The Indefinite Articles A/An: The Importance of Word Sounds

Understanding the Indefinite Articles A/An: The Importance of Word Sounds in English

When you were a beginner student of English, you learned that the article 'an' goes before vowels (a, e, i, o, u), and the article 'a' goes before consonants (letters that are not vowels), like t, r, v, etc.

That's a good general rule, but it's not really true.

Look at this sentence for example: I have an uncle who works at a university. I will meet him in an hour.

So, why is it 'an' uncle but "a" university? And why 'an' before hour?? The answer is word sounds.

Articles A/An: Sound is More Important than Spelling

Let's think about it. How do you say the word uncle? It's pronounced //ˈʌŋ.kəl/ (or 'un-kl'). This is a vowel sound (starting with 'u'), so we need to use the article 'an'.

How do you pronounce university? It's pronounced /ˌjuː.nəˈvɝː.sə.t̬i/( or "you-ni-ver-sity"). This is actually a consonant sound (starting with a 'y'). So, we use the article 'a'.

How do you pronounce hour? If you pronounce it correctly, you know that the 'h' is silent. The correct pronunciation is /aʊr/ (or "our"). This means the first sound is an 'o' sound -- a vowel sound! So, you need to use "an" because the first sound is an 'o'.

The real rule for the indefinite articles a/an: 'An' is used for words with a vowel sound (like apple, ear, and hour); 'a' is used for consonant sounds (like fox, pig, and university).

Using the Indefinite Articles A/An with Abbreviations & Acronyms

Now, this rule is very important when you use abbreviations (shortened words, such as "Dr.") and acronyms (words like "USA", in which each letter stands for a word (United States of America)).

Here are two example sentences. Fill in the article 'a' or 'an':

My sister has M.A. in English. Yesterday, she sent me SMS from her new mobile phone.

Here are the correct sentences:


My sister has an M.A. in English. Yesterday, she sent me an SMS from new mobile phone.

The rules are the same. "M.A." is pronounced "emm aye", so it's a vowel sound. "SMS" is pronounced "ess-emm-ess", so it's also a vowel sound.

The Indefinite Articles A/An: Practice Exercises

Do you think you understand? Try these indefinite article exercises.

  1. This is home.
  2. My brother is honest man.
  3. Paul is FBI agent.
  4. John is unique man.
  5. This is U.N. office.
  6. My father has PhD.
  7. He took HIV test.
  8. I have one-year-old boy.

Helpful hint: As a rule, you can remember that abbreviations or acronyms that use 'an' start with these letters: A, E, F, H, I L, M, N, O, S, X


1-a, 2-an, 3-an, 4-a, 5-a, 6-a, 7-an, 8-a

I hope this has been helpful. Using English articles correctly is not easy. Many native English speakers make mistakes with indefinite articles. Articles are difficult to use correctly, but they are important if you want to communicate in English without errors.

Good luck!

Related Lessons:

- Matthew Barton / (Copyright)

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30 comments on “The Indefinite Articles A/An: The Importance of Word Sounds

  1. leonor Alcantara (Posted on 12-16-2013 at 13:49) Reply

    excellent material for practicing and also for tips to teach, thanks so much, best regards, Leonor A.

  2. Gaya3 (Posted on 10-25-2014 at 02:26) Reply

    comprehensive and useful material with good explaination.

  3. HAHA (Posted on 11-23-2014 at 11:46) Reply

    I like this page because it is very helpful.
    It is explaining things very good.
    There are excellent exercises to do.

  4. shadab (Posted on 3-25-2015 at 01:04) Reply

    its very nice i liked it thank yuo i got prepare for my exams

  5. Jam (Posted on 8-13-2015 at 20:01) Reply

    I like to now more about the Grammar

  6. Sprague (Posted on 9-26-2015 at 11:23) Reply

    I like this page, it gives me a lot of help.
    Now I understand article better:)

    1. Gozel006 (Posted on 6-9-2023 at 19:48) Reply

      So,do I

  7. Mr ExWarXon (Posted on 12-11-2016 at 01:29) Reply

    My brother is …………M.A.In English (a/ an /the ) answer

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-11-2016 at 11:32) Reply


    2. Jag (Posted on 10-4-2017 at 01:12) Reply


    3. Anonymous (Posted on 7-18-2019 at 13:23) Reply


    4. Chethan (Posted on 2-4-2020 at 00:30) Reply


    5. Vinod. (Posted on 2-4-2020 at 06:44) Reply


      1. AFIFA (Posted on 7-4-2020 at 05:34) Reply

        thanks a lot

    6. Mimi (Posted on 2-2-2022 at 07:10) Reply

      My brother is an M.A In English….

  8. Arfath (Posted on 7-17-2017 at 10:09) Reply

    My sistwr is _ M.A in English

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 7-17-2017 at 13:35) Reply


  9. Willy (Posted on 11-30-2017 at 21:30) Reply

    It gives me lot of help

  10. Ibrahim (Posted on 1-28-2018 at 03:09) Reply

    Thanks alot for this wonderful article

  11. Priya (Posted on 3-5-2018 at 09:00) Reply

    Tq so much ,it helped in my project

  12. Anonymous (Posted on 9-11-2018 at 05:02) Reply

    He is an in mathematics

    Whether it s correct

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-11-2018 at 13:41) Reply


      1. Nagma khan (Posted on 1-5-2021 at 21:02) Reply

        Thank you so much.. It gives me a lot of help again thanks

  13. Chitra dhongade (Posted on 9-27-2018 at 14:34) Reply


  14. Hilary (Posted on 10-11-2020 at 18:49) Reply

    I finally realized btw an and a, I’ve been always confused about these two. Word sounds were the KEYS to differentiate an or a !

  15. Mridula (Posted on 9-27-2021 at 09:44) Reply

    It’s so helpful to understand vowel and consonant sound

  16. Gert (Posted on 2-11-2022 at 05:25) Reply

    My brother is an M.A.In English an the answer


    1. MB (Posted on 2-11-2022 at 08:26) Reply

      Exactly. ‘an M.A’ is the answer.

  17. CI-E (Posted on 10-24-2022 at 06:23) Reply

    You would think that people will know this yet you hear native English speakers (some of whom are teachers) teaching primary school students to say “a egg” or “a email”….ugh!!

  18. ELEANOR VARGAS (Posted on 2-20-2024 at 19:07) Reply

    Thank you, the exercises are very useful and understandable.

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