Is there anyone out there using a and an correctly?
Sad to say, many of us learned this incomplete version of using a and an when we were kids:
“Use a before words beginning with a consonant, and use an before words beginning with a vowel.”
Now take a look at that green box and its little quiz. Ask yourself whether a or an would fit before each word.
So, relying just on that original “rule,” I’m sure you’d choose an unicorn, a MBA, an umbrella, a motel, and an owl.
BUT! Now say those choices out loud. Can you really stand hearing “an unicorn”? Doubtful. A MBA?
You see, the original “rule” left out a truly critical word: sound.
It’s almost impossible to misuse a or an when we’re speaking, but it’s terribly easy do that when we’re writing.
We often just look at the words we’re writing, and if a word starts with a consonant, we’ll put a before it. But if you were to say it out loud, you wouldn’t do it; your ears would hear the inconsistency. Your tongue would trip over itself.
It is and always has been about the sound, and the complete rule for this is simple:
Use a before nouns beginning with a consonant sound:
a unicorn, a horse, a master’s degree, a law degree
Use an before nouns beginning with a vowel sound:
an upset, an hour, an MBA, an LPGA event
Now you see why unicorn, which starts with a vowel, is still preceded with an a — because we pronounce it as YOUnicorn, right?
We pronounce MBA as EMBA.
We pronounce LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) as EL PGA
There is a song with the title “All about that bass.”
Here, it’s all about that sound.
Does this finally make sense?
And if you don’t believe me for some reason: check this page out!