Is there a word that describes the property of which indefinite article ('a' or 'an') to pair with a word?

For example,

Hey guys, is the word 'animal' ______ or not?

Yes/No, it's 'an animal'.

or alternatively,

Hey guys, what ______ is the word 'animal'?

It's 'an animal'.

  • 1
    @deadrat I think it's a choice between "a" and "an", not between "a mass noun" and "a non-mass noun". Both sentences sound weird, though.
    – user140086
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:44
  • 1
    The a/an property is whether the word starts with a vowel sound or not -- an animal, but a uniform. I don't think there's a single word for "starts with a vowel sound," but perhaps someone knows one.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 12, 2016 at 9:59
  • 1
    What @Andrew said. Google Books claims hundreds of instances of a vowel-initial word, which is probably the best available option. Dec 12, 2016 at 13:42
  • Actually, I think the OQ wants to know about count nouns and mass nouns. There is no standard term (either adjective or noun) that covers that, but one could say What countability is 'animal'? with an answer It's countable. Except that's a 5-syllable word for a two-valued property, which is not a good tradeoff. Dec 12, 2016 at 15:01
  • 1
    Unless there is a relationship between count nouns or mass nouns and the choice of using 'a' or 'an' that I do not know about, I believe @FumbleFingers' suggestion most closely satisfies my criteria.
    – Mee
    Dec 13, 2016 at 1:51

2 Answers 2


There may be a single word for this in the field of linguistics, but my cursory Internet searching didn't turn one up.

I think the most concise (and accurate/precise) expression would be "initial vowel sound word*."

Hey guys, is the word "animal" an initial-vowel-sound word?

(hyphenated or spaced as suits your fancy)

You can find the above phrasing used in ESL/grammar materials and texts. Here is one usage example for reference:

Determining which indefinite article to use is not as simple as seeing whether the following word begins with a consonant or a vowel. The article an sometimes precedes words that begin with a consonant but that are pronounced with an initial vowel sound: an honor, an hour.

Source The Grammar Bible: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Grammar but Didn't Know Whom to Ask by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas

Note that this sort of question comes up mostly when using an indefinite article before certain "h" words (historical, herb, etc.) and acronyms/initialisms (a/an FBI agent).

*credit to FumbleFingers for jogging my brain with "vowel-initial word" in his comment above


The word "liaison" works quite nicely. I'm sure you could make it an adjectival noun and just ask your friends, "Does the word 'animal' take the liaison article?".

For the verb alternative, you can ask if the word in question is "liaised" or not.

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