Article “a” or “an” <div>hi everybody, I look for a really simple clarification about the article “a”. Specifically when to add the “n” after it. </div><div>in Italian we add the “d” to the conjunction when the succeeding word starts with a vocal. </div><div>now I think that it must be the same principle when we use the article “a” in english, but I noticed that it is not always like that, mainly when the succeeding word starts by “h”</div>
May 13, 2020 12:30 PM
Comments · 11
<div>There is one very simple but very important thing which you need to understand about 'an', Paolo. The rule governing the use of 'a' and 'an' is a phonological rule, not a spelling rule. It's about the sounds which we hear, not the letters on the page!</div><div>
</div><div>We use 'an' before vowel sounds and we use 'a' before consonant sounds, regardless of the spelling.</div><div>
</div><div>Here are some examples:</div><div>
</div><div>Nouns which begin with vowel sounds</div><div>
</div><div>an umbrella</div><div>an hour*</div><div>an honour*</div><div>an MBA **</div><div>an F-key **</div><div>an 18th-century book **</div><div>
</div><div>* These two words begin with vowel sounds because their initial 'h' is always silent. The word 'hour' is pronounced the same as 'our': this is why we say 'an hour'. Words which come from the same root as 'honour' (e.g. honest, honorable) also have a silent 'h': this is why we say 'an honest man'.</div><div>
</div><div>There are also a few other words where the silent 'h' is optional: hotel, historical (very outdated) and herb (only in the USA). [@Liz is wrong about 'herb'. This is actually an American convention. The British, who do sometimes drop 'h's, find it strange to hear Americans (who don't drop h's) talking about 'erbs'.].</div><div>
</div><div>** The letters F, H, L, M, N, R, S and X are 'pronounced' as 'eff', 'aitch', 'el' and so on. These are 'words' which begin with vowel sounds even though they're referring to consonants: this is why we say, for example "The word 'scene' begins with an 's' ".</div><div>
</div><div>Also note that numbers such 'eighteenth' begins with vowel sounds and are preceded by 'an'</div><div>
</div><div>Nouns which begin with consonant sounds</div><div>a bag</div><div>a hat*</div><div>a university**</div><div>a euro**</div><div>
</div><div>* Initial 'h's in all words apart from the exceptions above (hour, honour and related words) are pronounced. This 'h' is a consonant sound: this is why we say a hat, a hand, a house, a hamburger, a horse, and so on.</div><div>
</div><div>** These words begin with the consonant sound 'y', like in the word 'you'. This 'y' is a consonant, which is why we say a (y) university and a (y) euro.</div><div>
</div><div>I hope that's clearer now. Please ask if you'd like further clarification.</div>
May 13, 2020
<div>You're right, Liz, that many people in the UK do drop the 'h' at the beginning of a word, but this is not good spoken English. Most words that start with 'h' should be spoken with it pronounced, and therefore the article will be 'a'.</div><div>
</div><div>Strangely enough, I have heard that the word 'herb', which we say with the 'h', is spoken without it in the US, even by those who don't normally 'drop their aitches'. There is a well-known American cookery programme presenter who always says 'erbs'.</div><div>
</div><div>There is another case in which the indefinite article 'a' is used in English, and that is when the following word starts with a 'u' pronounced as 'you' or 'yoo'. Most of these words involve the initial form 'uni' : unit, unify, uniform, union, university, etc. Where the prefix 'un' reverses the meaning of the stem, the 'u' is vocalised as a normal vowel, and the preceding article, if applicable, will be 'an' e.g. do / undo, done / undone, invited / uninvited [person], intended / unintended [consequences], inhibited / uninhibited, etc.</div>
May 13, 2020
<div>It's the vowel sound that comes into play with the words.</div><div>
</div><div>With h, you have words where the h is silent, such as </div><div>
</div><div>Hour, Honor</div><div>
</div><div>Withe the h being silent, the word vocalizes with the vowel sound, and thus requires the indefinite article an.</div><div>
May 13, 2020
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Language Skills
English, Italian
Learning Language