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When to Use the Word "An" and When to Use "A"

Updated on January 23, 2012

When you are writing, you may have to stop and think when to use the word "an" and when to use the word "a." Although certain rules are blunt and straightforward, other rules provide a bit of a gray area for writers of all skill levels. By keeping a key points in mind and basic guidelines, and you can use these words in your writing like a professional.

  1. If a noun begins with a consonant, you should always use "a." For instance, a cat jumped over a fence.
  2. If a noun begins with a vowel, you should always use "an." For example, an eel always eats an ice cream cone.
  3. If a word begins with a long "u" sound such as universal, you should always use "a." For instance, I played a ukilele in a university.
  4. If a word begins with a short "u" sound such as underwear, you should always use "an." For example, I live on an upper floor with an ugly cat.
  5. Use the word "an" in front of words beginning with "h," only if the "h" is silent. A prime example is—after an hour has passed, you should put an herb in the pot.

  6. Use the word "a" in front of words beginning with "h," only if the "h" is not silent. An instance where you would use "a" is—a hog sits on a handle.

  7. Place an in front of any word that has a consonant that sounds like a vowel. For instance, you should use “an” if you say, I plan to earn an LPN or my name begins with an “m.”


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I wish more writes understood this rule of grammar. :)

    • peramore20 profile image
      Author

      peramore20 4 years ago from Greensburg, PA

      Me too. I also edit and even the people who have fancy degrees fall short when it comes to certain grammar rules.

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