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Speakers often add “quote” or “quote, unquote” before quotations. But when a quotation is preceded by the article “an”, how should that article be pronounced?

As I understand, the choice between “a” and “an” is determined by what phonetically follows the article. When “quote” or “quote, unquote” is inserted between “an” and the quotation, the extra “-n” becomes unnecessary. So should I really pronounce “a” instead?

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We have an amazing blog article that might help you out. –  Matt Эллен May 21 '12 at 14:19
    
Can you give some explicit examples of what the problem is, giving contrasting examples? As is, it is unclear what you are asking about, the pronunciation of 'an' or 'un-' or 'an un-' or what. –  Mitch May 21 '12 at 14:28
    
@MattЭллен So basically this is a case of “Parenthetical Statements” and my guess is correct, right? –  JC Chu May 21 '12 at 14:29
    
Yes, I would say quote, unquote is a parenthetical statement. You are correct. –  Matt Эллен May 21 '12 at 14:30
    
@Mitch I was asking about pronunciation of the article “an” before a quotation when the quotation marks are read out as “quote” or “quote, unquote”. –  JC Chu May 21 '12 at 14:31
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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The morphology of articles is entirely a matter of phonology (i.e, sound). It's very simple and completely general.

The indefinite article allomorph a is used before a consonant, and an is used before a vowel; similarly, the definite article allomorph /ðə/ is used before a consonant, while /ði/ is used before a vowel. Whatever sound follows the article determines the allomorphy; never mind whether it's what the article modifies. And since consonants and vowels are the only two kinds of speech sound, this exhausts all possibilities.

Parenthetical words therefore fall under the rules; everything falls under the rules. So, since quote /kwot/ starts with a consonant /k/, an indefinite article preceding it should be a.

(The terms "vowel" and "consonant", by the way, refer only to spoken vowels and consonants, not written ones; that's why an hour and a useful tool are correct, while *a hour and *an useful tool are incorrect.)

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So, just so I'm understanding, if the sentence is written down and punctuated so that quote, unquote is a parenthetical statement, say, like this: I would object to him being a (quote, unquote) expert witness. You should use a not an? –  JLG May 21 '12 at 19:41
    
Yes, that's right, you should use a, not an. –  John Lawler May 21 '12 at 19:44
    
Thank you. I am not sure I would have guessed this. –  JLG May 21 '12 at 19:56
    
The trick is to remember that real language is spoken, while written language is technology. Therefore real language rules have to do with sound, not spelling. –  John Lawler May 21 '12 at 19:59
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