I have a question about how different pronunciation of words and how this affects the use of indefinite articles.

My example is the technical abbreviation URL, meaning "uniform resource location". A common way to pronounce it is "you-are-ell", and to use the indefinite article a because of the consonant "y". -- Which is correct — a URL or an URL?

However, since it is an abbreviation, I have always pronounced it word-by-word "u-are-ell", and I have used the indefinite article an with this word.

I would like to extend this question to any word that have a different pronunciation as there are many different dialects.

Is it accepted to chose the indefinite article (a or an) based on how you pronounce a word?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, user140086, tchrist, curiousdannii, NVZ Jun 2 '16 at 20:15

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    I don't know of any dialects that would enunciate URL as OO-ARE-ELL - it's always YOU-ARE-ELL, which according to standard rules would always be preceded by a, not an. – FumbleFingers May 31 '16 at 13:42
  • URL is not perhaps the best example - since my native tongue is not english, I tend to spell letters in my own language - at least the U. But please move away from my bad example. What I am curious about is, if a word starts with a vowel in one dialect, but consonant in another - what would be the correct article? – Dog eat cat world May 31 '16 at 14:01
  • 2
    @Dogeatcatworld - Here is the best explanation I could find online addressing this issue: wordinfo.info/unit/3431/ip:1 It has many examples I hadn't thought of; e.g., a eulogy, a union, a European, a one-time event, an hour, an honor, an honest person, an heir; but, a hotel, a house, a hill, a hymn, a honeycomb, etc. As for your question, "Is it acceptable to choose the indefinite article (a or an) based on how you pronounce a word?" I would say the answer is "yes" when speaking and "no" when writing. When writing, use the convention used by your audience. – Mark Hubbard May 31 '16 at 14:44

Regardless of dialects, there will tend to be one "official" pronunciation of any word, and you should base your decision on this.

I don't actually understand what the difference in pronunciation between "you-are-ell" and "u-are-ell" would be: saying that you pronounce "U" as "u" is totally redundant and doesn't tell us anything.

If you are speaking, rather than writing, you could use "a" or "an" depending on how you pronounce it, but I'd still recommend pronouncing it in the "conventional" way, just for the sake of clearer communication.

  • 1
    Many words have several pronunciations. It's really rare that these change whether you need a or an before them, though—the only ones I can think of are herb, opossom and Ouroboros, all of which have been discussed in questions here. – Peter Shor May 31 '16 at 15:35

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.