When to use "a" or "an"

In modern usage, the khung a is used in front of words that begin with a consonant sound; an is used in front of words that begin with a vowel sound.

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The following uses of an are nonstandard in modern English:

OK, I admit it, I don’t see why the ipad would be an useful device.

Plot is an chất lượng feature that indicates the address of the place.

Found an useful paper on grid generation

Fasdemo way lớn find an chất lượng element out of given numbers

We are an uniform based school và the design of our uniforms has been a careful and consultative sầu process with executive, staff, student and community.

It may be that writers who put an in front of unique or useful have misunderstood the rule; perhaps they think that an goes in front of any word that begins with u, regardless of how the u is pronounced.

Although the letter u usually represents a vowel sound, it does not always vì chưng so. Such words as umbrella, undertaker, and ugly vày begin with a vowel sound, . These words should be preceded by an:

an umbrellaan undertakeran ugly dog

Sometimes, u represents a consonant sound that incorporates the y sound heard at the beginning of yellow:

unique useful usual

I’ve sầu never heard anyone pronounce the word an in front of one of these words, although I suppose that somewhere in the world someone may talk that way. For a speaker who pronounces the word unique as or , there would be some justification for writing “an quality feature.”

What I think is that some speakers say “a useful paper” but go khổng lồ write it and think it “looks funny” with a instead of an.

In the case of an before a word that begins with u, let your ear guide you:

a useful device, but an unusual devicea quality feature, but an ultra-interesting featurea useful paper, but an undervalued papera quality element, but an unknown elementa uniform-based school, but an unconventional school

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13 Responses to “A Useful Reminder About ‘An’”

Oliver Lawrenceon August 28, 2014 3:03 am

For similar reasons, it’s “a hotel” not “an hotel”.

Scott Mellonon August 28, năm trước 9:37 am

Another case where this goes wrong is with letters of the alphabet. “I want to lớn but a S” because s is a consonant. But it’s pronounced “ess”.

thebluebird11on August 28, năm trước 11:05 am

Does this phenomenon occur when words begin with the letter H? There are some words where the H is silent, so the word in fact begins with a vowel sound (honor, honest). So if the issue is that (hopefully only) ESL speakers would try lớn make a “rule” out of when lớn use a/an, going by the actual letter, versus its sound, then maybe they also think that since H is a consonant, you always put “a” in front of it (a honor, a honest person). Also, I think that there are languages/dialects (I’m thinking maybe Cockney and/or others?) where they chop off the H sound, such as “I don’t lượt thích lớn wear an ‘at,” (instead of hat), which calls for “an,” và then they tover khổng lồ Địa Chỉ an H sound where it does not belong, such as “I ate a happle,” (instead of apple), which would normally gọi for “a.” Anyone here know what I’m talking about?

Billon August 28, 2014 11:18 am

I’ve sầu never heard of people adding an aspirated h khổng lồ words lượt thích “apple” but that’s my ignorance. It wasn’t until too long ago that it was fine khổng lồ drop the h in “historical” when used as a noun: An historical event. It’s considered wrong now, but if you try saying that way it rolls off the tongue nicely.

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Maeveon August 28, 2014 12:13 pm

This post about the use of “an” in front of words that begin with the letter “u” has brought in a deluge of emails asking about the use of “an” in front of words that begin with “h.” I will revisit this topic soon. Meanwhile, here’s a link khổng lồ a previous post on the subject:

Jason Poson August 28, năm trước 12:14 pm

“an universal” gets 373000 hits on Google.

thebluebird11on August 28, năm trước 1:12 pm


Bill: I think the addition of the H (as in happle) is a Caribbean thing, Jamaica, Bahamas, etc. Of course not everyone from those areas speaks that way. I was only in Jamaica once for a week and it was a LONG time ago. At the time, the last thing on my mind was analyzing accents!

ton August 28, năm trước 2:09 pm


Maeve: Another thing khổng lồ take into lớn consideration, as you touched on, is how people pronounce that initial U. I don’t know how other languages treat that letter at the beginning of a word. In English, as you said, it’s sometimes “yoo” & sometimes “uh.” In other languages, maybe it is pronounced “oo.” I’m thinking lượt thích Uganda…in English we pronounce it Yoo-GAN-dah, but how do Ugandans pronounce it? If they are accustomed to pronouncing it “oo” and then follow rules of English (an before a vowel), they would say, for example, an Ugandan (“an oogandan”) official. Here in the US we would probably say A Ugandan official. I know that Uruguayans pronounce their country (something like) “oo-roo-wye,” even though in English we say Yoo-roo-gway or Yoo-roo-gwye.

Ian George Boltonon August 29, 2014 2:36 am

The indefinite article: _a_ is used before consonant sounds_a bus_,_a cat_,_a dog_.

The indefinite article: _an_ is used before vowel sounds_an apple_,_an elephant_,_an insect_,_an umbrella_,_an orange_.

Abbreviations said as individual letters which begin with A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S, or X are pronounced as vowel sounds. They are therefore preceded by _an_, rather than_a_

_He’s an NGF rep__give me an H, give an E, give sầu me an L, give me an L, give sầu me an O. What have sầu we got?

Sound và spelling vị not always coincide, if the sound is really consonant,for example “one” và “unit” begin with vowels, but the initial sounds are those of the consonants “w” and “y” in “won” and “you” therefore we say:

_a unit_,_a use_,_a utility_,_a useful thing_,_a chất lượng object_,_a European_,_a university_,_a one time thing_,_a one-eyed dog_.

_An_ may be used before _h_ if the _h_ is not sounded (silent _h_) for example,_an honor_,_an hour_,_an heir_,_an honest man_,

but

_a horse_,_a house_,_a hat_.

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Stevenon August 29, năm trước 4:50 pm

I also see the misuse of a/an when dealing with acronyms, such as ones that start with letter such as ‘S’, ‘N’, or ‘F’, such as SEI or NSA or FBI. These are pronounced as if they began with an e (eh sound), & thus should use ‘an’, but I constantly see them written along with the article ‘a”. Often, this is with ESL speakers/writers, so I think it is either a misunderstanding of the rule or they were taught the rule incorrectly, but I see it very often with native sầu English speakers, as well. I’m a technical writer, so I deal with a lot of acronyms, and see it all the time, và it has kind of become a pet peeve of mine.

Ericaon September 11, 2014 12:12 pm

Further to the comment by
t, my initial reaction lớn Maeve’s non-standard examples (e.g. “an useful”) was that they may have sầu been written by a native sầu French speaker. In French, the letter ‘u’ at the beginning of a word is always (I believe) pronounced “oo”, and thus treated lượt thích any other vowel. So they might naturally apply the same rule và use the ‘an’ article. Beyond that, I can’t imagine why any English speaker would say/write “an useful”; it’s very strange. Is there anyone who thinks this sounds right? Is it a regional pronunciation? I’m just curious.