A or An Worksheet: Practice Using Indefinite Articles


Indefinite articles are small words, but they carry a significant impact on the clarity and correctness of sentences. “A” and “an” are the two indefinite articles in the English language. They are used to refer to non-specific nouns or to introduce a noun for the first time. While “a” is used before words that begin with a consonant sound, “an” is used before words that begin with a vowel sound.

Understanding the Difference between “A” and “An”

Mastering the usage of “a” and “an” can be confusing for English learners, as it relies on the sound that follows the article rather than the actual letter of the word. Here are some guidelines to help you understand and use them correctly:

1. Sound Matters

The choice between “a” and “an” is determined by the sound that follows the article, not necessarily the letter. For example, even though “hour” starts with an ‘h’, which is a consonant, it has a vowel sound (/aʊər/). Therefore, you would say, “an hour.”

2. Vowel vs. Consonant Sounds

  • Use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound: “a car,” “a house,” “a university.”
  • Use “an” before words that start with a vowel sound: “an apple,” “an umbrella,” “an hour.”

3. Silent Letters

Pay attention to silent letters that can alter the pronunciation. For instance, the word “honor” starts with an initial silent ‘h’, so it is pronounced as if it starts with a vowel sound (/ɒnər/). Hence, you would say, “an honor.”

4. Abbreviations

When using abbreviations, consider how they are spoken aloud. For instance, “NBA” is pronounced as “en-bee-ay.” Since “N” is pronounced as if it starts with a vowel sound (/ˈɛn/), you would say, “an NBA game.”

5. Initialisms

Initialisms are different from acronyms as they are pronounced by saying each letter individually. Take “FBI” for example, rather than saying “fib-ee,” you would say “eff-bee-eye,” making it start with a consonant sound, and thus, “an FBI agent” is correct.

Practice Exercises

To reinforce your understanding, here are some practice exercises to test your knowledge of using “a” and “an” correctly:

Exercise 1:

Decide whether to use “a” or “an” in the following sentences:
1. I have __ umbrella.
2. She is __ European citizen.
3. He wants to be __ astronaut.
4. It was __ honest mistake.
5. Please pass me __ pen.

Exercise 2:

Fill in the blanks with the correct choice of “a” or “an”:
1. I need __ egg for the recipe.
2. Can I have __ orange, please?
3. She wants to buy __ new car.
4. He is __ university professor.
5. Do you have __ aunt living nearby?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. When should I use “a” and “an” in a sentence?

Use “a” before words starting with a consonant sound and “an” before words starting with a vowel sound. Remember, it’s the sound that matters, not the actual letter.

2. Is it correct to say “an unique”?

No, the correct usage is “a unique” because the word “unique” is pronounced with a starting consonant sound (/juːˈniːk/).

3. Why do we use “an hour” instead of “a hour”?

Despite starting with a consonant letter ‘h’, the word “hour” is pronounced with a vowel sound (/aʊər/), which is why we use “an” before it.

4. Can “an” be used before words that start with silent letters?

Yes, if the word begins with a silent vowel and the following letter creates a vowel sound, then “an” is appropriate. For example, “an honor.”

5. Should I use “a” or “an” before abbreviations and acronyms?

Consider how the abbreviation is pronounced. Use “a” before abbreviations that begin with a consonant sound and “an” before those that begin with a vowel sound.

6. Is there an exception to the rule for using “a” or “an”?

In standard English grammar, the rule of using “a” before words with consonant sounds and “an” before words with vowel sounds is widely followed. While there may be some exceptions or regional variations, this rule generally applies.

Mastering the use of “a” and “an” may take some practice, but once you understand the logic behind it, you’ll be able to apply it correctly in your writing and speech. Keep these guidelines in mind, and with more practice, you’ll become more comfortable with using these indefinite articles accurately in your everyday communication.


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