing wrong with your hearing.

To articulate thuh followed by /j/ (the "standard rule" form), you have to raise your tongue, eventually, to the /i:/ position. ( /j/ is simply the glide form of /i:/. )

You may do it sooner, or you may do it later, but you're going to do it at some point.
If you do it sooner, you have thee /j/. If you do it later, you have thuh /j/.

So when the speaker anticipates the approaching /j/, his thuh becomes a thee. Not all speakers anticipate the following sound the same way. The individual speaker and the speed of his speech both affect the quickness of this anticipation. That's why sometimes you seem to be hearing one and sometimes another of these two variants of "the" before /j/. The same effect should be more or less noticeable in "the yeast", "the yacht", "the yellow one", and "the European" as well -- not just cases like "the union".
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Unfortunately, there is no analogous case for the /w/ glide. But -- if you like fantasy-- supposing the definite article in English were thoo rather than the, the same phenomenon would happen for words that begin with /w/. ( /w/ is simply the glide form of /u:/. )

You would have thuh car, thuh bed, thoo artist, thoo elephant, etc., but before the /w/ you'd have both thuh and thoo: thuh when the speaker is slow to approach the /w/; thoo when the speaker anticipates the /w/ with /u:/. You would have both thuh world and thoo world, both thuh weather and thoo weather.

Please ignore this fantasy section if it means nothing to you or confuses you! Emotion: smile
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CJ
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Comments  
Even Obama pronounces "the" both ways before saying "United States of America."

Robert
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Thanks for the reply. So apparently I wasn't just hearing things.

I was, however, looking for a little bit deeper analysis. I was thinking that maybe this pronunciation has something to do with the phenomenon that the word the is pronounced as thee when you want to emphasize the following noun. For example: "I am THEE number one fan of [some random celebrity]." And that the United States' uniqueness has something to do with the irregular pronunciation even when the word the isn't stressed. But again, this is just a crappy theory by a non-native speaker, so I'd really like to have some clarification to this question.
 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.
Mr. WookieeI was thinking that maybe this pronunciation has something to do with the phenomenon that the word the is pronounced as thee when you want to emphasize the following noun. For example: "I am THEE number one fan of ...
No. This is a completely different phenomenon based on meaning, not phonetics. See my remarks above.

CJ
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Thank you very much! That was just the kind of an analysis I was looking for. Emotion: smile
You're welcome! Emotion: wink

CJ
The normal pronunciation is thuh, however, when you want to emphasize the word, you pronounce it thee.
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Not everyone uses "thee" for emphasis. In California, I almost never hear "thee", and I don't ever pronounce it that way.
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