I demand that my books be judged with utmost severity, by knowledgeable people who know the rules of grammar and of logic, and who will seek beneath the footsteps of my commas the lice of my thought in the head of my style. —Louis Aragon

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A vs. An

A New York City classroom, 1942.

A New York City classroom, 1942. Image courtesy US Library of Congress.

You should use an “a” before all words that begin with consonants.

  • a cat
  • a pineapple
  • a brown dog
  • a popsicle
  • a broken crayon

Use “an” before all words that begin with vowels.

  • an apple
  • an artichoke
  • an orangutan
  • an iceberg
  • an elliptical orbit

There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. In American English, for words beginning with an “h,” use “a” if you pronounce the “h” and “an” if you don’t.

  • a hotel
  • an herbal bouquet
  • a honeybee
  • an honest reply

For words that begin with “u,” when the “u” sounds like the “y” in “you,” you should use “a” instead of “an.”

  • a unicorn
  • an umbrella

For words that begin with “o,” when the “o” sounds like the “w” in “won,” you should use “a” instead of “an.”

  • a one-hit wonder
  • an overbearing boss

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