I have noticed that a lot of native American speakers use the indefinite article "a" in front of words beginning with vowels, such as interesting, old, apple , etc. Is there any reasonable explanation?


2 Answers 2


There are many different accents in North American English. In some of those accents, it might be quite comfortable for the speaker to say “a apple.” Either because of the way they are putting their syllables together, or perhaps because they are from a region where people tend to speak very slowly. It might be “a [pause] apple.”


I use a with such words and I am a native speaker of American English. The only sensible explanation is that language usage changes and that it sounds fine to me.

It used to be that people would use an in contexts where we, or not all native speakers (still) do, such as before some words starting with h- (an hundred) or other sounds, such as the yu- in eunuch. I don't talk much about eunuchs but when I do I say a eunuch, not an eunuch as some people, such as Shakespeare, does in Twelfth Night, performed first in 1600, give or take a year.

There's a theory that says there's a gottal stop between a and apple (etc) which "licenses" such usage. But I'm not self aware enough to determine if I employ one or not. I certainly don't say a educated man like I would Hawai'i with its prominent gottal stop.

  • Do you never use "an," or would you use both "a" and "an" indifferently before words that start with vowels? Or is there some conditioning factor, like word-initial stress, that makes the use of "a" more likely before only a subset of vowel-initial words?
    – herisson
    Jan 25, 2016 at 4:16
  • @sumelic I can use an apple around people who might not well receive a apple. Other than that I haven't paid attention and analyzed my usage as a whole. Maybe I'll pay more attention. I do know it is not only in speaking but also in writing.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 25, 2016 at 4:26
  • Got it. I did notice that you use "an indefinite" in your answer here: english.stackexchange.com/a/298746/77227 and "an example" here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/199904/… I asked because I have a similar experience (phrases like "a octopus" don't strike me as sounding terribly wrong, and I produce some instances of them in spontaneous speech) but I also definitely use "an" as well, and not just when I'm consciously trying to do so.
    – herisson
    Jan 25, 2016 at 4:32
  • When I write on SE I usually consciously change any a + vowel to an + vowel. @sumelic.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 25, 2016 at 15:07
  • A fiend of mine ordered “a English muffin” from room service at the pricey Pierre Hotel in NYC. She got eight English muffins and a bill to go with them. Licensed or not, it was a failure in communication.
    – Xanne
    May 17, 2021 at 20:38

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