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A or an yellow umbrella in a green lake.

A or An: The Rules and Exceptions

A and an are what are called indefinite articles. Indefinite articles give us information about nouns. A and an tell us that there is only one of the nouns. For example: a book, or an apple. But how do you know which to pick? How do you know if you should use a or an? Are there exceptions to the rules? If you've always been curious, read on to find out!

 

Indefinite Article: A

 

You use the article a before singular countable nouns. It is also used before nouns that begin with a consonant (not a vowel – a,e,i,o,u) sound.

 

For example:

 

  • a cat
  • a book
  • a show
  • a TV program
  • a cousin

 

Nouns that start with a consonant use a. There are also some nouns, however, that begin with a vowel, but where a is used as an exception. This is because the noun starts with the consonant-like sound- you. That means that they are treated like a noun that starts with a consonant.

 

For example:

 

  • a university (“you”-niversity)
  • a unique situation (“you”-nique)
  • a united country (“you”-nited)

 

Another exception is if the word starts with a hard h sound.

 

For example:

 

  • a history class
  • a hospital
  • a helpful hand

 

Different English accents can have an effect on how a or an is used. British English speakers tend to use an in front of words that begin with h. This is because they pronounce the words that start with h harder and more emphasized.

 

For example:

 

  • UK English: a herb garden (the h is strongly pronounced)
  • US English: an (h)erb garden – the h is silent

 

Indefinite Article: An

 

Just like a, an is used before singular countable nouns. However, an is used before nouns that start with a vowel sound.

 

For example:

 

  • an actor
  • an example
  • an invitation
  • an umbrella

 

Some words start with a consonant, but are used with an instead of a. This is because some consonants are soft, like some h sounds, or because the consonant has a vowel sound at the beginning.

 

For example:

 

  • an hour (silent/soft h)
  • an F (efff)
  • an MBA degree (em-BA)

 

 

It's important to know that it's not always the spelling that counts with a and an, but the sound! If you don't know which one to use, say the word in your head or out loud. This will help you pick whether to use a or an.

 

Do you need any help with a and an? Let us know if you have a question in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 


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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English7 Synonyms for Being Drunk7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!

 

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and has a unique ability to select a great blog topic every week! She has a history of tremendous feedback and a huge following! 

 

 

 

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