A Historic Topic - A vs. An
Writers sometimes confuse the use of the articles a and an. We were all taught that a precedes a word starting with a consonant and that an precedes a word starting with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y).
Here’s the secret to making the rule work: The rule applies to the sound of the letter beginning the word, not just the letter itself. The way we say the word will determine whether or not we use a or an. If the word begins with a vowel sound, you must use an. If it begins with a consonant sound, you must use a.
For example, the word hour begins with the consonant h. But the h is silent, so the word has a vowel sound. Hence:
a one-room apartment a once-famous actor
Articles with Acronyms, a or an
Finally, the rule applies to acronyms as well. If you pronounce a letter as a letter and it begins with a vowel sound, you should precede it with an. The consonants with vowel sounds include f, h, l, m, n, r, s, and x.
He made a U‑turn.
Got it? So what is your grade?
An A? A B? Surely not an F.
You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.
Previous: A, An, The - The Articles Next: Other One-Word Adjectives