I found this sentence as a sample for the word "indispensable" in the Longman dictionary:

"Mobile phones have become an indispensable part of our lives."

(we say: ...phones have become an indispensable part ... lives)

Indeed I've always struggled deciding where to use a/an and singular nouns in sentences like this; now I'm sure that "an" is true, I, however, need someone to explain me according to which grammatical structure this sentence is correct.

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    I think your question is asking: If phones is plural, and lives is plural, why is part singular with an article? Am I right? (One person thinks you're asking "When do we use a vs an?" and another thinks you're asking, "When do we use an article, and when do we omit an article?" But I think you're asking something a bit more complex than either of those. Am I right? – J.R. Nov 19 '14 at 15:58
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    @J.R. Exactly, and please feel free to change the subject to a proper one. – mok Nov 19 '14 at 16:31

"Mobile phones have become an indispensable part of our lives."

The sentence as it is phrased is saying mobile phones as a group of things are only one of many parts or aspects of our lives, but they are a part that is indispensable. I might say "My pets are an important part of my life." so the fact that "lives" is plural isn't really relevant.

You could omit the prepositional phrase "of our lives" and the sentence would still be correct grammatically, even though it's not very enlightening. You could also replace it with a different prepositional phrase that uses a singular object, like "Mobile phones have become an indispensable part of our plan for world domination." The prepositional phrase is acting as an adjective describing part.

You would pluralize "parts" if you were talking about how something affects many different aspects of your life or the way you live, for example, "Almost all parts of my life have been changed by technology."

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  • Thanks, your answer really makes sense "..group..", however, I didn't realize why "lives" is irrelevant. I'd appreciate it if you explain more. – mok Nov 19 '14 at 19:34
  • It is a little tricky. Phones are a part of something. That something could be singular, like "phones are part of a plan" or that something could be plural, like "phones are a part of all plans". – ColleenV Nov 19 '14 at 20:27
  • @mok I neglected to tag you in my comment. I've added some elaboration to my answer. Does it help? – ColleenV Nov 19 '14 at 20:57

"a" is used before singular nouns that begin with consonants or letters that sound like consonants.
e.g, A book . A university.
"an" is used before singular nouns that begin with vowels or letters that sound like vowels.
e.g. An umbrella. An hour.

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