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Since "user" starts with a vowel, shouldn't we use "an"? I've seen many cases of using "a".

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2 Answers 2

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From Amerenglish:

"An" goes before all words that begin with vowels:

  • An egg

With two exceptions:

When "u" makes the same sound as the "y" in you, or "o" makes the same sound as "w" in won, then "a" is used:

  • a union
  • a united front
  • a unicorn
  • a used napkin
  • a U.S. ship
  • a one-legged man
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    An user did sound incorrect; It is nice to be right.
    – this
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 16:44
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    This is missing at least one other exceptional case, when 'E' makes the same sound as the 'y' in you, like a European. This is mentioned in the link you provided. You could probably reword the exceptional cases to indicate that 'a' is used whenever the following word begins with the sound of a consonant, regardless of the actual letter.
    – julealgon
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 15:30
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    I down voted because it doesn't answer the question. He assumed the OP/readers are native and could recognize the u in user is pronounced as the y in you.
    – None
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 12:42
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It's a because the first sound of user is not a vowel, but the consonant /j/.

‘Vowel’ and ‘consonant’ describe letters that represent vowel and consonant sounds, but they also describe the sounds themselves. A vowel is a sound made from the throat without interruption by the other vocal organs. A consonant is a sound blocked or restricted by audible friction. The initial sound of ‘user’, /j/, is interrupted by the position of the soft palate and the tongue. It is convenient to group it with the other consonants, but, because its place and manner of articulation are a little different from them, it is also known as a semi-vowel.

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  • Please, could someone elaborate on this? I had never heard of that and I am having trouble looking for the right keywords to search for it.
    – Cesar
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 10:17
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    ‘Vowel’ and ‘consonant’ describe letters that represent vowel and consonant sounds, but they also describe the sounds themselves. A vowel is a sound made from the throat without interruption by the other vocal organs. A consonant is a sound blocked or restricted by audible friction. The initial sound of ‘user’, /j/, is interrupted by the position of the soft palate and the tongue. It is convenient to group it with the other consonants, but, because its place and manner of articulation are a little different from them, it is also known as a semi-vowel. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 10:38
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    There are also ambiguous words such as house and horse where depending on how you pronounce the words depends on how you use them. So if you say 'orse or 'ouse, then you will say an horse but if you pronounce the h, then you would say a horse. Which is somewhat ironic when the letter h itself would be an h and not a h.
    – Cephlin
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 14:36
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    @Cephlin: "when the letter h itself would be an h and not a h" - unless, of course, you pronounce the letter as "haitch", in which case it would be a h and not an h. ;-0 Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:32
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    @oldboy: Because j is the IPA (international phonetic alphabet) symbol for that sound, see Wikpedia's help page for example. The slashes are how single IPA sounds are written. This use of j is also mentioned in the third sentence of Wikipedia's article on the letter j. Instructional materials use it too. Think of hallelujah, Reykjavik, Sarajevo, Johann, etc.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 9:44

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