Firstly, I know when to use 'a' or 'an' before the noun, such as

a book
a tiger
an orange
an apple.

My question is when I type/say a sentence, such as

It is a book / an apple

what I type is 'a'/'an' then the noun. I always type/say 'a' and then the noun. And I will correct the 'a' to 'an' if the 'an' is proper. This is very confused to me. How could I know the 'an' is correct without being typed the 'apple'. How could I correctly use 'a' and 'an'?

  • 1
    As a learner: after a while I noticed that it's really hard to say "a apple!" I mean pronouncing two vowels consecutively is difficult. It does not rhyme well. However, I still have my own problem with some sort of words beginning with some specific vowels!
    – Cardinal
    Jun 16 '17 at 9:39
  • 2
    Don't type the a or an until you have considered whether the word that follows begins with a vowel sound or a consonant sound. For more, see: english.stackexchange.com/questions/152/… Jun 16 '17 at 9:40
  • As @RonaldSole said, think ahead in the sentence before typing (or speaking, which can be harder). It's like sight-reading music, where you need to be a couple of bars ahead of yourself. It'll take some practice, but it's the only way you can know in advance which one to use. Jun 16 '17 at 14:27
  • P.S. Welcome! You're invited to take the tour or visit the Help Centre, and please keep asking questions that benefit the community. :) Jun 16 '17 at 14:28
  • Just highlighting @RonaldSole's point - for this, the sound (pronunciation) of the following word is more important than its spelling. For example, it's "an honour", not (*) "a honour". Here's a relevant post from EL&U.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 16 '17 at 14:42

It seems that you know what sounds correct, which is a big step in the right direction.

As many in the comments have pointed out, you need to "hear" what you are going to type in your mind's ear before typing, then you will know which to use.


As others have stated, this is a matter of knowing what words you are going to say ahead of time, and hearing how it sounds before you say or write it. The general (probably well known) rule is if the first syllable after the article "a" is a vowel sound, "a" becomes "an". Note that this is about vowel SOUNDS, not vowels proper.

A few examples of how vowel versus vowel sound can be tricky:

  1. If we wait an hour or so, then it will be cooler outside.
  2. "Today, son, I am going to teach you to shear sheep; go ahead and pick a ewe."

In the first one, "hour" starts with a consonant, but it is a silent consonant, so we use "an". In the second one, "ewe" (a female sheep) is pronounced identically to the word "you", which is a consonant sound, so we use "a".

There are other similar instances of first letter not matching first syllable sound, so it's truly best not to rely on the first letter, and instead to practice thinking the words "aloud" in your head before you get to them. I would wager that most native speakers do this, and avoid difficulty with a/an thusly.

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