Site Feedback

Resolved questions
How to reduce the misuse of a/an?

Chinese often make mistakes with the article a/an. The rule of use it is not complicated: before a word beginning with a consonant we use 'a', and before a word beginning with a vowel we use 'an'.

( Unfortunately I was taught by the English teach when I began English learning, whether it should be an a or an depends on the initial LETTER of the following word, and I didn't know the true rule until years later when I read it in a book or magazine:( )

But it's a matter of fact that I'm still making mitakes with a or an. It happens only too often that I'd use an a when it should be an an, and then I find the following word is initiated with a vowel and so I correct it.

I find quite a few times when native English speakers make the same mistakes that when they should write an 'an' they use an 'an' instead. So I wonder

1) if it is also a problem for native English speakers with the use of a/an;
2) if this kind of mistakes happen when you speak (not write) English?

And I'd like to know

3) how to reduce the misuse about a/an, or, how you natives have been correctly using the word?

For learning: English
Base language: English
Category: Language

Share:

0 comments

    Please enter between 2 and 2000 characters.

     

    Answers

    Sort by:

     

    Best Answer - Chosen by the Asker
    The problem here is that there is no strategy for a native English speaker. If you learn a language growing up from a young age, you don't employ much of any conscious strategy - you just learn it.
    I don't even think consciously about "a" or "an" - I just say it.
    It's like the native Chinese speakers (like you) who use all the tones in the Chinese language without thinking about it - how often do you have to think whether its 'ma' = mother or 'ma' = horse. The only difference is the tone. I am learning Chinese and I have to think about it all the time.
    Also, the Chinese have a harder time with 'a' or 'an' because Chinese is not phonetic. Growing up with a phonetic language, it was easy for me to pick out the consonants - they are drilled into us at an early age. And the consonants and vowels are basically the same in any Western language, with some differences. You probably have to think - is this a vowel or consonant?

    The sad answer is that ability on this subject only comes with practice. One sign of progress - if you can dream in the language without it being a nightmare, you're well on your way.

     

    Basically, if the next word begins with a VOWEL SOUND, you use "an" (everything else uses "a"). That's why we say "an hour": even though the word begins with the consonant "h," we don't pronounce it, so the word begins with a vowel sound/diphthong "owwww" and therefore requires "an." I think the only thing you can do to be clear is to learn the sounds of the vowels, and then you shouldn't make any more mistakes.

    Aside from practice, of course, a good guideline is to think of how much smoother the pronunciation would be. Double vowel sounds are more awkward in English, that's why we use "an" before vowel sounds, as in "an egg" rather than "a egg". It's the same for some consonant combinations, so we say "a mask" rather than "an mask".

    Submit your answer


    Please enter between 2 and 2000 characters.

    If you copy this answer from another italki answer page, please state the URL of where you got your answer from.