Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When a sentence begins with the letter A, e.g.,

A parent called me about his child.

does it matter how the A is pronounced? Is it 'A' parent or 'ah' parent?

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by MετάEd, Kristina Lopez, choster, Brian Hooper, medica Feb 7 at 21:44

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
Eh? –  Elliott Frisch Feb 5 at 5:59
    
Ah, parent! ??? –  virmaior Feb 5 at 7:15
    
possible duplicate of pronunciation of "a" –  choster Feb 6 at 1:37

3 Answers 3

It depends whether the stress is on A or on parent. If the stress lies on A, use /eɪ/ "eh"; otherwise, use /ə/ "a(r)".

share|improve this answer
    
Worth mentioning: the stress only falls on the article when you want to stress very emphatically that this is definitely not any particular parent, but just a randomly chosen parent not previously introduced to the discourse. Otherwise (i.e., probably at least 99 times out of a hundred), the article is unstressed. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 5 at 8:44
    
@JanusBahsJacquet Or it could be to stress there was only one. Somebody may have just commented that numerous parents had called about their children. The teacher replies 'A parent called me...'. In that situation it might be the long A (rhymes with hay) that is use in order to stress there was only one. –  WS2 Feb 5 at 8:45
    
And sometimes the stress isn't on either: "A parent called me about his child? Can you believe it?" In that case, I'm probably more likely to use /ə/. –  J.R. Feb 5 at 10:38
    
Anything by way of 'further reading' would be helpful, thanks. –  Kris Feb 5 at 12:17

/ə/ and /eɪ/ are both commonly found, and there's a few other sounds. Most often it will match how "ah" or how "ay" is pronounced in your accent.

Some who use /ə/ normally will use /eɪ/ for emphasis, but some just use /eɪ/ all the time.

share|improve this answer

Unless we are emphasizing the singular article for some reason (e.g., “I didn't say that parents came to visit – I said that a parent visited”), I think this is something we might utter either way without really thinking much about it, although usually the /ə/ comes out.

It's partly related to what you as the speaker are stressing, but I think it's also related to the pace of your speech. Here's an experiment: try yelling this across the room (it's your end of a conversation with Ted, your imaginary co-worker):

"Hey, Ted, you have a phone call."
"I think it's a telemarketer."
"No, I don't have a clue it's about."
"Sure, I can take a message, if you'd like. Is there a good time when he should call back?"

That's 5 occurrences of a – did anyone say /eɪ/ instead of /ə/? I didn't. But now pretend Ted is hard of hearing, and you must speak each word very clearly and slowly, and enunciate meticulously. For some reason, when I did that, I started using /eɪ/. So I believe it's partly related to how fast we "slide" into the next word.

share|improve this answer
    
"There's /ə/ man at the door." "How many are there?" "I said, 'There's /eɪ/ man at the door,' get it?" –  Kris Feb 5 at 12:20
    
@Kris - Yes, just like that. –  J.R. Feb 5 at 12:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.