Articles: a/an

“A” and “an” signal that the noun modified is indefinite, referring to any member of a group. For example:

“My daughter really wants a dog for Christmas.” This refers to any dog. We don’t know which dog because we haven’t found the dog yet.

“Somebody call a policeman!” This refers to any policeman. We don’t need a specific policeman; we need any policeman who is available .

“When I was at the zoo, I saw an elephant!” Here, we’re talking about a single, non-specific thing, in this case an elephant. There are probably several elephants at the zoo, but there’s only one we’re talking about here .

Remember, using a or an depends on the sound that begins the next word. So…

a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog

an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan

a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like ‘yoo-zer,’ i.e. begins with a consonant ‘y’ sound, so ‘a’ is used); a universitya unicycle

an + nouns starting with silent “h”: an hour

a + nouns starting with a pronounced “h”: a horse

Adapted from: https://owl.purdue.edu

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