In this sentence: ...was a classic example of a "an eye for an eye", should I keep the "a" before the enquoted text or change it to "an"? I think the "a", pronounced as a long vowel, sounds better.


Update: This is the original sentence I wrote: It's very much a "an eye for an eye" response. I have rewritten this as The response is very much "an eye for an eye".

  • 6
    Avoid obstacles. No article necessary.
    – SrJoven
    Feb 5, 2015 at 0:19

1 Answer 1


If you weren't worried about dealing with a quotation here (because, let's say, you were the first person ever to use the phrase "an eye for an eye"), I can't imagine that you would say

X was a classic example of a an eye for an eye.

Instead, you'd almost certainly say

X was a classic example of an eye for an eye.

So the question I have for you is, What, if anything, changes when you turn a simple statement into a statement with a quotation embedded in it?

As far as I can tell, the only difference is that you want to acknowledge that part of the wording is not your own—and as you're aware, you can do that by adding quotation marks around the part you borrowed from someone else. So let's do that:

X was a classic example of "an eye for an eye."

Having added the quotation marks, do you need to do anything else to make the sentence presentable? No. It's good to go, as is.

It may also be worth noting that when you're citing proverbial phrase such as "an eye for an eye," you aren't obligated to use quotation marks at all, since the phrase is well known to practically all fluent English speakers and no one will think that you are sneakily trying to take credit for it. But in instances involving other phrases quoted from another source, it may be appropriate to add quotation marks—in which case the quotation marks are the only thing you need to add, unless the situation calls for explicit identification of the quotation's source.

UPDATE (2/6/15):

The OP's clarification that the original context of the quotation wasn't "was a classic example of a 'an eye for an eye,'" but rather "It's very much a 'an eye for an eye' response," requires an amended answer to deal with situations where the language in quotation marks is functioning as an adjectival phrase modifying a following noun. In that case, as Janus Bahs Jacquet points out in a comment below, you need to include an article associated with the following noun (in this case response).

In the OP's example, the first an in the phrase "'an eye for an eye' response" attaches to the first eye in the quoted phrase—and not directly to the noun response, which lies outside the embedded quotation. As a result, that an doesn't perform the necessary function of anticipating response in the overall sentence. In this type of situation, the normal way to put things right isn't to precede the quoted indefinite article with another indefinite article like this:

It's very much an [or a] "an eye for an eye" response.

but to drop the initial indefinite article from quoted language and then to add the appropriate indefinite article before the quotation, outside the open-quotation mark:

It's very much an "eye for an eye" response.

This very accurately replicates (in written form) the way a person would normally speak the sentence—where, as I noted earlier, punctuation is not visible—while at the same time making the correct association in the sentence as whole between the indefinite article that appears before the first eye and its following noun response.

  • 2
    Note that the quote is used as an attributive adjunct here—the head noun is response. That means an article is needed for the noun phrase, and if you want to retain the quotation marks, it's the article in the quote that is suppressed: “It was very much an ‘eye for an eye’ response.” Feb 6, 2015 at 15:45

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