February 7

A or AN? and other fascinationg materials from “Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words”

Rule. Use a when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a consonant. Keep in mind that some vowels sound like consonants when they’re sounded out as individual letters.

Examples:

  • a finger
  • a hotel
  • a U-turn (pronounced You-turn)
  • a HUD program
  • a NASA study

Rule. Use an when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a vowel. Remember that some consonants sound like vowels when they’re spoken as individual letters.

Examples:

  • an FBI case (F is pronounced ef here)
  • an honor (H is silent here)
  • an unusual idea
  • an HMO plan (H is pronounced aitch here)
  • an NAACP convention (N is pronounced en here)

Deciding whether to use a or an before abbreviations can be tricky. The abbreviation for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) causes confusion because it can be pronounced as a word (fak), or one letter at a time (F-A-Q). Using the guidelines above, one would say a FAQ when it is pronounced as one word, and an FAQ when it is pronounced one letter at a time.

 

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