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'A' or 'an'?

Let's focus on one of the smaller grammatical errors that come up and can easily be missed. This can make a massive difference in your writing; especially if you're sending your work to an editor, or a lecturer for marking.

a/ an

This rule can be a frustrating one and may seem pointless to you. However, it's really simple, and once you know it, that's it. I think that's why once you do know it, it's obvious when someone else has made that mistake.

The Simple Rule:

Please note: this rule is based on sound.

'An' Is used in front of a word that begins with a vowel (A,E,I,O,U)

'A' is used in front of a word that begins with a consonant (Any other letter)

A dog

An apple

A carrot

An Octopus

A chair

An echo

See a pattern here?

Now with adjectives...

A funny elephant

(Even though elephant begins with a vowel, funny begins with a consonant, you determine which one you use (a or an) with the first word that follows)

An amazing singer

A little boy

An interesting article

Just remember, a and an are referring to a singular noun (referring to one thing), therefore you wouldn't use an or a when talking about a plural.

For example:

You wouldn't say: 'There was a dogs'

You would say: 'There was two dogs'

And finally, this is where things become a little bit more complicated...

There are some exceptions to this rule

This rule is based off sound, more than spelling. If a word begins with a vowel but sounds like it begins with a consonant, then you would use 'A'. And vice versa.

For example:

Euro - begins with a vowel, but is pronounced 'yu-ro'. Therefore it would be:

A Euro

University - begins with a vowel but sounds like it's pronounced with a Y. Therefore it would be:

A University


Hour - begins with a consonant but sound like it begins with an 'a'. Therefore it would be:

An Hour

Then, of course we must consider how we pronounce words differently in different accents too (which I know, makes things even more confusing).

And finally, there are some words that won't use 'an' or 'a'. These words are uncountable, for example air, love, water, fun.


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