For a beginner stepping into the world of English Grammar, the correct usage of indefinite Articles ‘A’ and ‘An’might seem a tad confusing initially unless and until he/she becomes acquainted with the following cardinal rules of usage of Indefinite Articles:
Always, always and I cannot emphasis enough, go by the sound / pronunciation of the first letter and not by the actual alphabet.
1. The article ‘A’ is used before singular, countable Nouns which begin with consonant sounds.
i.e., All first letter consonant sounding singular words are preceded by the article ‘a’
e.g.: a pet, a hen, a door, a table
He is a lecturer.
I don’t own a car.
I saw a cat in the park
Please note especially the following examples:
Where the first letter and the sound has a discrepancy in pronunciation
(‘U’ / ‘e’ pronounced as ‘y’)
e.g.: A used napkin
A European trip (‘e’ pronounced as ‘y’)
e.g.: A one-legged man(‘o’ pronounced as ‘w’)
She has a Euro. (Pronounced with the letter ‘y)’
That number is a ‘One’. (Pronounced with the letter ‘w’)
2. Article ‘a’ is not used before a word in which the first letter ‘h’ remains silent.
e.g. – hour, honest, honourable
1. The article ‘AN’ is used before singular, countable Nouns which begin with vowel sounds.
All vowel sounding first letter singular countable Noun words are preceded by ’An’.
E.g.: an apple, an egg, an ink-pot, an owl, an umbrella
He is an actor by profession.
I didn’t get an invitation to the party.
I saw an eagle at the park.
Note the examples mentioned below, for further clarity.
‘An’ is used as an article with words which start with the letter ‘h’ but ‘h’ remains silent.
e.g.: an hour, an honest man, an honourable treaty.
2. ‘An’ is also used with all such words which start with consonants but pronounced as vowels e.g.: words as ‘F’ (Pronounced with the letter sounding ‘eff’).
e.g.: An M.B.A degree.
An M.A in English.
· If there is an Adjective or Adverb Adjective combination before the Noun, A (AN) should agree with the first sound in the Adjective or the Adverb Adjective Combination.
e.g.: I saw a truly magnificent eagle in the sky.
He is an exemplary student.
· There are certain words in the English lexicon such as ‘herb’ or ‘hospital’; which are pronounced differently in different English accents.
In American accents where the ‘h’ is silent in the word ‘herb’, it is common to use ‘an herb’ whereas Britishers prefer ‘a herb’ since ‘h’ is pronounced over there.
Similarly British accents consider ‘h’ silent in hospital, therefore it is‘an’ hospital’ in British usage but Americans use ‘a hospital’ since ‘h’ is pronounced over there.
· A/AN is never used before Uncountable/ Plural Nouns.
Words like air, salt, fun, advice do not make use of either a / an.
e.g.: She is a fun to be with. (Wrong)
She is fun to be with. (Right)
This recipe needs a salt ? (Wrong)
This recipe needs salt. (Right)