When a sentence begins with the letter A, e.g.,

A parent called me about his child.

does it matter how the A is pronounced? Is it 'A' parent or 'ah' parent?


It depends whether the stress is on A or on parent. If the stress lies on A, use /eɪ/ "eh"; otherwise, use /ə/ "a(r)".

  • Worth mentioning: the stress only falls on the article when you want to stress very emphatically that this is definitely not any particular parent, but just a randomly chosen parent not previously introduced to the discourse. Otherwise (i.e., probably at least 99 times out of a hundred), the article is unstressed. Feb 5 '14 at 8:44
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Or it could be to stress there was only one. Somebody may have just commented that numerous parents had called about their children. The teacher replies 'A parent called me...'. In that situation it might be the long A (rhymes with hay) that is use in order to stress there was only one.
    – WS2
    Feb 5 '14 at 8:45
  • And sometimes the stress isn't on either: "A parent called me about his child? Can you believe it?" In that case, I'm probably more likely to use /ə/.
    – J.R.
    Feb 5 '14 at 10:38
  • Anything by way of 'further reading' would be helpful, thanks.
    – Kris
    Feb 5 '14 at 12:17

/ə/ and /eɪ/ are both commonly found, and there's a few other sounds. Most often it will match how "ah" or how "ay" is pronounced in your accent.

Some who use /ə/ normally will use /eɪ/ for emphasis, but some just use /eɪ/ all the time.


Unless we are emphasizing the singular article for some reason (e.g., “I didn't say that parents came to visit – I said that a parent visited”), I think this is something we might utter either way without really thinking much about it, although usually the /ə/ comes out.

It's partly related to what you as the speaker are stressing, but I think it's also related to the pace of your speech. Here's an experiment: try yelling this across the room (it's your end of a conversation with Ted, your imaginary co-worker):

"Hey, Ted, you have a phone call."
"I think it's a telemarketer."
"No, I don't have a clue it's about."
"Sure, I can take a message, if you'd like. Is there a good time when he should call back?"

That's 5 occurrences of a – did anyone say /eɪ/ instead of /ə/? I didn't. But now pretend Ted is hard of hearing, and you must speak each word very clearly and slowly, and enunciate meticulously. For some reason, when I did that, I started using /eɪ/. So I believe it's partly related to how fast we "slide" into the next word.

  • "There's /ə/ man at the door." "How many are there?" "I said, 'There's /eɪ/ man at the door,' get it?"
    – Kris
    Feb 5 '14 at 12:20
  • @Kris - Yes, just like that.
    – J.R.
    Feb 5 '14 at 12:23

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