We all know that time is precious. But what’s more precious, an hour or a hour? It is all too easy to use the wrong indefinite article in your writing. In this article, we will teach you the grammar rules to know exactly when to use A and An in your writing.
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A Hour or An Hour
Indefinite articles are a confusing concept for many English speakers. What is the best way to remember whether to use “a” or “an” when there are so many rules?
Fortunately, there is a simple trick that can help you to choose the correct indefinite article every time.
- “A” is used before words that begin with consonants
- “An” is used before words that begin with vowels.
However, when we use “A” and “An” has nothing to do with the written letters. The most important tip is to pay close attention to how the word sounds. This rule directly applies to the “a unique or an unique“. Words beginning with a vowel sound use “An“. If a word starts with a consonant sound use “A“.
Just like we saw when analyzing the words payed & paid, just because words are spelled similarly does not mean they have the same meaning.
Takeaway: Words that have a vowel sound are preceded by An. Words that have a consonant sound are preceded by A.
Rules for A vs. An
How do you know when to use “a” versus “an”? “A” and “an” are two of the most commonly confused words. Follow these guidelines to help you choose the correct indefinite article:
- Use “A” before words that begin with a consonant sound, regardless of how they’re spelled. For example: “a casual vs causal worker”
- Use “An” before words that begin with a vowel sound, regardless of how they’re spelled. For example: “an owl, an umbrella, an hour”.
Pay close attention to words that begin with the letter “h”. While “h” is typically a consonant sound, there are some exceptions. In the word hour, the h is silent and is pronounced more like “our”. In this case, the word starts with a consonant that sounds like a vowel!
Takeaway: Focus on how the beginning of a word sounds.
Here are some examples of using the indefinite article “A“.
- A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
- A freshman in college has a lot to earn.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Let’s go to the mall to buy a sweater.
- I would rather drive a car than walk.
Here are some examples of using the indefinite article “An“.
- I drove 100 miles in an hour.
- Can you grab me an orange?
- At the zoo today we saw an orangutang.
- Grab me an apple from the pantry.
- I took an extra piece of candy from the bowl.
Just like we saw in our post on sergeant vs sargeant, even small spelling changes can make a huge difference!
Definite and Indefinite Articles
There are two types of articles:
Definite articles indicate that the noun it modifies is specific or known to the listener. For example, if I say “I’m going to the store” you know which store I mean.
On the other hand, the indefinite article is the word “a” or “an,” and it suggests that the noun it modifies is unspecific or unknown. For example, if I say “Can you give me a ride to the airport?” or “Can you call me an Uber to the airport?” you don’t know which airport I’m talking about. If you want an SAT Grammar Tip, take the time to understand the difference between definite and indefinite articles.
What Are Common Mistakes When Deciding Between A vs An?
- Relying solely on the spelling: One common mistake is relying solely on the spelling of the following word rather than considering its pronunciation. Remember that the choice between “a” and “an” depends on the sound that follows, not the actual letter.
- Misjudging vowel and consonant sounds: Another mistake is misjudging whether a word begins with a vowel sound or a consonant sound. Some words that start with consonant letters can actually have vowel sounds, and vice versa. It’s important to focus on the sound rather than the letter itself.
- Ignoring silent letters: People sometimes overlook silent letters in words and mistakenly choose “a” or “an” based on the wrong sound. For example, in the word “honor,” the initial “h” is silent, so it should be preceded by “an” instead of “a.”
Also, writers should keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule! This is why it is always best to really understand each grammar rule instead of simply memorizing.
How To Pronounce “Hour”?
The word “hour” is pronounced as “au-er” in two syllables, with the emphasis on the first syllable. The “h” is silent, so it starts with the vowel sound “au” (similar to “ow” in “cow”) followed by the “-er” sound. Many new English speakers get confused when using silent letters.
It is important to note that “hour” begins with a vowel sound, so it should be preceded by “an” instead of “a” when used in a sentence.
FAQs – “A or An”
It is correct to say “an hour“. People pronounce hour with a silent h. When a word begins with a vowel sound, an should be used. This same rule applies to spoken and written form.
The correct form is “an hour” in British English. This follows the same rules as American English. The word starts with a vowel sound so we use an. Vowel sounds are always preceded by an.
Hour uses “an” because the h is silent. Hour begins with a vowel sound. Words beginning with consonant sounds use “a” as the indefinite article. For example, “that is a golf club”. Pay close attention to the h sound. If you pronounce the h, then a should be used. For example, “Please give me a handout.”
In the English language, the general rule is that “a” goes before when a word begins with consonants and “an” goes before when a word starts with a vowel. More specifically, you must pay close attention to how the word sounds. For example, “An apple” , “A unicorn”, or “A television”. Use this rule to chose the correct indefinite article in your writing.
It is correct to say “a unicorn”. Most people would think the correct form would be an before a vowel. However, unicorn does NOT make a vowel sound so the correct article is a. Unicorn makes a consonant sound. Not many words fall into this category. Even professional teachers can struggle with these rules.
The correct version is “a house“. The general rule in the English language is that a proceeds words starting with h, where there is no silent h. It can be tricky for a non-native English speaker to understand all the rules with indefinite articles.
It is correct to say “a hotel“. Words beginning with h usually use an. However, this rule applies to words that start with silent letters. In this example, the h in hotel is not silent so the correct article to use is a. Study the difference between an indefinite and definite article to improve your writing.
The Bottom Line
English can be tricky. Just like we saw in our post on the difference between lifes and lives, spelling is no easy task! But with a little practice, you’ll be able to use the indefinite articles “a” and “an” like a pro. These tips should help you get started. Remember to listen for the sound of the word and make your decision based on that. This advice will improve your writing no matter if you are sending a text message or publishing a New York Times best-selling book! And if you need some extra grammar help, consider tools like ProWritingAid & Grammarly to assist your writing.