Home / Articles / Grammar / When to use A or AN

When to use A or AN

A man throwing a red umbrella in the air
Ian Iott via Flickr
We choose A or AN based on sound NOT spelling.

A or an are used depending on the sound at the start of the next word.

If the next word starts with a consonant sound, we use "a". For example:

  • a bee;
  • a car; or
  • a dog.

 If the first sound of the next word is a vowel sound, we use "an". For example:

  • an apple;
  • an elephant; or
  • an ice cream.

An umbrella but auniversity

Some words are spelt with a vowel (a, e, i, o , u), but the first sound is a consonant sound (b, c, d, f, g, ...etc.). Compare the words "umbrella" and "university". "Umbrella" starts with an uhm sound [uhm-brel-uh], but "university" starts with a yoo sound [yoo-nuh-vur-si-tee].

Silent "H"

When a word starts with a silent "H", use an:

  • an hour-long meeting; or
  • an honest man.


We use an before abbreviations that start with A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S or X. When we read these letters, they start with a vowel sound. Ex. "F" = eff and "S" = ess.

  • an F.B.I. agent; or
  • an M&M candy.

Be careful, since some abbreviations are read as words. An example is "FIFA". We say "fee-fah", so it is "a FIFA game".

  • Matthew's picture
    About me
    I am from New Zealand. I lived in Japan and Brazil for a long time, but now I am back home in Auckland. I am the founder of Poligo. I like to play guitar and video games and surf when I get the chance. I have a wife and two boys.
    I specialize in teaching English to professionals and English teachers. I have taught English since 2001 in Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I speak Japanese & Portuguese. I am the founder of Poligo and The English Farm (an online school for business English).

Try Poligo now for free

Get help with your English writing from professional teachers 24 hours a day. We'll correct your writing and give you lots of useful advice and feedback. Poligo's service is super fast — if you don't get help in less than 24 hours, you get your money back. It's free to join & new members get 500 characters of writing checked for free.

  • Fast service.
  • 100% private.
  • Professional quality.

Write better English