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"A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

"A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

"A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

(OP)
This one is directed mainly at more of the non-native English speakers. The use of "a" or "an" in front of words. The general consensus in English is, if it starts with a vowel(a,e,i,o) you apply "an" beforehand. If the word starts with a consonant(b,c,d,g) you use "a". As in "a dog" or "an alphabet." This sounds fantastic and rolls off the tongue of a native speaker and is easy to convey to someone learning. Then we get to "union" or "universe" in which "u" is a vowel but the usage of "a,an" is different here. So it is mainly based off of the pronunciation of the word. A hard vowel sound vs a soft vowel sound. "An umbrella" vs "a unit". "An Ohm" vs "a one-legged man." This seems difficult for a non-native speaker to master from my perspective.
Then we come to abbreviations. For instance "NBC" can be said as "an NBC reporter stated" or "a National Broadcasting Company reporter stated" depending on how it is said. We know what NBC stands for yet it is still accurate to say "an NBC" do to the way we pronounce the abbreviation.
For all that English is a second or third language, was this an issue for you? These articles seem to have a broad range of uses. Is this similar to any other languages? Ive studied Spanish and German and don't recall anything like this.
Was there any other tripping points in learning English?
Anyone have any other examples in which "a" or "an" are used incorrectly commonly?

Learning - A never ending quest for knowledge usually attained by being thrown in a situation and told to fix it NOW.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

I understand that certain words begin with a silent "h".
Therefore it's "an honor" for "an heir" to ... whatever ... Correct?

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” (Kofi Annan)
Oppose SOPA, PIPA, ACTA; measures to curb freedom of information under whatever name whatsoever.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

(OP)
To my knowledge yes, that is correct also. Just throwing another kink into an already confusing scenario. "He is an honestly good guy." It isn't that difficult for me to say it and determine whether or not that it sounds correct, but someone from the outside looking in could have a ton of trouble with something like this, I would assume.

an honor
a honeycomb
an heir
a helicopter

an omen
a one-track mind
an octopus

an Email? an Electronic Mail....

Learning - A never ending quest for knowledge usually attained by being thrown in a situation and told to fix it NOW.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

As DrB0b says, the letter ('h' or otherwise) is irrelevant; it all boils down to the initial sound. In the case of the silent 'h', you still use the initial sound of the word. If the initial sound is a vowel sound - hard or soft - with two exceptions, use 'an'; otherwise, use 'a'. An heir (silent 'h', hard 'a' vowel sound), but a hair (sounded 'h'). What can be tricky, sometimes, is determining whether the 'h' is actually silent or it's really sounded.

The two exceptions are a hard 'u', as in 'you', and and an 'o' with a 'w' sound, as in 'won'. In those two cases, use 'a'. That gives us a universe and a one night stand.

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RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

As a german I can tell you this is not a problem at all. Just reading this here I get a slight doubt about such words as union. I have to check, whether I wrote this wrong with an union. Not because it's a vowel, but because how it's spoken like YOUion also sounds a bit like a vowel to me. Maybe because it's still a softer sound than a really hard consonant, maybe also, because the letter u is pronounced you and so that pronounciation tricks you into thinkng about u, vowel, therefore an. I may have got that wrong sometimes.

Germans, who are less good at pronounciation will have a problem here, there are silent consonants in german language, too, but much more seldom.

I have to think about tripping points, learning English is already over 20 years past for me, it is still a secondary language, but I feel quite comfortable with it, despite of many typos, but that's not depending on the language, I have too many in german texts, too.

Examples of where an or a would be used incorect commonly? Hm, may your other example: A one-track mind. If you'd think of the pronounciation of that word via writing in kind of a phonetic way, youd wite that as "uann treck meind", and so "one" could also trick a german into wrongly taking "an".

As you've learned german, you should know, that once you know the german pronounciation of the alphabet in german, you'd easily pronounce text, even if you won't understand it. In no other language than german, almost all of the words are written as spoken. The few examples of specific letter combinations (graphems) are "sch", being pronounced as sh, "ch", being pronounced as the phonem ç (I can't think of an english word with such a phonem) and the german "sp" or "st" being pronounced as "shp" or "sht". Besides that, h often is just used to stretch a preceeding vowel and much more seldom the letter w,c,e and i are used to stretch proceeding vowels (easy to remember as those are all letters of the german word "weich", which means soft. And you can stretch soft things.

Maybe you'd say there are fewer such grephems in English, like the "th", so maybe it just depends on your mother language, what you think about "pronounced as written".

