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Indefinite Articles “A” and “An” – Grammar Errors

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about diverse topics, from digital marketing to languages and culture.

My Video of Mortimer and Horton

"A" and "An"

If you have ever had a problem as to when you use a or an before a noun, have no fear! Lots of people have wondered the same thing. Mortimer and his zany friend Horton are two guys who are about to embark on a quest just to find the answers to this question. Read on to find out about their unusual journey.

“Mortimer, how to we find out about the uses of a and an?”

“I’m not sure, Horton. But you gave me a great idea! I think this is a perfect time for a little road trip!”

“You mean, we’ll drive all over the countryside and ask people when to use a and an?”

“Yes, I think so, Horton. Go get your plaid jacket and meet me at the car. This will be an confusing journey.”

“Don’t you mean a confusing journey?”

“I’m confused, Horton.”

“Me, too. We’d better go.”

Mortimer and Horton are going on a journey to find out about "a" and "an."
Mortimer and Horton are going on a journey to find out about "a" and "an." | Source

What Is an Indefinite Article?

An indefinite article is used before a non-specific noun: I’m looking for a house. It could be any house. But, when you get more specific, you’ll want to use the definite article the: I’m looking for the red house.

Mortimer has an old car.
Mortimer has an old car. | Source

Mortimer and Horton Begin Their Journey

As they piled their things into Mortimer’s old car, Horton looked over at him. “Would you say this is an old car or an old car?

“It’s an old car all right,” Mortimer replied.

“But…why wouldn’t you say a old car, Mortimer?”

“Because it sounds weird.” He was also perfectly aware that you are not supposed to start a sentence with because, but he didn’t care. He was too excited about their upcoming journey. “Plus, I sound like I have the hiccups if I say a old car.”

They drove off. They drove three hours north until they came to a town called Utopia. When they drove into town, they were surprised by people dancing and singing in the streets – everywhere.

Horton stopped a man who was twirling counter-clockwise. “Excuse me, sir, but in this happy town, everyone’s dancing. Would you describe this as a utopian feeling or an utopian feeling?”

The man smiled and thought for a moment. “It is a utopian feeling, Sir. Everybody knows that you use a before a word that starts with the sound of a consonant. Won’t you dance with us?”

“Oh, no, no,” Horton quickly replied, “I’m afraid I have two left feet!” At that, the man smiled again, winked, and then went off twirling toward the sound of music.

Horton looked at Mortimer. “But, I thought that before a consonant, you ALWAYS were supposed to use the word a. Then, before a vowel, you used the word an.”

“Apparently, Horton, sounds play a role here. Let’s journey on and ask some more people.”

When Mortimer and Horton returned to the car, he noticed that his odometer read 973,011 miles. “Well, Horton, it looks like I need an oil change pretty soon.”

“There! You said it again! You used the word an and not a.”

“Yes, yes I did. It just sounds right. Hmm, maybe that’s the reason! It sounds right!”

“I don’t know, Mortimer. Just because it sounds right, doesn’t mean it is right.”

“Well, we’ll just have to keep asking then, Horton.”

Herb, By Any Other Name

Mortimer’s father was named Herb. Mortimer also had a younger brother named Herb. They all became handymen. Often, when clients would confuse Mortimer and the two Herbs, they would just ask for a Herb – any Herb – when they couldn’t figure out which one was whom.


Do You Feel Like You Have A Good Grasp of "A" and "An"?

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Mortimer Writes a Eulogy

Just as they were about to leave, a man wearing a bright yellow shirt and carnation pink pants opened the back door of the car and got in. He sat with a big grin on his face and held a small suitcase in his arms.

“Did someone say road trip?” he asked. Mortimer and Horton just looked at each other. “Sure,” they both replied at the same time. Their adventure was getting even more interesting.

“But, we’re on an unusual journey,” Horton said.

“I myself am unusual,” the man said. “The name is Wiley.”

“Well, Wiley, we are trying to find out when to use the indefinite articles a and an. It’s proving to be very interesting.”

“Well, what have you found so far?” Wiley asked.

“Not much,” replied Mortimer. “Just that you use a before a word that starts with a consonant sound.”

“Well, you’re off to a good start,” Wiley replied. His freakish smile was getting bigger. “You know about and then, don’t you?”

Mortimer and Horton shook their heads.

“You use an before a word that starts with a vowel sound.”

Just then, Wiley sat up in his seat. He felt something peculiar. He pulled a dead frog from out of the folds in the seat.

