When one writes a noun after a dependent clause, should that noun be preceded by an "a" or an "an". "That was an, to be quite clear, extremely clever idea." Or: "That was a, to be quite clear, extremely clever idea."

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    Most people would probably stick to the KISS principle here. The next word (to) starts with a consonant, so just say a. But it's a "pathological" example, so there's no real point in appealing to syntax rules as such. You just have to try and make the best of a bad job. Or move to be clear to a more sensible position, since it's inherently clumsy where it is, however you transcribe it (I certainly wouldn't say it if I was paying attention to my speech). Dec 31, 2019 at 23:11
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    "That was, to be quite clear, an extremely clever idea."
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 31, 2019 at 23:21
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    Does this answer your question? Correct rule for placement of a pair of parenthetical commas in a sentence. The incorrect example 'the, by its email, CSI has informed us that...' is given. Jan 1, 2020 at 20:00
  • Even more relevant than Edwin Ashworth's link may be the question and answers at "A/An" preceding a parenthetical statement. In fact, it looks as though the answers there are entirely on point, despite their being formally about how to handle a situation where a parenthetical phrase comes between an indefinite article and its associated noun.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 5, 2020 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


No native speaker would put the article before the dependent clause in this case. In the example you give the dependent clause modifies the verb (was) and not the noun. The article should go close to the noun and after the dependent clause.

That was, to be quite clear, an extremely clever idea.

There might be rare cases where the dependent clause really does modify the noun:

The hunter's video shows a soon to be killed animal.

However this construction is clumsy and hard to understand. Most writers would use hyphens within the dependent clause.

The hunter's video shows a soon-to-be-killed animal.

In any case usual rules would be followed for deciding between a and an, which is that the next word controls which one to use

an animal

a large animal

a soon-to-be-killed animal

  • I don't think I would go quite so far as to say "NO native speaker would...", but I take your point.
    – WS2
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:07
  • Which is the dependent clause here? Where does 'a' or 'an' precede? I don't think 'a' or 'an' with a comma immediately following can be called preceding. The type of examples are new to me, and personally, I won't follow it.
    – Ram Pillai
    Jan 1, 2020 at 4:51
  • The dependent clause is "to be quite clear". Jan 1, 2020 at 17:27
  • I don't think many people would call that a "dependent clause". It is parenthetical.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 1, 2020 at 18:59

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