The word year when pronounced starts with a phonetic sound of e which is a vowel sound making it eligible for being preceded by an. Yet, we tend to write a year. Why?


5 Answers 5


I reject your premise that the word year starts with a phonetic sound of e. Here's how it is pronounced according to the various dictionaries:

  • Wiktionary: (RP) IPA: /jiə/, /jɜː/, SAMPA: /ji@/, /j3:/; (US) enPR: yîr, IPA: /jiɹ/, SAMPA: /jir/
  • Merriam-Webster: \ˈyir\
  • American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: /yîr/
  • Collins English Dictionary: /jɪə/

Words that start with the /j/ sound are preceded by an a, not by an an. Compare: a user, a utility, a yak.

  • Nice examples at the end!
    – John Y
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 20:10
  • I'm a non-native English speaker; I put "year, year, ear, ear!" on Google translate and listened to it to compare the sounds; the "y" sounded just like a shorter "e" added to the "e" on "ear". I pronounced it the way I heard it and didn't perceive any moving muscles in my mouth; it felt like just adding extra air on the transition from "y" to "e". It's interesting to learn that this very nuanced difference is not perceived as a phonetic sound of the vowel "e"!
    – Ricardo
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 17:05

It doesn't start with a phonetic sound of e. It starts with [j] (usually spelled "y" in English), and that sound is not a vowel here.

  • Dictionary.com: Year: /yɪər/

  • Dictionary.msn.com: Year: /yeer/


A year does not start with an e sound. An ear starts with an e sound.

  • 1
    Is it easy to distinguish between them when people talk about "year" and "ear" at the same time? Could people easily distinguish the sounds of |O| and |WO|, |U| and |WU| as well?
    – Terry Li
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 17:01
  • 3
    Yes, native speakers easily distinguish between ear and year, or owe and woe, or ooh and woo. Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 12:53

An ear


A year

In most cases.

A good rule is

If the next word starts with a vowel sound, use an. If not, use a


For the word 'year' to be preceded by 'an' it must sound like it's beginning with a vowel. The reason why it is a tad tricky is because of the difference in the way people pronounce it.

Some people pronounce the word 'year' as 'ear' with 'y' silent, thereby wanting 'an' to precede and feeling discomfort with 'a'. e.g. 'It's been an _ear since we talked'.

Whereas others pronounce it with a 'ye' sound in the beginning. In this case one finds that using 'a' suddenly sounds more comfortable. e.g. 'It's been a 'ye'ar since we talked'.

  • 9
    In what dialect of English is “year” pronounced as “ear”?
    – F'x
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 17:41
  • @F'x My dialect. :D Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 2:38

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