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“A” or “AN”?

The basic rule

“A” is followed by words that begin with a consonant. E.g.: “a dog”, “a cat” or “a zoo”.

“AN” is followed by words that begin with a vowel: E.g.: “an apple”, “an orange” or “an igloo”.

The problem: it is a question of phonetics.

“A” is followed by words that begin with a consonant sound. E.g.: “a dog”, “a cat”, “a zoo”, “a house”, “a one-way street” or “a university”.

“AN” is followed by words that begin with a vowel sound: E.g.: “an apple”, “an orange” or “an igloo” or “an hour”.

Four problem letters: “h”, “o” and “u” and “eu”.

 

“h” is usually aspirate (a consonant): "a house", "a horse", "a head".

"h" can also be silent (a vowel): “an heir”, “an hour”, “an honest politician” or “an honourable politician”.

 

Yes, “o” is a vowel.

Sometimes it is pronounced /w/ [one, once] and this is a consonant: “a one-way street”, “a once over”, “a one-sided argument” or “a one-track mind”.

 

Similarly “u” is a vowel, but "u" has four different pronunciations; “cup /ʌ/”, “put /u/”, “boot /u:/” or “university /ju:/”.

So you say: "an umbrella", "an uninterested customer", but "a University", "a Unit":

 

Similarly, there are many Greek words that begin "eu-". They are also pronounced /ju:/. "a European country" or "a euro for bread".

 

Minor observations:

 

Hiberno-English pronounces the letter “h” as “heitch” (aspirate). Irish people say “a heitch”. This is becoming more common in Britain.

Apparently in Northern Ireland protestant schools teach “eitch”, while catholic schools teach “heitch”.

 

Watch “My Fair Lady”. Many British speakers drop their H’s.

In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen. (Professor Higgins)

 

In ‘ertford, ‘ereford and ‘ampshire ‘urricanes ‘ardly Hever ‘appen. (Eliza Dolittle)


Pronouncing “A” or “AN” -> “The”

The basic rule

“A” is followed by words that begin with a consonant. E.g.: “a dog”, “a cat” or “a zoo”.

In this case “the” is pronounced /ðƏ/ (thuh)

“AN” is followed by words that begin with a vowel: E.g.: “an apple”, “an orange” or “an igloo”.

In this case “the” is pronounced /ði/ (thee).


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