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In the following sentence, I'm unsure whether to use ‘an’ or ‘a’.

..primarily meant as a, albeit large, donation.

On the one hand ‘an’ sounds more appropriate when read, as the vowel beginning to ‘albeit’ suggests. Alternatively, one might say ‘a’ is correct; is a sentence not supposed to make perfect sense with the word between the commas removed. If so, it must be just an ‘a’.

I'm tilting towards the latter, even though it sounds odd. Please enlighten me.

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  • I find this specific example awkward – I simply wouldn't phrase a sentence that way – but I've run into the same problem in similar circumstances, like parenthetical asides. In those cases, I usually choose words to avoid this a/an clash. I'm not sure what the correct rule is when they don't match, but in a pinch I'd choose the sound of the nearest word. For example, in “a difficult opponent,” you use a to match the adjective, not an to match the noun. May 28, 2013 at 22:07
  • That makes sense. I think English is one of the areas in which a real solution isn't the only one. Thanks!
    – Blieque
    May 28, 2013 at 22:19
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    Choosing between a and an is our most frequently asked question ever. It gets asked several times a week, every week. And the answer is always exactly the same, and embarrassingly trivial to boot. We even have a blog post. So please do search the site before posting. Thank you.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 28, 2013 at 22:47
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    The linked duplicate is actually a very poor question and answer: although it says it is about a/an before a parenthesis, the example given is not parenthetical. This question here, on the other hand, gives an example which is parenthetical.
    – MetaEd
    May 28, 2013 at 22:56

3 Answers 3

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Are you stuck with this very awkward sentence construction? Since you are questioning what article to use, I suspect you are not. Therefore, I suggest that you change the sentence construction:

     ....primarily meant as a donation, albeit a large one.

That gets you around all of your problems.

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  • Yeah, this seems the sensible consensus here. Thank you.
    – Blieque
    May 28, 2013 at 22:23
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The choice between a and an is not one of grammar, or orthography. It is a purely phonological choice depending wholly on the following sound. The following sound here is /ə/- a vowel, so the form selected is an.

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  • Well, now we can have a discussion. I'm leaning more this way now though.
    – Blieque
    May 28, 2013 at 22:23
  • +1 It's more obvious to pronounce it this way if you remove the commas, but I think rewording along @terpy's lines is still better.
    – choster
    May 28, 2013 at 22:24
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Personally, I would opt for ... primarily meant as an, albeit large, donation., for two reasons:

  1. If you actually speak the phase, saying a is awkward, whereas saying an comes naturally.
  2. If you had a straight adjective, instead of an adjectival phrase, there would be no question that the article should correspond to the adjective, not to the noun: e.g. an anonymous donation. Why should the present of an adjectival phrase, instead of an adjective, make any difference to the rule?

Alternatively, you could rephase the expression to:

... primarily meant as a donation, albeit a large one.

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  • Thank you. The second point especially makes a lot of sense.
    – Blieque
    May 29, 2013 at 13:13

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