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My teacher reviewed an exercise, and corrected something I didn't understand.

This is a piece of what I wrote:

It took some time until they could reach an agreement, but it finally...

It made sense to use an since agreement starts with a vowel.

My teacher, however, gave me this feedback:

Article: You said "...reach an agreement..." You should say "...reach a agreement..." because indefinite article, "an" is used before a vowel sound, "a" otherwise, so I changed a word 'an' to 'a'. e.g., "It took some time until they could reach a agreement..."

So I'm confused. Why should I use a rather than an in this case?


Unfortunately this is an online course and a random teacher is designated to review, thus I can't talk back to my teacher and ask (which is unfortunate).

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Feb 28 '18 at 10:06

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • 24
    Amen to Rupert Morrish's answer. "A agreement" is wrong. Should be "an agreement". Other words may act different, such as "After an hour, a unique agreement enabled a union". (That has three examples of ignoring the first letter of the word.) As Rupert indicated, the reason is based on how the word sounds, and not how it is spelled. – TOOGAM Feb 27 '18 at 5:57
  • 11
    Even if you can't provide feedback to the specific teacher, there should be a means of providing feedback to the online course, which in this case would be "This feedbck from the teacher [citation] is nonsense. 'agreement' starts with a vowel sound." – T.J. Crowder Feb 27 '18 at 8:06
  • 19
    I am most curious to learn how this teacher pronounces agreement so that it doesn't start with a vowel. More likely though it was just one of those moments of brain fuzziness that can affect us all. – Jon Hanna Feb 27 '18 at 11:09
  • 3
    @T.J.Crowder I forgot to mention. We can provide a feedback of the exercise and add a comment, which indeed I did after you all helped me. But I'm not sure if the teacher receives it back, because in other exercises I added a comment with questions regarding the review, and I didn't get any reply. But thanks to you all I could be sure I'm not misunderstanding things, I thought "a agreement" could be possible an exception to the rule. – Alisson Feb 27 '18 at 11:18
  • 10
    I love StackExchange questions that prove a teacher wrong :-) – Bad_Bishop Feb 27 '18 at 12:24
111

You are right and your teacher is wrong. "agreement" does indeed begin with a vowel sound, and "an" is the appropriate article.

  • 16
    I feel it's worth adding the reason this rule is applied, is not because of some arbitrary grammatical history - but because it's extremely hard to actually say "a agreement" instead of "an agreement". – Bilkokuya Feb 27 '18 at 10:57
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    @Bilkokuya of course there still is some history, as there always is. And the origin is almost the opposite in that English use to have the word an as the only indefinite article, but people tended to drop the consonant sound from it before consonants. – Jon Hanna Feb 27 '18 at 11:12
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    Being around non-native English speakers all the time, I would like to add that it's important to distinguish between vowel sounds and vowel letters which are typically given as A, E, I, O, U, (Y) in English. The following examples show that relying only on the first letter of the word is not sufficient to make the "a" / "an" distinction: an urn, a uniform, a hint, an hour. – ValarDohaeris Feb 27 '18 at 13:10
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    @Alisson In "uniform" and "unique", the first sound is like a consonant Y ["you-ni-form", "you-neek"]. Yes, "Y" is itself sometimes considered a vowel, when it is used to sound like a long "e" or "i", but in words like "you" or "yurt" it is treated as a consonant. Thus, the same consonant sound at the beginning of "unique" and "uniform" is preceded by "a", much as one might speak of "a yurt" or "a yoghurt cup". As Bilkokuya indicates with an above comment, the sound is what dictates the use of "a/an" rather than the written letter of the alphabet. – Darren Ringer Feb 27 '18 at 14:37
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    Ah, and I forgot to add my favorite example: a SQL database, an SQL database. Both are correct, depending on how you pronounce SQL: S-Q-L or "sequel". – ValarDohaeris Feb 27 '18 at 14:50
10

To say 'a agreement' is incorrect! The right phrase is 'an agreement'. The use of an indefinite article does not just have to do with whether or not a word begins with a vowel or consonant orthographically. It has to do with the phonological sound. For instance, it is correct to say, 'a European' and not 'an European' because the sound that begins the word 'European' is a consonant. So, it is not 'a agreement' but 'an agreement'.

Read more: https://akademia.com.ng/what-is-an-article-types-examples/

  • 4
    The problem here is the teacher. – user070221 Feb 27 '18 at 14:43
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    And even if it were due to orthographic consonant/vowel, the teacher would still be wrong. – fluffy Feb 28 '18 at 6:06

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