Should you use ‘a’ or ‘an’?

When determining which article to use, it’s best to listen, not look. Here’s why the terms can trip up even seasoned communicators—and how you can avoid pitfalls.

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Determining whether to use “a” versus “an” should not be confusing, but it is.

This week, I had a prolonged discussion with a co-worker about why “an MRI” is correct and “a MRI” is not.

It turns out that many of us were taught the wrong rules for use of these indefinite articles. I remember being told to use “an” when the word preceding it starts with a vowel and to use “a” when the word preceding it starts with a consonant.

The rules actually say to use “an” before any word beginning with avowel sound and to use “a” before any word beginning with a consonant sound. No matter how the word is spelled, “a” comes before words with a consonant sound, including y, h and w. Likewise, no matter how it’s spelled, “an” comes before a word with a vowel sound.

Take a look at these examples:

Here are a couple of example sentences:

“It was quite a sight to watch such a histrionic performance.”

“That is an ugly drawing of a ukulele.”

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