Difference between A and An

Published on October 25, 2016

The English language has what we call articles, and they can either be definite or indefinite. A definite article refers to a specific object or particular nouns, while an indefinite article refers to non-specific objects or non-particular nouns. The is a definite article and a and an are indefinite articles. A and an are two words that some individuals may have a hard time using in a sentence. Some people do not know when to use them. Let us define these two articles and see how we can use them.

Definitions

When do we use a or an? These articles are used for singular nouns, and the usage is dependent on the noun or word that comes after it.

An is used when the next word starts with a vowel or has a vowel sound. Vowels are a, e, i, o and u.

Examples:

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • It is an unusual project.
  • Did you buy an umbrella?
  • Venice was excited to see an elephant.
  • I need an envelope to carry all the documents!

This next example may have a consonant as the first letter of the word, but the sound is that of a vowel.

  • I waited an hour for you to show up.
  • I waited an hour for you to show up.
  • Aaron wants an honest answer.

A is used when the next word starts with a consonant or has a consonant sound. Consonants are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y and z.

Examples:

  • A girl kept looking for you yesterday.
  • The decision was not a good one.
  • Johan is a respiratory therapist.
  • She gave him a dog as a gift.
  • A doctor can help you with that.

These next two examples have vowels as the first letter of the word, but the sounds are that of a consonant.

  • She met a European the other week and she’s smitten with him.
  • Their love story began at a university.

The beginning of the words European and university sounds like “yoo.”

A vs An

What is the difference between the two articles a and an? The difference between the two articles is straightforward and distinct. An is used before a vowel or a vowel-sounding word, while a is used before a consonant or a consonant-sounding word.

If you ever find yourself stuck or confused, just ask if the noun starts with a vowel or consonant. Take note too that a and an are only used with singular nouns. You cannot use them with possessive pronouns, demonstratives or cardinal numbers.

Comparison Chart

A An
Indefinite article Indefinite article
For singular nouns For singular nouns
Used when the next word begins with a consonant or a consonant sound Used when the next word begins with a vowel or a vowel sound

Video

For a more detailed explanation on their usage, you can watch the video below.