The Grammarphobia Blog

Tuh be or not tuh be?

Q: I have a bone to pick about the loss of an entire word due to the election of a hip president from Chicago. I’m talking about “to,” as in we have “tuh” stimulate the economy. The smartest of eggheads have stopped making a circle with their lips. I hope it’s a fad. It’s like Brian Lehrer in orange gauchos: make it go away!

A: Brian Lehrer in orange gauchos? Heavens!

In standard English, however, the word “to” is pronounced in two ways: TOO and TUH (with the vowel pronounced like the “a” in “about” or the “e” in “item”).

Both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) list those two pronunciations. In fact, M-W also lists a third standard pronunciation, with the vowel pronounced like the double “o” in “foot.”

In short, our pronunciation of “to” is determined largely by what follows it.

So Obama is using standard English here, and he’s not responsible for all the tuh-tuh-ing by those smart eggheads.

I also wouldn’t blame the president for the tendency of people to shorten “to,” which is often pronounced as t’ and elided with the following word. I wrote a blog item about this not long ago.

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