Word Choice: A vs An
  • 3-minute read
  • 14th June 2023

Word Choice: A vs An

In this post, we’ll talk about when to use a and an. These words form part of a group of very small words known as articles. They might be small, but they make a mighty big difference to your writing.

A and an are known as indefinite articles.

How Do You Decide Whether to Use A or An?

Proofed’s writing tips are, unsurprisingly, all about writing. But, this time, our top tip for when to use a or an is all about sound.

How does the next word sound?

If the next word starts with a consonant sound, use a.

They are eating a box of chocolates.

She is wearing a blue dress.

If the next word starts with a vowel sound, use an.

Here is an empty box of chocolates.

He is wearing an orange shirt.

Words Starting With U

The letter u is a vowel, but sometimes, it makes a consonant sound, so it needs a with it. In this example, useful sounds like it starts with a y, a consonant sound.

Proofed’s writing tips are a useful guide to good grammar.

The soldier is wearing a uniform.

Sometimes, u makes a vowel sound, and then you use an.

He put up an umbrella to keep dry.

What an unusual flower!

Words Starting With H

When a word starts with h, you need to decide if you can hear the h sound. (You can hear it in hear).

If you can hear the h sound, use a before it.

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He wore a hat to keep the sun off his head.

She carried a heavy bag.

But if you can’t hear the h sound, use an.

They walked for more than an hour.

It is an honor to meet the President.

What About Acronyms and Initialisms?

Again, the rule is all about how the acronym or initialism sounds.

If the acronym sounds like a word that starts with a consonant, you use a.

She wanted to be part of a NATO peacekeeping force.

He used a GIF of a cute puppy in his social media post.

But if the acronym sounds like it starts with a vowel sound, you use an.

He had an MRI scan.

We went to an ABBA concert in the 1970s.

The same goes for initialisms (where we say the separate letters that make it up).

She is a CNN reporter.

He is an AFL player.

To learn more, check out our guide on using a and an with acronyms and initialisms.


Remember to think about how the next word sounds. In the case of a vs an, the sound of the first letter of the next word is more important than whether it’s a consonant or a vowel.

  1. Use a with a consonant sound. Use an with a vowel sound.
  1. The letters u and h at the start of the next word have their own special rules.
  1. The letter u can sound like a vowel or a consonant. If it sounds like a vowel, use an. If it sounds like a consonant (a y sound as in you), use a.
  1. The letter h can sometimes be silent. If it is, use an. If you can hear it, use a.

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