The A's and An's of Grammar

Author:
Publish date:

Q: I know “a” goes before words beginning with a consonant and “an” before words that start with a vowel. But it seems like lately it’s become fashionable in print to use “an” with any word beginning with the letter “h.” Try to say “an half an hour”: You’ll wind up with a sprained tongue! What’s the correct rule?—Tad C. Rhoden

A: It’s all about the sound of the first letter of the word following “a” or “an.” While “a” generally is used in front of consonants (a dog, a cat, a purple people-eater), every now and again, it creeps its way in front of words that begin with a “u” or “eu.” The true rule here is when the word following the article begins with a consonant sound, use “a.” For example: People gain knowledge and discipline at a university. I’m planning a European vacation in August. The “u” in “university” and “eu” in “European” make a “y” sound—a consonant sound—therefore, “a” is used.

On the flip side, “an” goes before words starting with a vowel sound (an elephant, an anteater, an obnoxious purple people-eater). Some consonants fall into this category, such as the letter “h.” When the “h” is silent—like in “hour” and “honor”—use “an”: Would you like me to bring an hors d’oeuvre? When you hear the “h,” stick with “a”: I’ll meet you in an hour and a half.

I hope that didn’t sprain your tongue too much.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Author Camille Aubray discusses her recent novel The Godmothers, including what prompted the book, why writers should write everything down, the importance of understanding the nuances of human nature, and more.

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soul Mate

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soulmate

Bestselling author Laura Munson shares how journaling lead to a breakthrough in her fiction writing and how you can use journaling to do the same.

From Script

A Fond Farewell to Netflix’s Lucifer, Writing Video Games, and Do Experts Stand in the Way of Your Writing Goals?: From Script

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, exclusive interviews with Lucifer TV writer Chris Rafferty and video game writer Ian Ryan. Plus, learn about screenwriting trailblazer France Goodrich Hacket, who co-wrote It’s a Wonderful Life, and advice on when and when not to approach a writing expert to reach your writing goals.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is misusing dialogue tags.

Poetic Forms

Boketto: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, Walter J. Wojtanik shares his relatively new form, the boketto.

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

In this article, author Paul Neilan explains how he came up with the idea for his mystery and dark comedy novel The Hollywood Spiral.

WD-Poetry-2020-WinnerGraphic

Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Author Kerry Winfrey wrote her latest romance, Very Sincerely Yours, during the 2020 pandemic to comfort herself. Here, she's explaining why that tone is important for readers.