Possible Duplicate:
When should I use “a” vs “an”?

I have recently seen this image:

enter image description here

Should "a" have been used instead of "an" in the "...an $100,000 apartment" part?

  • 4
    You are correct; a should have been used as it is pronounced a one hundred thousand-dollar apartment. Jul 22, 2012 at 16:28
  • 2
    Right, the text is in the image has an error there.
    – Mitch
    Jul 22, 2012 at 16:36
  • 2
    you could also say "a hundred thousand dollar apartment"
    – DHall
    Jul 22, 2012 at 21:12
  • 2
    The only close-to-native phrase I can think of to justify an here is an a-hundred-thousand-dollar apartment. Not great, but imaginable... Jul 22, 2012 at 22:10
  • 1
    ..or as coleopterist mentions below, the writer of the poster could be an 'h'-dropper (Cockney) so it would be right to say "an 'undred"
    – Mitch
    Jul 23, 2012 at 21:51

5 Answers 5


The /ə ~ ən/ rule, like the /ðə ~ ði/ rule, depends completely on the individual sound that follows. What word starts with this sound, or what its meaning or part of speech may be, does not matter at all.

The rules are very simple to state, in their entirety:

/ə/ or /ðə/ before Consonants; /ən/ or /ði/ before Vowels

"5" is pronounced /fayv/, and that starts with /f/, which is a Consonant. Therefore use 'a'.

If it were "8" (pronounced /et/) instead, it would start with a Vowel, and one would use 'an'.

Note that this has nothing to do with spelling, and only refers to pronunciation.

  • 3
    IOW, the writer of the poster is not used to pronouncing the h in hundred. "Why live in an 'undred thousand dollar apartment ..." :) Jul 22, 2012 at 17:19
  • 2
    @coleopterist: Cute, but I think the caption writer misunderstood the rule and spelled out "one", which starts with a vowel letter but is pronounced starting with the 'w' consonant sound.
    – John Y
    Jul 22, 2012 at 17:25
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    The /ðə ~ ði/ rule? I've never heard of it (until yesterday). Do you have a reference for that?
    – Mitch
    Jul 23, 2012 at 21:53
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    @Mitch: A bit late, but I only just saw this, sorry. Here's an answer that explains both article rules -- the one native speakers know about (because they hafta spell it), and the one they don't (because they've never been taught about their language, only its spelling). I'll link it and a few others in the response. Jun 19, 2014 at 17:16
  • Instead of waiting until the last sentence, it would help to say 'vowel sound' instead of just 'vowel', since casual readers may think of vowels as letters rather than phonemes.
    – AmI
    Nov 7, 2017 at 18:39

Yes, I would use "a" as the article. I don't think it depends on the fact that it's a number that follows, but what the first sound of it is. You would use "a" before "one" (or 1), as in "a one-hour nap." For a number such as eight that starts with a vowel sound, use "an."

  • Note that it’s the sound, not the letter. An uninformed person vs. a uniformed person. An heir or a heir, depends on how you pronounce “heir”. An HGV or a HGV if you speak it as three letters (aitch gee vee) or words (heavy goods vehicle).
    – gnasher729
    Mar 13, 2022 at 19:48

Indeed, the wrong article is being used.

I wonder if the "an" was slipped in inadvertently because of the word "apartment" (i.e., "AN APARTMENT" became "AN 100,000$ APARTMENT," and the article wasn't changed like it should have been). That's just a theory, though, and I only mention it as an alternative to the other speculation in this discussion, such as the h in hundred and the o in one.

More significantly, though, the image has other errors. In addition to the wrong article being used, the dollar sign should go before the number, not after (it should be $100,000, not 100,000 $). Also, I think "five million dollar bridge" would be better than "5 million dollar bridge." (That one might just be personal preference as opposed to a true grammatical error, but the Purdue Online Writing Lab would back me up.)

  • I noticed the second error too, if you see, in my example I automatically corrected
    – ajax333221
    Jul 23, 2012 at 1:57

Yes, 'a' should have been used here. Two rules that I would follow here:

  1. Choice of an article would never skip words (numbers are words too, when you speak them out), and would always depend on the word immediately after the article.

  2. Also, the article depends on the phonetics of the word, and not the spelling. So you have 'an hour', and 'a use'.

Going by these, you do not have 'an' before one, because the pronunciation of 'one' doesn't being with a vowel sound.


While the use of an is generally limited to use before a word that begins with a vowel sound (regardless of the spelling), there is a notable, if not very common, exception.

Certain word that begin with an articulated "h" sound may take an as its preceding article:

an historic moment

an hysterical patient

These uses are not universal and not that frequent. I think they reflect an attempt at fluency where the "h" sound is only slightly emphasized and the consonance of an makes pronunciation easier.

  • 1
    The traditional rule for this usage is that the "h"-syllable should not be stressed, so even if you allow this exception, it should still be "a hundred-thousand dollar apartment". Jul 23, 2012 at 0:02
  • @PeterShor What do you mean that it should not be stressed? The syllable starting with the h sure comes off as stressed in “a HUNdred-THOUsand-DOLlar aPARTment” when I say it.
    – tchrist
    Jul 23, 2012 at 0:15
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    I mean the rule is that you use "a" when a word starting with "h" and with a stressed syllable follows it, like "a history", but "an" when a word starting with "h" and with an unstressed syllable follows, like "an historic". See this Ngram. Jul 23, 2012 at 0:20
  • I was struggling to identify when the "h" words could use the an and I think Peter Shor clarifies it well
    – bib
    Jul 23, 2012 at 1:22

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