A Versus An
Sadly, a lot of people were taught the wrong rule for using the articles a and an. It’s the sound of the next word that determines the word choice, not the first letter.
If the next word starts with a vowel sound, use an. If the next word starts with a consonant sound, use a. That means a word starting with u or o, for example, can require a or an depending on the pronunciation: a unicorn, an uncle, a onetime deal, an owner.
QUICK AND DIRTY TIP
To remember that words starting with certain letters can go either way, set the image in your mind of a man playing a ukulele under an umbrella—an image that uses two u-words that require different articles.
Copyright © 2011 by Mignon Fogarty, Inc.
MIGNON FOGARTY, the creator of Grammar Girl and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips Network, is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Grammar Girl’s Quick And Dirty Tips For Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional. Her straightforward, bite-sized tips on grammar have led to features in the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and an appearance on Oprah. She lives in Reno, Nevada.