I'm a bit confused in regards to a and an and I hope to clear that confusion. I've the following sentence:

was incomplete or a nonaborting error occured

The "a" there is where I'm confused. Normally from what I remember it is so that "an" is only used if the next word begins with a,e,i,o,u so from what I remember "a" would be correct there but my gut tells me "an" should be there as the "a" refers to error and not nonaborting.

So my question there is am I correct there or is my gutfeeling correct and if so why?

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    You only use an when the next word (not some other word somewhere in the sentence or in the text, no, the next word, right after a/an!) begins with a vowel sound. It is all about pronunciation, and not about spelling. There is no reason to add an -n in your sentence, because nonaborting does not start with a vowel sound. – oerkelens Sep 15 '14 at 7:48
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Here's what I have been taught at school:

"an" is correct if the next word begins with a vowel sound. So, mainly a, e, i, o, or u, but not necessarily.


  • an uncle, but a union
  • a monitor, but an MNC bank (the last one is from here)

What I have also heard about: It depends on the dialect. There may be regions where "an" is commonly used, no matter how the next word begins. But of course, this has nothing to do with correct grammar.

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This rule is a really simple one. Don't twist your brain - if the word doesn't start with a vowel, you don't use "an". Period. :)

Edit: Of course, as pointed out by prior answers, the rules of when to actually use "an" are dependent of the sound of the following word. However, you indeed never use "an" in a case like the one asked for - the word starts with a consonant.

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  • Does this answer imply that "if the word (what word ? I expect you mean the word that follows a/an) starts with a vowel you use an?" Which of course would be wrong. A university j uːnɪˈvɜːsɪti/ student. An unbearable / ʌ nˈbeərəbl̩/ situation. You're confusing "letters" and "sounds". – None Sep 15 '14 at 8:34
  • You might be interested in the link provided by @snailboat :english.blogoverflow.com/2011/11/articles-a-vs-an – None Sep 15 '14 at 8:40
  • I mean the word that follows the "an", because it is the only one that influences your choice of a/an. And please read carefully - not all flowers are roses. I said if the word doesn't start with a vowel, you don't use "an". snailboat already explained what you are pointing out in the answer before (uncle/union.) – Sir Jane Sep 15 '14 at 9:13
  • I did read carefully: "if the word doesn't start with a vowel, you don't use "an", does not say anything at all about what to do when the word starts with a "vowel", which is the difficulty for learners. And you should not use "vowel" instead of "vowels sounds", they're different things. – None Sep 15 '14 at 9:18
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    There seems to be some confusion here, so I'd like to point out that when discussing language vowel is often used to mean "vowel sound" and not "vowel letter". The latter definition is useful for Wheel of Fortune but not much else. – snailcar Sep 15 '14 at 10:23

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