The indefinite articles a and an are used to introduce something that has not been mentioned before. They are not used before a plural noun. We use a before a word that begins with a consonant. We use an before a word that begins with a vowel, or a word that begins with a consonant but has vowel sound (e.g. hour, honour, etc)
When a is used before a noun, it does not refer to that one particular noun; it uses this noun as representing all the others.
- A house in that new housing estate should have at least three bedrooms. (The article a does not point out this one house but all houses in that housing estate.).
We use a:
when we mention something for the first time
before a word which begins with a consonant
- There is a policeman waiting for you.
before a word with a long sound of u
- a university, a uniform, a useful book, a European, a unique design
- It would be a unique opportunity to travel in space.
before the word one because one sounds as if it begins with a W (wun)
- a one-way street, a one-eyed monster, a one-year course, a one-week holiday
- I have a one-way ticket to travel from one place to another.
The indefinite article a also means one. We can use a or one as follow:
- He keeps a/one dozen snakes as pets.
- I have told you a/one hundred times to leave me along!
Sometimes, it is better to use a instead of one.
- She wiped up the vomit with a mop.
- Better than: She wiped up the vomit with one mop.
- He had a bath before he went to bed.
- Better than: He had one bath before he went to bed.
We can use a before a proper noun.
- A Mr Brown called to ask when you are going to give back the borrowed money.
- I still remember it was on a December morning when I drove through the fog into a tree.
We use an
before a noun which begins with a vowel sound
- They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
before a singular noun (person or thing) to mean only one in quantity
before a noun that is representative of a group, species, etc
- An ostrich has only two toes on each foot.
before a noun that begins with a silent h
- an hour, an honest man, an heir, an honour, an honourable man
- It is going to close in an hour's time.
- I can't read your writing. Is this an h or what?
before abbreviations, some of which begin with a consonant
- I have an X-ray on my lungs.
- I saw an UFO hovering above my kitchen.
- He wanted to be an MP but was not elected for the past twelve years.
Words beginning with u and h
Using a and an with words beginning with u.
A and an are used before words beginning with u: a is used if the u is a consonant sound; an is used if the u is a vowel sound.
- He applied to a university to study palmistry.
- Mom has a unique talent for ghost storytelling.
- I had an uncle who was a great disco dancer.
- He wore a raincoat and, also used an umbrella.
- You believe an ugly witch has magic powers?
- The scientists discovered an unusual insect that flew without wings.
Using a and an with words beginning with h
A and an are used before words beginning with h: a is used if the h is pronounced; an is used if the h is not pronounced.
- We checked out of a hotel after loud screams rang out from the next room.
- We argued the whole night over where to have a holiday this year.
- After an hour she recovered enough to speak on stage.
- Everyone is saying that he is not an honest politician.