Easy Learning English

The indefinite article - Easy Learning Grammar

The indefinite article is a or an. The form an is used before a word that starts with a vowel sound.
a girla cat
an eight-year-old girlan engineer
The indefinite article is used with singular countable nouns:
  • to refer to a person or a thing that you are mentioning for the first time in a conversation or a piece of writing.
  • A man was seen driving away in a black car.
  • to refer to a person or a thing which you do not want to be specific about.
  • I stopped off at a shop to buy a newspaper.
  • You go past a petrol station on the left, and then you’ll see our house on the right.
  • to refer to a person or a thing which you cannot be more specific about because there is not enough information.
  • A man called to see you this afternoon.
  • There was a telephone call for you a minute ago.
  • in definitions.
  • An octopus is a sea creature with eight tentacles.
  • when you refer to a person’s profession.
  • Her father is a dentist and her mother is a teacher.
  • to express a quantity, unless you wish to emphasize the number, when one must be used. The equivalent for plural nouns is some or no determiner at all. See Determiners.
  • I want a needle and a thimble.
  • Would you like a glass of wine?
  • There is only one glass of wine left in the bottle.
  • Guy has bought a skateboard.
  • We’ve got three pairs of rollerblades and one skateboard.
It is the sound, not the spelling, that decides where an is used. For example, although unique begins with a vowel, the sound at the beginning resembles a y- sound.
an idiotan awful mistake
a unicorna unique experience
There are a few words that begin with a silent h-, in front of which an should be used. They are: heir, heiress, honest, honour, hour.
  • Very formal or old-fashioned speakers also use the an form with some words beginning with an h- that is not silent, especially historical and hotel.
I waited an hour. 
They joined a historical society. 
They joined an historical society.    (old-fashioned English)
They were staying at a hotel. 
They were staying at an hotel.(old-fashioned English)

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