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Thread: A or an?

  1. stewart

    A or an?

    I'm occasionally confused about when to use 'a' and when to use 'an' - is it, for example, 'a drugs agency' or 'an drugs agency'? 'A' drugs agency sounds better, but is it 'an' because it's 'an agency'? Could you help me please.

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
    • Posts: 12,970

    Re: A or an?

    Use "an" if the word (it sits directly in front of) begins with a vowel sound, and use "a" if the word begins with a consonant. Like this,

    an apple, but a big apple.

    an agency, but a drug agency.

    Watch out! Some letters look like vowels but sound like consonants, like, USA,

    a USA agency <Note, USA is pronounced, [ju:] or [yu:]
    a union bank <Note, union, [ju:] or [yu:]
    a UFO

    The letter "u" in those words begins with a consonantal sound, [j] / [y], so use "a", not "an". Not all u-initial words are pronounced that way, though; e.g., umbrella, ulcer, umpire, etc. Those words take "an".

    Remember, the key to using "an" and "a" is sound. It's in your ears, not in your eye-sight.


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