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Using English articles (#1), by Dennis Oliver

Using English Articles (#1)

 

Because the English articles (a, an, the) are often very
challenging for learners of the language, the next several
Hints will provide guidelines on their usage.

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The Indefinite Articles
A
and An (#1)

 

The indefinite articles a and an are very common in
English. They're used to refer generally to singular
countable nouns. (That is, a or an will probably be
used when it isn't important to know which particular
noun is being referred to.)

The article a is used before singular countable nouns
that begin with a consonant sound:

a boy / a block / a brick
a cat / a cracker / a clasp
a chair / a chronometer
a fox / a flower / a friend
a gorilla / a glance / a grape / a group
a ham / a horse / a house
a jewel / a job / a joke
a kid / a kiss / a knife / a knight
a lamp / a lady / a lock
a man / a movie / a mule
a nap / a night / a nod
a person / a phone / a phrase
a plant / a prayer / a psychologist
a rope / a rhinoceros / a rhyme / a rhythm
a salad / a shoe / a shrimp
a splinter / a spring / a stove / a string
a turtle / a trap / a theme / a threat
a wig / a weed / a wheel / a wrestler
a xylophone / a xerox
a yam / a yard / a year

a zebra / a zero / a zipper / a zoo

The article an is used before singular countable nouns
that begin with a vowel sound:

an alley / an answer / an apple
an eagle / an effect / an effort
an icicle / an image / an island / an itch
an onion / an opportunity / an oven
an uncle / an urn

Notice that some nouns begin with a consonant letter
but have a vowel sound (because the consonant letter
is silent (written, but not pronounced):

an honor / an hour

Notice also that when nouns begin with the vowel
letters eu, these letters are pronounced yoo ( [ iú ] ),
so the noun actually begins with a consonant sound,
not a vowel sound. For this reason, such words use
a, not an:

a eulogy / a ewe / a European

In a few words that begin with u, the u is pronounced
yoo ( [ iú ] ), and, for this reason, the proper article
is also a, not an:

a ukulele / a union / a university
a use / a Ute


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