Everything English

Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)

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A or An?

The basic rule for the two indefinite articles—“a” and “an”—is simple:

While “a” is used before words that start with consonants, “an” precedes words that begin with vowels (a, e, I, o, and u).

Examples for “a”:

A banana a day kept the monkey happy.

A dog squad always comes in handy for policemen.

It is a rainy day.

A snake slithered along the way.

I bought a new PC.

Ours is a happy family.

In the examples above, note that article “a” precedes words starting with a consonant. There is, however, an exception: If the word has an unsounded “h” as the first letter, then go with “an.”

Examples for “an” before an unsounded “h”:

Sergeant Wilson is an honest police officer.

It was indeed an honor to meet the mayor.

We may take at least an hour to reach Madison.

Examples for “an” preceding without an unsounded “h:”

Ours is a happy family.

A hat was kept on the table.

“An” goes with vowel words.

Examples for “an”:

An open theatre is better for children.

An ant is an intelligent being.

There is an exception to this theory.

Jonny has an egg and a glass of milk for breakfast.

An aunt of mine is visiting us now.

The “an” rule has two exceptions:  When “o” has a phonetic sound of “w”, and “u” has a phonetic sound of “y” (as in “you”), article “a” should be used.

Examples for “an” exceptions:

It was just a one-dollar deal.

“We insist on bonus,” a union member demanded.

The guest trashed a used towel.

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