A vs. An

Blend the article sound before a noun

Prounciation
 

 

A or an before consonants or vowels

A

Before a consonant sound (not spelling), speakers use the article a – /ə/ when stressed /eɪ/.

This is a global business.   /ˈgloʊbəl/ 

We have a hundred employees.  /ˈhʌndrɪd/

The company has a CEO.     /si/  CEO – chief executive officer

The director has a university e-mail address.  /ˌyunəˈvɜrsɪti/
 

AN

Before a vowel sound (not spelling), speakers use the article an – /ən/ when stressed /æn/. The /n/ serves as a transition sound between two vowel sounds.

This is an electronic business. /ɪlɛkˈtrɒnɪk, ˌilɛk-/

We have an eight-hundred-employee company.  /eɪt/

The company has an NIH grant.   /ˈɛn/  NIH – National Institute of Health

The director has an unlisted e-mail address.  /ʌnˈlɪstɪd/

 

IPA Pronunciation Key

global (adj.) – world

employee (n.) – worker

 

 

 

 

 

 

A / An

Some Unusual Cases

 

 

 

The sound not the spelling determines a/an usage.

A

Using a or an depends on pronunciation, which may vary among speakers of English around the world.  Words beginning with h, u, w and y need special attention.  Pronouncing the word helps us decide which article to use.

BEFORE A CONSONANT SOUND

a baby, a lemon, a car, a kiss  

BEFORE AN H SOUND IN A STRESSED SYLLABLE

a housewife, a hurricane, a history, a horror movie, a helicopter, a hanger, a handkerchief, a herb /hɜrb/  Eng-Br 

BEFORE AN H SOUND IN AN UNSTRESSED SYLLABLE

a hotel, a horrific event, a historical event,  a hysterical moment, a hypothesis The use of a/an varies in these words depending on whether h, is pronouncd or is silent.  (dialectal variation)  

BEFORE A W SOUND

a one-hour break /wʌn–/, a wonderful life, "not a one"

BEFORE A Y SOUND

a university  /yu-/, a unit, a eulogy, a youth

 

AN

An is used before words with silent initial letters and with some letters and numbers. Syllable stress in words of multiple syllables also affects a speaker's choice of a or an.                      

BEFORE A VOWEL SOUND

an apple, an eye, an opening, an urn, an initial

BEFORE SILENT H IN A STRESSED SYLLABLE

an hour, an honor, an honest man, *an herb  /ɜrb/  Eng-US

BEFORE SILENT H IN AN UNSTRESSED SYLLABLE

an hotel, an horrific event, an historical event,  an hysterical moment, an hypothesis 

BEFORE SOME NAMES OF LETTERS

an MP, an NAACP resolution, give me an A, give me an R, give me an S 

BEFORE SOME NUMBER

an 800 number, an 11-person group,

 

 

*herb /hɜrb/  Eng-Br, /ɜrb/  Eng-US (n.) – a small plant that is used to improve the taste of food or to make medicine

honour Eng-Br, honor Eng-US (n.)

historic– an important event / historical–an event in the past   Adjective Forms  | Pop-Q "historical

World Wide Words  "The situation is complicated by a shift that has been taking place in the pronunciation of words with initial h over the past couple of centuries." 

"a/an". Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Massachusetts, 1993. p. 1.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Taking a Prep Course

Taking a prep course
 

 

Select the a or an form.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

(The feedback text-boxes do not accept IPA formatting. Pronunciation will be displayed with standard characters.)

1.

2.


 SAT – Scholastic Appititude Test

3.

4.
.  

prep – short for preparation

5.

6.

7.

8.
, you have to follow

9.

 
iPhone – Apple's mobile/cellular phone,
Galaxy  – Samsung mobile/cellular phone using Android operating system.

10.


honor Eng-US, honour Eng-Br  

11.


nerve-racking (adj.) – makes you feel very nervous or worried

12.


800 – is a perfect score on a particular section of verbal or math skills (U.S.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Activities

A / An

 

 

Beginning

Crazy Meals. Use picture cards of food or play food items (plastic replicas) of food (about 40 items).  Name a meal type (e.g., a salad, a sandwich, soup or a pizza). Randomly give each person five items. (Deal the food cards to each person or ask each person to blindly take five food items out of a bag.) Ask each person to select four items to include in a meal type.  For example,  if you select "a salad" as the meal type, each person will have to look at the items he or she has and try to make an appealing meal with four of the five items.  A person might say (depending on what items the person has )  I will make you a salad with a tomato,  an artichoke, an olive, and a sardine.  Decide ("judge") which proposed meal is the most appetizing meal.  (Pass the "dealer and judge" job to the winner.) "Chef Cuckoo!"

 

Intermediate

Chain Reaction.  Have one person start the chain by mentioning an item that starts with a vowel sound. (You can resrict the vocabulary to things inside, outside, in a market, in an office, on the human body.) The next person has 10 seconds to think of another word.  Things in a supermarket.  Student 1: an ear, Student2: an elbow, Student 3: an eye, Student 4: an ankle.  A student is allowed one "pass" if unable to think of anything.  After that, a person is "out" if unable to think of an item.   Human Body Vocabulary