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 a university
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].
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".