In this Guardian article

There is this sentence

No one was onboard the Dragon capsule that launched on Saturday on its first test flight, only an dummy .

My question is why it is written "only an dummy " instead of "a dummy"?

Edit: Only words with first letter as vowels (if)will be having "an"?

  • 3
    The word was instrumented, an instrumented dummy.
    – user337391
    Mar 3, 2019 at 13:44

4 Answers 4


The guardian is famous for having a propensity for errors to slip past the editors. (Apocryphally even misspelling its own name as the The Grauniad). I suspect a busy sub editor removed an adjective beginning with a vowel such as "instrumented" from the phrase "an instrumented dummy", to fit the article into the space available.

  • 2
    It never misspelled its own name! "The Grauniad" was the jocular name given to it by the satirical magazine Private Eye in recognition of its many typos.
    – TonyK
    Mar 3, 2019 at 20:03
  • 2
    @TonyK - The OED defines "Apocryphally" as "In an apocryphal manner; fabulously, falsely" so I don't think I ever asserted that it did misspell its own name.
    – james
    Mar 3, 2019 at 20:18
  • 1
    @james I think it's misleading. Apocryphal can mean "of dubious veracity," and that's the meaning I took from the context. It sounds like the answer is saying that The Guardian is said to have misspelled its own name on at least one occasion, but no proof of it ever happening seems to actually exist. Mar 3, 2019 at 20:50
  • @TonyK - I think you'll find lots of people believe, incorrectly, or at least have heard the story, that the Guardian did misspell its own mast-head. To misquote Bierce: it's too good a lie to be killed by a mere truth! I was certainly told this in school by a friend in 90s. But fair enough - point taken.
    – james
    Mar 3, 2019 at 21:41
  • 1
    Proofreading is a art
    – IMil
    Mar 4, 2019 at 2:02

This is clearly an error on their part. The article 'a' only agrees with the singular subject dummy.

Either this is particularly sloppy proofreading, or, as @Hot Licks has mentioned, the copy editors have removed a word and forgotten to change the article.

Well done for spotting this. The Guardian should feel ashamed.

They are known for letting things slip, as mentioned in the other answer.

  • 1
    A Google search for the exact text quoted finds numerous copies, and for "only an dummy" finds quite a few. To be fair to the Guardian, they got a lot better in the 1990s after introducing computerised publishing systems. The paper does not hide from the topic. I think some people bash the Guardian because of its slightly left of centre position; I have seen worse in the Daily Mail. Mar 3, 2019 at 19:55
  • @Michael I don't think that the person who'd attack the Guardian for their leftish position would notice these errors much. I'd assume this has more to do with Guardian readers noticing these things more and having higher expectations of their newspaper than Daily Mail readers. As someone who has only read the paper for about a decade, I never thought of it as being worse than say the NYT or the FAZ in this regard.
    – Voo
    Mar 3, 2019 at 20:13
  • Voo - "I'd assume this has more to do with Guardian readers noticing these things more and having higher expectations of their newspaper than Daily Mail readers. " - This is the view I prefer to take. If you want to see a really bad newspaper, look at the Daily Express. Mar 3, 2019 at 20:32
  • 1
    This answer doesn't add anything the other answer didn't already state. Mar 4, 2019 at 0:25
  • @AzorAhai Can't really help that, I didn't see the answer when I was writing mine. Plus it's been edited.
    – Lordology
    Mar 4, 2019 at 7:17

It is an error.

Use 'a' before words that start with a consonant sound and 'an' before words that start with a vowel sound. Other letters can also be pronounced either way. Just remember it is the sound that governs whether you use 'a' or 'an,' not the actual first letter of the word.

Dummy obviously begins with a consonant and therefore should be 'a dummy'.

  • Could you give me an example of word which starts with a consonant but the sound is vowel.
    – Pushparaj
    Mar 9, 2019 at 15:30
  • 1
    Mainly words beginning with an 'h' where the h is not pronounced. e.g. It was an honest mistake. It is an 'an' because the h is not pronounced, making it sound like a n 'o' (vowel) sound.
    – GoodJuJu
    Mar 9, 2019 at 22:25

It's wrong, it's an error. I would use 'only a dummy'. Using 'a' is the only way to correctly write this sentence. Usually 'an' is used before a word beginning with the letter 'h'.

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