“Oh, that was Chauncey,” Mortimer said, shaking his head. “He wasn’t doing so well this morning. I guess it was his time.”

Wiley didn’t stop smiling. “Well, folks, I think it’s time for a eulogy.”

“I have two questions,” Horton said. “First, are you talking about a eulogy for a frog?”

“Yes, doesn’t everyone give their frog a eulogy when it dies?” Wiley’s smile never faded. Maybe his face was permanently fixed that way.

Horton and Mortimer just looked at each other.

“Yes, well, now for my second question. Why did you say a eulogy and not a eulogy? I mean there are two vowels at the beginning of the word eulogy.”

Wiley’s eyes bobbed back and forth between Mortimer and Horton. “You really don’t know?” His smile got a little flatter. “Well, I’ll tell you. In the town of Utopia, everyone knows this stuff. But, since you’re not from around here….When you say the word eulogy, you make a y sound. ‘Yew-low-gee.’ Because that’s a consonant sound, you put use a before the word and not an.”

“Oh,” Horton said. “So if I want to talk about unicorns and I see one, I’d say ‘Look! A unicorn’.”

“You got it,” Wiley smiled. “Now, tell me something interesting about your frog.”

“He was old and green,” Mortimer mused. “He hopped around a lot.”

“Did he do anything?” Wiley prodded.

“He was a hero…to me,” Mortimer replied.

A list of words that sometimes can trip people up when determining whether to use "a" or "an."
A list of words that sometimes can trip people up when determining whether to use "a" or "an." | Source

Mortimer and Horton Discover Mrs. Twyla's Herb Garden

“Well, you used the a correctly. You also made a beautiful tribute to Chauncey. Let’s walk over to that garden where Mrs. Twyla is singing and picking flowers.”

Mortimer and Horton followed Wiley.

“Oh, look! A herb garden!”

“Um, no,” Wiley said. Mrs. Twyla looked up for a moment and stopped singing. “Maybe in the United Kingdom they pronounce the h at the beginning of that word, but on the other side of the pond, we don’t. It’s not a herb garden but, in fact, an herb garden.

“Oh, I see!” Horton exclaimed. “If you don’t pronounce the h, you have a vowel sound, so you need an before herb. That makes perfect sense!”

Mrs. Twyla came over to introduce herself. “Hello! I’m Mrs. Twyla. It’s an honor to meet you. I have an MFA in Smurfology. I like to study the smurfs that grow near my garden.”

“Is that an MFA you say? Not a MFA?” Mortimer asked.

“Mrs. Twyla,” Wiley smiled, “You’ll have to forgive my friends. They are not from Utopia.” He looked over at Mortimer and Horton. “Where did you say you’re from?”

“We’re from a town called Truth and Consequential.” Mortimer beamed. Wiley and Mrs. Twyla gasped.

“No wonder you’re a bit confused. In Utopia, it’s a grammar haven,” Mrs. Twyla remarked. “You also say an MFA because when you use a letter by itself, if it has a vowel sound, you use the word an with it.”

“Oh,” Mortimer and Horton said, with their eyebrows raised.

“Well, I think I’ve got it, Mrs. Twyla!” Horton added. “It’s been an honor meeting you and Wiley here. I am an uninvited guest in your garden, so I will return back home with Mortimer. It’s been an overly joyous encounter with the people of Utopia.”

Mortimer and Horton shook hands with Wiley and Mrs. Twyla. “This will be an unforgettable event,” they both replied.

Indeed, this would go down as a momentous event in history. A historian would one day read about Mortimer and Horton’s adventures. For now, they learned valuable lessons about the indefinite articles a and an.

Need To Brush Up on Some Grammar?

When to Use "I" or "Me" - Understand how to use the pronouns "I" and "me" in a sentence. Which is correct: "Mark went to the store with Mary and I," or "Mark went to the store with Mary and me." Find out in this hub!

Which or That: Grammar Errors - Mrs. Twitches and her britches are legendary. Learn how she deals with her eye twitches when she hears grammar errors.

The Semicolon: Snooty and Sassy - Miss Semicolon is snooty, sassy and almost regal in her sentence structures. Learn what makes her "tick".

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Is That Alien a He, She or an It? - If you're a Star Trek fan, take a look at this hub and find out how you would address an alien when you meet one.

The Cantankerous Comma - Uses and Rules - When and where do you use a comma? It gets confusing. Work through that confusion and have a laugh at The Cantankerous Comma's expense. Find out about "Comma Knowledge," too.

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun


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