Saturday, July 25, 2009

A and An

I have forgotten the vast majority of what I learned about grammar. (Past participle, correlative conjunction, absolute adjective–sound familiar?) One thing I recently read is that you have to go with your gut. If it doesn’t sound right or it feels a bit off, it is. A few days ago I was working on a cover letter (job searching is no fun) and I put “an” before a word that started with “H” and Microsoft Word said it needed to be “a”. So, I did a little research. Turns out, my gut instinct was right.

The proper usage for “a” or “an” is not whether it comes before a word starting with a consonant or vowel, it’s whether it comes before a word that sounds like a consonant or vowel.

For Example:

An hour (hour sounds like the vowel “o”)
A hiker (hiker sounds like like the consonant “h”)

An only child (only sounds like the vowel “o”)
A one-horse race (one sounds like the consonant “w”)

An MBA (MBA sounds like the vowel “e”)
A mechanic (mechanic sounds like the consonant “m”)

So it’s the sound of the word, not just the first letter. I have to say, I totally do not remember ever learning the rule that way, but it’s way easier to remember.

Now you’re a little smarter, Girlfriend — And so am I.

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