A vs. An
Anna so admires her uncle Harry that she intends to follow in his footsteps and don a NYPD uniform someday.
The rule regarding a and an has been drilled into us since elementary school. You use a before a consonant and an before a vowel. Right? Wrong. In truth, the determining factor is not the first letter of the word that follows, but the first sound. If the letter sounds like a consonant, use a; if it sounds like a vowel, use an. For example:
- a historic event, an honorary title
- an understanding parent, a university professor
It gets a little trickier, however, with abbreviations. It all depends on how your audience reads the abbreviation. In some instances, your audience will read the individual letters:
- an M.A. degree – People seldom think of “Master of Arts”; they simply read “M-A” (vowel sound).
In other instances, they’ll decode the letters into the original words:
- a N.Y. production – People tend to decode “N.Y.” into “New York” (consonant sound).
And then there are the instances in which the abbreviation has become its own word (or acronym):
- a NASA engineer – The acronym stands for National Aeronics and Space Administration, but who really cares … we just say NASA (consonant sound).
In the “NYPD” example above, the abbreviation is typically read as “N-Y-P-D”(vowel sound), rather than “New York Police Department,” so its article should be an.
Check out more writing tips below…
Search Tips by Topic
- Capitalization: Eponyms
- Comma – Restrictive/Nonrestrictive
- Compare to/with
- Could care less
- Daylight saving time
- Due to
- Every Day/Everyday
- Guess what/I wonder
- Hear hear
- Home/Hone in on
- I wonder/Guess what
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