Commonly Confused Word Pairs: A/an

November 29, 2007: Issue 215

In English, a word’s pronunciation determines its indefinite article.

Words that begin with a consonant sound take the article a, regardless of the actual first letter:
a cutlet
a pillow
a historic building
a euphemism

Words that begin with a vowel sound always take the article an:
an igloo
an ornament
an homage

When a word has more than one pronunciation, go by the first one listed in Web 11.

In the case of large numbers, assume that a reader will use the shortest possible pronunciation. For instance, treat 1,800 as “eighteen hundred,” not “one thousand eight hundred”:
an 1,800-square-foot house

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