I've recently noticed that I keep writing "an 1973 coin", and similarly for all the other dates that start with 1 (e.g. "an 1639 coin").
This does not only apply to coins, obviously, it's just the most common context (in my writing, at least) where an indefinite article comes immediately before a digit numeral. It also does not apply to dates starting with 2 (so "a 2015 coin").
(What's the correct word here for "digit numeral", incidentally?)

It sounds correct in my mind, but I suspect that I might be mentally sounding out digit numerals in my native language (or a form of it) rather than English, and apply the articles based on that.
Can that actually happen, what should I do to prevent it, and what is the correct English form (so that, if needed, I could apply it manually)?

  • The basic rule for using a vs an is not so much whether a number or consonant follows, but the sound that follows here. In your case: a 1972 coin since it is pronounced "nineteen seventy two". digit numeral = number – Peter Jan 20 '16 at 13:46
  • see rules for pronunciation of years in English. You should use a if the following sound is a vowel sound, and an if it's a consonant sound. – CowperKettle Jan 20 '16 at 13:50
  • I know when to use the articles, it's the "what the next sound" part I have trouble with: I suspect I'm sounding out the numbers in my native language when they're not spelled out directly. – January First-of-May Jan 20 '16 at 13:52
  • @FumbleFingers - I don't believe it's a duplicate, January just wants to know how exactly English-speaking people "imagine the pronunciation" of years then they see year numbers. P.S. I wonder how they imagine the pronunciation of years below year 1000. // "I suspect I'm sounding out the numbers in my native language when they're not spelled out directly." - then you just need to train a little in pronouncing year numbers in the English way. In Russian, we pronounce "two thousand sixteen", for instance, and it takes time to learn the English way. – CowperKettle Jan 20 '16 at 13:53
  • 1
    Whether you pronounce 1973 as "nineteen seventy-three", as most English speakers would, as "one thousand nine hundred seventy-three", or as "one nine seven three", in all cases it starts with a consonant sound, so you should use "a". Possibly ambiguous with a year like "1132", where most Americans would pronounce it "eleven thirty-two", thus calling for "an", but someone could pronounce it "one thousand one hundred thirty-two". – Jay Jan 20 '16 at 20:07

The choice of a or an is simply based on the pronunciation of the number, as it would be for any other word, and whether the number, as you read it, begins with a consonant sound or a vowel sound. So it would be, for example,

  • a nineteen-seventy-three coin, or
  • an eighteen-sixty coin

and in general,

  • a ten
  • an eleven
  • a twelve
  • a thirteen
  • a fourteen
  • a fifteen
  • a sixteen
  • a seventeen
  • an eighteen
  • a nineteen

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