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Use of “a” versus “an”

When to use a or an before a noun when there are adjectives before that noun?

like the following example:

An operator pressed the button.

should that make:

A professional operator pressed the button.

An professional operator pressed the button.

same for:

A Hypertext markup language.

An Hypertext markup language.

Sometimes it seems a bit confusing, especially when there are more adjectives like:

An omen was revealed to the priest.

A terrible omen was revealed to the priest.

An overwhelming terrible omen was revealed to the priest.

What is the rule?

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The rule is exactly the same, regardless of adjectives/adverbs/anything being before the noun: There's a consonant sound? Use a. There's a vowel sound? Usa an. There are many questions about the articles a/an, like A historic or An historic, for example, or "Use of A versus An"... –  Alenanno May 15 '11 at 9:47
    
@Alenanno thank you for your response. I did looked up similar questions, however, the queries I entered yielded no results. I can close this question since it is a duplicate ? ;) –  Caspar Kleijne May 15 '11 at 9:50
    
@Caspar: I'm not sure you can close it by yourself... I voted to close it, eheh, we must wait for others to close it. I understand you didn't find them, anyway, I was having a hard time as well! lol :D –  Alenanno May 15 '11 at 9:56
    
A/An refers to the exact noun after them. –  user8568 May 15 '11 at 10:06
    
@Caspar: thanks for flagging this yourself, this is really appreciated. The site search doesn't work for a whole number of short and common words such as a or an, so no one will say that this was a failure on your part. What I can recommend instead is having a look at the "faq" tab under "Questions", or googling using the "site:" operator. Cheers. –  RegDwigнt May 15 '11 at 15:32
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marked as duplicate by Alenanno, RegDwigнt May 15 '11 at 15:22

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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The article changes based on the word immediately following, not necessarily on the noun. There is no difference in meaning between "a" and "an" - the distinction is used to preserve an alternation between vowels and consonants when the sentence is spoken aloud.

Be aware that speakers of American and British English observe different rules (mainly because we can't agree on whether to pronounce the letter H or not!)

In your example:

A Hypertext Markup language. An Hypertext markup language.

an American speaker (and, to be honest, most British speakers) would find the first one correct, while an exaggerated aitch-dropper would use the second.

In these examples:

An omen was revealed to the priest.
A terrible omen was revealed to the priest.
An overwhelming terrible omen was revealed to the priest.

all three are correct as written, whether the speaker is American or British.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_(grammar)#Indefinite_article

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