“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 university; a 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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