I'd say, if a german word is pronounced much different than written, it's mostly a foreign word. In a way I can't judge about this for asian or cyrillic languages, but french is an extremely opposite example in that aspect. In german school, if you take french as a third foreign language to learn (for me it was rather latin), the first few weeks you learn just the spoken french language, no writing, because of that aspect of the language.

Bye, Olaf.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

And another tricky pair is whether to use:
  • a hotel, versus
  • an hotel
Of course that depends upon whether you pronounce them as:
  • "uh hotel" (since I can't imagine someone pronouncing it "ay hotel"), versus
  • "an otel"

santaMufasa
(aka Dave of Sandy, Utah, USA)
“People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Acronyms!

When they make their own words such as MADD the consonant applies but if each letter is pronounced separately such as MIT the phonetic sound of the vowel applies (or does it?)

He was a MIT grad vs

He was an MIT grad

Hate this

**********************************************
What's most important is that you realise ... There is no spoon.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

It doesn't matter whether it's a word, acronym, or an initialism (when each letter is pronounced separately). The only thing that matters is the initial sound. It's all about the sound. If it initial sound is a vowel sound, hard or soft, with the two above noted exceptions, use 'an', or use 'a'. Several letters are pronounced with a beginning soft 'e' vowel sound, i.e., ef, el, em, em, es, and ex.

==> whether I wrote this wrong with an union. Not because it's a vowel, but because how it's spoken like YOUion also sounds a bit like a vowel to me.
Union, the 'u' sound pronounced as 'you', is one of the two exceptions.
--------------
Good Luck
To get the most from your Tek-Tips experience, please read
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RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

I know, still you sounds more like a vowel to a german than to an englishman perhaps. That's the point I wanted to make about that.

I know about the exceptions. Actually it's not an exception, if you define it by prononciation in the first place and not by vowels vs. consonants. Because If you start with a wrong law in the first place, you have to introduce all those exceptions. It's quite easy, it's just not, if you are used to other pronounciations by your mother language and you haven't learned english pronounciation well.

Bye, Olaf.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

==>I know, still you sounds more like a vowel to a german than to an englishman perhaps.
The 'u' sounding like 'you' IS most definitely a vowel sound, and I would expect that virtually every Englishman would recognize that as a vowel sound. It's precisely because it is a vowel sound that there exists an exception for it.

==> Actually it's not an exception, if you define it by prononciation in the first place and not by vowels vs. consonants.
Perhaps, but in my opinion, not very practical. There are over 20 consonant sounds and at least 11 vowel sounds. All the consonant sounds call for 'a'. Nine of the 11 vowel sounds call for 'an'. That leaves just two exceptions - the two vowel sounds that call for 'a'. It may be just me, but having to learn only the vowel sounds and the two exceptions seems far easier then trying to learn all the consonant sounds as well.

--------------
Good Luck
To get the most from your Tek-Tips experience, please read
FAQ181-2886: How can I maximize my chances of getting an answer?
Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something. - Plato

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Cajun!

IT seems you don't want to understand me. Give me one more try for your understanding:

First of all, DrBob asked about how germans or others had problem with a/an. I AM german, I am not english. So I answered it from that perspective.

>The 'u' sounding like 'you' IS most definitely a vowel sound, and I would expect that virtually every Englishman would recognize that as a vowel sound.
Yes, true, but I am german, and while germans use the same latin alphabet and we also have the same vowels, our pronouncation of them is different than yours.
Would you please simply understand the fact, that you sounds more like a vowel start than a consonant? No matter how an englishman would see (or hear) that.

>It's precisely because it is a vowel sound that there exists an exception for it.
This is the other thing you seem to not want to understand. This is just an exception to the rule, if you start from the wrong rule. The rule is, you put "a" in front of words starting with a consonant in it's pronounciation (not necessarily in it's writing). If you go by this rule in the first place, you is not an exception as it starts sounding like j, which is a consonant. "You" only is an exception if you start with the rule to put an in front of vowel letters, because then that rule needs exception to reflect the real. And so: Why start teaching the wrong rule and then teach the exceptions, if you can give the rule that reflects the real reasoning for that rule much better and has no exceptions to learn additional to it.

So, do you now understand these two points I made?

I myself have no problem seeing that to an englischman (or american or australian) "unit" would require "a", not "an", even though the first letter is a vowel, as the pronounciation rather starts with the consonant j (or y as in you), but to a german that starting sound rather sounds like a vowel. no 100%, but close to U. We also know soft sounding vowels, indeed you as englishman would pronounciate the german month names Juni and Juli almost correctly as german, if you pronounced them as uni and uli, without the J. See why that has an effect on germans?

Bye, Olaf.



RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Yes, Olaf, I know you're German. I understand your points.
==> Would you please simply understand the fact, that you sounds more like a vowel start than a consonant?
We agree on that. That you sound is a vowel sound.

