A, An, & And: How to Choose the Right Word

The indefinite articles “a” and “an” come before nouns or adjectives that modify nouns. The words “a” and “an” are determiners in English grammar, which means they describe the identity or amount of something. For both words, the quantity specified is “one,” as it is the word from which they are formed. The only difference between these pairs of words is how the word that comes after them is spoken. Except for those times—but we’ll get to that—entirely it’s straightforward. Contrarily, “and” is a coordinating conjunction that connects words, phrases, and clauses; as this is a different concept, we’ll reserve “and” for last. OK?

How to Use ‘A’

Even if the noun’s or adjective’s initial letter is a vowel, “a” is an indefinite article used before a noun or adjective that begins with a consonant sound.

How to Use ‘An’

Even though the initial letter of the noun or adjective is a consonant, “an” is an indefinite article that comes before words that start with a vowel sound.


Since “a” and “an” are different spellings of the same word, their meanings cannot be mixed up. Remember that the initial sound, not the first letter, of the noun or adjective that follows the article determines which article to choose.

  • She has a high-pitched voice and a bothersome tendency to use it.
  • An elephant burst through a fence.
  • I sat at a table and ate an apple.
  • It was an honor to meet a veteran.

When Using ‘A’ or ‘An’ Can Get Confusing, Part 1

Some words with vowels at the beginning sound more like consonants than vowels, and vice versa. It might be a little challenging to find words that start with the letter “u.” Because “you” begins with a consonant sound, it is preceded by “a” when it is pronounced as “u.”

She donned a uniform, and he played ukulele in the band.

I encountered a unicorn.

Because “uh” and “ew” are vowel sounds, they need “an” when used in words like “umbrella” or “tuber.”

  • That was an unusual tactic.
  • I made an Uber call.

When Using ‘A’ or ‘An’ Can Get Confusing, Part 2

While some words with the letter “h” start with a vowel sound and others with a consonant sound, picking the appropriate article shouldn’t be difficult as long as you know how the words are pronounced since the same criteria apply.

  • The letter “a” comes before words with the beginning “h” pronounced as a consonant, such as “habitat,” “hospital,” and “horoscope.”
  • The prefix “an” is used before words with a dropped beginning “h,” such as hour, honor, and hors d’oeuvre, so the vowel is the first sound you hear.

Which article to use for all the “history” words—historian, historical, and historical—is another area of confusion (and a few others like “hysterical”). According to the prevailing opinion, the appropriate phrase would be: “I was assaulted by a hysterical historian in a historic section of Boston” because you pronounce the “h.”

Of course, some people will still use phrases like “It was a historic day for everybody involved.” This is due to two factors: It’s possible that the individual speaking is British. Unlike American English, British English sometimes omits the “h” sound, making “an” acceptable.

You could also hear it because of an affectation. The speaker could try to sound like someone with a higher social rank. Due to the belief that it makes them appear “classy,” those who do this also often pronounce the silent “t” in “often.” Avoid this behavior unless it’s in a Monty Python comedy.

Using ‘A’ and ‘An’ With Abbreviations

Theodore M. Bernstein, the author of “The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage,” “One last source of misunderstanding in the “a” vs. “an” debate rears its ugly head when abbreviations appear.” He added, “do you write, “He obtained an M.A. degree” or “a M.A. degree?” Is it “an N.Y. Central spokesperson” or “a N.Y. Central spokesman” that you write?”

The exam is pronunciation once again.

The term “an M.A. degree” is appropriate since most people see M.A. as alphabetical letters rather than “Master of Arts.” However, the mind immediately translates “N.Y. Central” into “New York Central,” therefore it would not be interpreted as “En Wye Central.” An “N.Y. Central spokesperson” is thus appropriate.”

How to Remember the Difference Between “A’ and “An”

“If in doubt, ask around” Saying the term or phrase out loud might assist if you’re still unclear about which article is appropriate. Most dictionaries include typical pronunciation suggestions for each entry if you need clarification about pronouncing a word. Most online dictionaries also have an audio option to provide the correct pronunciation if you need help understanding the notations. Choose the sound icon.

When to Use ‘And’

Although it’s a regular mistake to write “an” or “an” instead of “and,” spellcheck sometimes fails to notice it! There is virtually no reason to mistake “a” or “an” with “and,” given that their linguistic meanings are very distinct.

The articles “a” and “an” have previously been mentioned. A conjunction is “and.” It just unites objects rather than classifying or quantifying them. Since that is essentially what “and” is in grammar, consider it the plus sign in an addition equation.

Even though you might write 2 + 2 = 4 in math class, you could remark, “two plus two are four.” Simply put, the symbol (+ or and) between the two elements in the equation indicates that you should add them. In each case, the sum equals four.


It was a matter of apples and oranges; Jane and I are friends; the cut on his hand was unsightly and festering.

‘And’ and ‘&.’

Finally, the ampersand, often known as “&,” is a symbol whose meaning is the same as the word “and” and is simple to remember since it contains the word. However, there are certain situations and locations where employing an ampersand is appropriate and others where it is not.

Ampersands work well in text, graphics, and signs. However, unless the ampersand is part of a name, title, or quoted sentence, always use “and” when drafting any official document.

  • 12 cases of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Ice Cream were kindly donated to the charity event by Ben Jerry.
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