I am trying to think of any example when one might be correct in pronouncing the word "a" with a long A sound. With the word "the," one would use the long E sound only when the word is followed by a word that begins with a vowel sound, that is, "thee atrium of thuh building can hold 50 people." But I cannot think of any appropriate time for using the long A sound. Can anyone else? Thanks.

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    I am assuming you're asking when the indefinite article a is pronounced like /eɪ/. The answer is - any time you want. Often, the pronunciation /eɪ/ adds more emphasis. Jan 23, 2015 at 20:20
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    This isn't just a question - it's the 64,000 dollar question on everybody's lips. Jan 23, 2015 at 20:37
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    I agree with @FF - when seeking to emphasize the article, it's pronounced with the long a sound. Jan 23, 2015 at 21:05
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    This is another case where some people simply pronounce things differently. I'll tend to use "ae" rather than "uh" when I want to emphasize that there is only one of the things, using "uh" most of the other times. Other people will use "ae" quite a bit more often (even though they are perfectly literate).
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 23, 2015 at 21:06
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    @WS2 Well yes, if you pronounce it with the [eɪ] of day rather than the [ɑː] of father (or rather, the [ə] of about). I don’t really understand John Lawler’s somewhat categorical dismissal of any sort of /e/ or [eɪ] pronunciation. I doubt your scenario never occurred to him, so I wonder what his thinking is here. Perhaps John really did lose his marbles. :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 23, 2015 at 23:44

2 Answers 2


For reasons I don't fully understand myself, a long version of a vowel is generally perceived as stronger and more obvious than it's short version. Especially with words such as "a", "an", and "the", you are colloquially allowed to pronounce them with the long version of their vowel for emphasis and clarity ("an" isn't pronounced as if it was "A n", though). I suspect this has cognitive and physiological influences.

I might ask you, "Does that answer your question?" You might then reply "Well it answers A question...but that's not thE question."

This is a common conversational way of drawing attention to the article. If you ask someone to hand you a wrench, and they hand you a whole sack full of wrenches, you might say "I just need A wrench" - which is considered a bit rude when you could just say "I just need one wrench, not a bunch of wrenches." As "a" is singular, pronouncing it as a long/strong A draws attention to it.

Now, you could just be louder and clearer and still pronounce these words with a short vowel sound. "I just need uh wrench." It's not wrong, but again for some reason loudly pronounced short vowel sounds are often part of mockery or even foolishness, as with "duh", "uhhhh", "um", and their various ilk.

So drawing attention with emphasis to a long vowel sound draws attention to the word choice itself, while adding emphasis to a short vowel sound tends to have a connotation that is insulting rather than merely brisk/rude. I think this is likely related to the shape of the mouth and facial expression that one makes when voicing these sounds, but I'm just spit-balling there.

I don't know if this is thE answer, but it's an answer. I think it's ok, but it's really up to yoU.

(Note: I apologize that this post doesn't actually contain an acrostic. Sorry.)


If your "a" is an indefinite article, it is usually pronounced in the short form /ə/ in ordinary speech, unless you want to stress it . But if you want it to mean the first letter of the English alphabet, it will be pronounced as a long "a" /ˈeɪ/.


  • What are those guys doing over there? That's a /ə/ team, a /ə/ basketball team.
  • How come you guys have finished before all other groups? Because we are "a"/ˈeɪ/ team.
  • Johnny is really very bright. He is a straight-A /ˈeɪ/ student.

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