110

This question already has an answer here:

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

marked as duplicate by Roaring Fish, J.R., user19148, Andrew Leach, tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 14:26

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

145

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
  • 6
    An user did sound incorrect; It is nice to be right. – this Jun 2 '14 at 16:44
  • 15
    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 Jun 18 '15 at 15:30
  • 3
    -1 The high vote count on this answer will mislead a lot of people into assuming those are the only exceptions. As @julealgon said, that's plain false. – daniloquio Nov 24 '16 at 17:58
51

It's a because the first sound of user is not a vowel, but the consonant /j/.

  • 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 Aug 25 '14 at 10:17
  • 17
    ‘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. – Barrie England Aug 25 '14 at 10:38
  • 1
    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 Jul 7 '17 at 14:36
  • 1
    @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 – Chappo Jul 20 '18 at 0:32

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