I think, perhaps, the disconnect lies here:

Quote:

even though the first letter is a vowel, as the pronounciation rather starts with the consonant j (or y as in you),
That sound, the y as in you, in English, is not considered a consonant sound, it is a vowel sound.

==> but to a german that starting sound rather sounds like a vowel.
Yes indeed, and to an English speaker, that sounds very much like a vowel as well. I don't think we're different in that regard. Both Germans and English speakers consider that a vowel sound.

==> The rule is, you put "a" in front of words starting with a consonant in it's pronounciation
That IS the rule. There's no disagreement there. We're then left with that 'u' sound, which both Germans and English speakers consider to be a vowel sound, yet calls for an 'a' article when the initial sound of a word.

--------------
Good Luck
To get the most from your Tek-Tips experience, please read
FAQ181-2886: How can I maximize my chances of getting an answer?
Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something. - Plato

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Quote:

Yes indeed, and to an English speaker, that sounds very much like a vowel as well. I don't think we're different in that regard. Both Germans and English speakers consider that a vowel sound.

I disagree. bigcheeks
Not only as a fellow German but also as an intrigued reader of this thread.
I would not have called the "j" sound as in "you" or "yoke" a "vowel sound" either as the sound starts with a closed palate. Therefore I did a little research and found, that the sound is indeed a consonantal sound called "palatal approximant":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatal_approximant

So I would say the rule to use "an" only before a "vowel sound" is a "sound" one. rednose

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” (Kofi Annan)
Oppose SOPA, PIPA, ACTA; measures to curb freedom of information under whatever name whatsoever.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Of course the 'n' in 'an' has over time often switched places to the beginning of the vowel word (and back the other way). "An apron", for example, was once "a napron". And "Bob's your uncle" would have been "Bob's your nuncle"

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Or even fused with it as in "another"?

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” (Kofi Annan)
Oppose SOPA, PIPA, ACTA; measures to curb freedom of information under whatever name whatsoever.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

To me it should be an hotel even though I would pronounce the 'h'. Might be a British thing though..

Fee

"The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea." Isak Dinesen

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

As an Englishman I would say A hotel an hotel does not sound correct to me.

A Maintenance contract is essential, not a Luxury.
Do things on the cheap & it will cost you dear

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

I'm with IPGuru; I say 'a hotel', and the aitch is sounded.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Well, have to disagree. And suprisingly the OED agrees with me!

Is it ‘a historical document’ or ‘an historical document’? ‘A hotel’ or ‘an hotel’? There is still some divergence of opinion over which form of the indefinite article should be used before words that begin with h- and have an unstressed first syllable. In the 18th and 19th centuries people often did not pronounce the initial h for these words, and so an was commonly used. Today the h is pronounced, and so it is logical to use a rather than an. However, the indefinite article an is still encountered before the h in both British and American English, particularly with historical: in the Oxford English Corpus around a quarter of examples of historical are preceded with an rather than a.

Fee

"The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea." Isak Dinesen

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Well, the way I read it, OED implies that "an hotel" is acceptable, but archaic.

Neither "an hotel" and "an historic" sound correct to me, but I know they are considered acceptable. What I never understood is where the "first unstressed syllable" qualifier came from? Why is "an hotel" okay but "an holiday" or "an house" wrong?

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Frankly, the entire issue of "a" (i.e., "uh") versus "an" pronounced in front of words beginning with "h" hinges on whether the speaker pronounces the initial "h" of the word when coupled with an indefinite article -- if so, then "a" ("uh") precedes the word; if not, then (in my personal case) "an" precedes the word.

I, personally, use these pronunciations:
  • "...'an istoric' occasion" (for "historic")
  • "...'uh heavy' load"
  • "...'an otel' down the street" (for "hotel")
  • et cetera

santaMufasa
(aka Dave of Sandy, Utah, USA)
“People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

In my experience (USA), when I have heard others use "an historic", unless they are speaking quickly, the "h" is pronounced, not silent. I can't remember ever hearing anyone use "an hotel" before.

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Quote (guitarzan)

In my experience (USA), when I have heard others use "an historic", unless they are speaking quickly, the "h" is pronounced, not silent. I can't remember ever hearing anyone use "an hotel" before.

But, I still suggest that although you might not have heard the above, I also doubt that you have heard people pronounce "a historic" and "a hotel", as written..."ayee historic" and "ayee hotel"; more likely "uh historic" and "uh hotel", right?

santaMufasa
(aka Dave of Sandy, Utah, USA)
“People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

RE: "A", "An" and sometimes "Y"

Yes, i hear the "uh" sound, not the long A (as in "day") sound

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