Difference between A and An

Updated 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

AAn
Indefinite articleIndefinite article
For singular nounsFor singular nouns
Used when the next word begins with a consonant or a consonant soundUsed 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.