Difference Between A and An
Indefinite Articles “A” and “An”
There are two types of articles – definite (the) and indefinite (a and an). The definite article refers to some specific object or some specific person. An indefinite article refers to a non-specific object or person. Both articles must be followed by a noun or an adjective and a noun.
While “the” can be used for singular or plural nouns, “a” and “an” are used only for singular nouns. For example:-
- The book you want is on the table.
- The books you want are on the table.
- A boy was playing in the yard.
- An apple was lying under the tree.
Whether you use “a” or “an” depends on the noun it qualifies. Does the noun start with a vowel or a consonant? You use one or the other, depending on the first letter of the word following the article, for pronunciation reasons. The use of “an” while talking facilitates smoothness and clarity of speech.
The vowels are “a,e,i,o,u” and if a noun or an adjective starts with any of these letters, you say “an” before it. Examples:-
- Go to bed! We have an early start tomorrow.
- I received an I-Pad for my birthday.
- An airline must get permission to land in a foreign country.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away!
- The heart is an organ vital to life.
- The earthquake in Nepal was not an unusual event.
An exception to this rule is when “u” is pronounced as “eu”, such as:-
- A union of Asian countries will contribute to political stability.
- A u-boat can sink a ship.
- A European man committed the murder.
- Karen joined a university in Montreal.
- An electric bill is considered to be a utility bill.
Another exception is the letter “h” when the “h” is silent. For example:-
- It will take us an (h)our to reach the next town.
- It is an (h)onour to be a member of this club.
“A” is used in front of all consonants and sometimes the vowel “u” as already explained above. Examples are given below.
- A school is where you get your education.
- A party was given in celebration of his promotion.
- I do not have a clue why he stopped talking to me.
- Mary and John just adopted a girl.
- They got a shock to see an elephant in the drive-way.
- A pet needs to be looked after like a child.
- A human being can also look like an ape.
- An airplane is a flying machine.
- An attic is located at the top of a house.
- He became drunk and made a spectacle of himself.
- Life is a long journey full of ups and downs.
- A year has twelve months.
“A” and “An” can be used to describe a job or a religion.
- Mary is a Catholic.
- Mario is a doctor.
- Silvia is a beautician.
- Elizabeth is an air-hostess.
- Ronald is a software engineer.
- He was born a Hindu but converted to Christianity.
- She is a psychiatrist.
- Lorna is a European.
- He trained to be a pilot but could not get a job as one.
- Sam is a union member of the local employees’ association.
It is bad English to drop “a” or “an” before a singular noun, or an adjective and a singular noun. You cannot say “I am man” or “I am woman” or “he is teacher”. The correct way is to add “a” before the words man, woman and teacher.
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