'An' egg but 'a' European. Why?

BobTanner

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I learned that we use 'a' before consonants and 'an' before vowels, but I hear and see 'a European', 'a university'. Why is this? E and U are vowels.
 

5jj

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The letters A, E, I, O, and U are often referred to as vowels, with the other 21 letters being referred to as consonants.

In speech, however, it is sounds, not letters, that are important in deciding whether we are dealing with vowels or consonants. The choice of a or an depends on the first sound in a word. The sound /j/, the first sound in, for example, yard, year, yellow, is treated as a consonant. In all words beginning with eu and some with u, the first sound is /j/.

That is why we say and write a university, a united front, a European, a eulogy.

When we use a or an before the names of letters, the choice also depends on the first sound of the name of the letter. So:

an A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S, X

a B, C, D, G, J, K, P, Q, T, U, V, W,Y, Z

a NATO member
– NATO is pronounced /neɪtəʊ/

an EU member – EU is pronounced /iː juː/


Note that when H is the first letter of a word, it is usually pronounced as a consonant, /h/, as in house, home, hand. However, in a small number of words beginning with H, for example, herb (AmE only), honest, honour (BrE). honor (AmE), hour, the H is silent, and the words begin with a vowel sound. So, we say and write an hour, an honest man.

ps My blunder has now been corrected. Thanks. tzfujimino.
 
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Tdol

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To add to 5jj's list we say an heir.

I have, once, met a very grand woman who said an 'otel, but there are very few who use that form, and I have never heard an 'ospital- it used to be that the /h/ was silent before words of French origin. Some say an historic with /h/ because they think that this is posh usage. It isn't- it's a historic or an 'istoric.
 

Rover_KE

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5jj wrote herb (AmE only)

That reminds me of one of my favourite cookery books—'Healthy Meals' by Herb Omlet and Lettie Sleeves.
 
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probus

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Some varieties are perverse about it. Many Jamaicans not only fail to pronounce initial "h" sounds, they also add an initial "h" sound to words that begin with a vowel sound, for example saying hout for out.
 

Tdol

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Some dialect speakers in the UK drop and add [h]aitches.
 
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