Cornelia P from Plauen asks
I know to use ‘an’ before a vowel and ‘a’ before a consonant, but what do I use when the consonant is silent, such as in ‘honour’, or when a vowel sounds like a consonant, like in ‘university’?
The key to whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ before a word is the sound, not the letter. You write ‘a’ before hotel but ‘an’ before ‘honest’:
- I have booked a hotel near the airport.
- She was always an honest person.
The same applies to words beginning with a vowel. You usually use ‘an’ before a vowel.
- There is an unusual smell in the office kitchen.
- I have an English colleague.
But if the vowel sounds like a consonant, you use ‘a’:
- I work at a university on the east coast.
- We are developing a European product line.
Finally, you use ‘an’ or ‘a’ before words beginning with X:
- She works for an X-ray company.
- We do most of our own printing on a Xerox machine.