A Unicorn or An Unicorn: Which is Correct?


Unicorn is a mythical creature that has fascinated people for centuries, often depicted as a horse-like animal with a single spiraling horn on its forehead. Despite the unicorn being a creature of legend, the question of whether to use “a unicorn” or “an unicorn” in writing is a common source of confusion for many English speakers.

The rule of using “a” before words starting with a consonant sound and “an” before words starting with a vowel sound is well-known in English grammar. However, it’s important to note that this rule is based on the sound that follows the article, not strictly on the first letter of the word.

In the case of “unicorn,” the word starts with a vowel letter, “u,” which might suggest using “an” according to the rule. However, the pronunciation of the first syllable in “unicorn” is actually a consonant sound, specifically a “y” sound as in “you” or “yes.” This is why we say “a unicorn” rather than “an unicorn.”

The Linguistic Explanation

The reason behind this peculiar pronunciation lies in the origin of the word “unicorn.” It comes from the Latin word “unicornis,” which itself was derived from the combining form “uni-“ meaning “one” and “cornus” meaning “horn.” When “uni-“ is added to the word beginning with a consonant sound like “cornus,” it creates a “y” sound due to the “i” serving as a vowel that combines with the following consonant.

Therefore, when we break down the word phonetically as “yoo-ni-korn,” it becomes evident that “a unicorn” is the grammatically correct choice.

Common Errors and Misconceptions

  1. Spelling Mistakes: Sometimes, people tend to spell “unicorn” as “uni(c)orn,” which might lead them to think that the word begins with a vowel sound, thereby choosing “an unicorn.” Remember that the correct spelling is “unicorn” with a silent “c.”

  2. Misapplication of the Rule: In the English language, there are exceptions to almost every rule, and the “a” vs. “an” rule is no different. It is crucial to pay attention to the sound that follows the article rather than solely relying on the initial letter of the word.


In conclusion, when it comes to the usage of “a” or “an” before “unicorn,” the key is to focus on the pronunciation rather than the spelling. As “unicorn” starts with a consonant sound /”y/” rather than a vowel sound, we say “a unicorn.” This clarifies the mystery surrounding the correct article to use and ensures that your writing adheres to the rules of English grammar.


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