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In the following example, is it appropriate to use a or an as the indefinite article, and why?

He ate __ green apple.

I know that in the case of just "apple", it would be "an apple," but I've heard conflicting answers for "green apple," where the noun is separated from the article by an adjective.

Also, which is more appropriate in this case:

He ate __ enormous Pop-Tart.

2 Answers

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The use of "a" or "an" depends on the sound that follows the article, not necessarily the spelling.

Use "a" before words that begin with a consonant sound. For example:

"I saw a cat."
"She bought a car."
"He is wearing a hat."

Use "an" before words that begin with a vowel sound. For example:

"She is an actress."
"He has an hour."
"I ate an apple."

Note that it's the sound that matters, not the actual letter. For example, even if a word starts with a vowel, if it has a consonant sound, you would use "a." For instance:

"She is a university student." (The "u" in "university" sounds like "yoo," which is a consonant sound.)

It's also important to consider the pronunciation in context. For example, you would say "an hour" because the "h" in "hour" is silent, so it begins with a vowel sound. On the other hand, you would say "a history book" because the "h" in "history" is pronounced, so it begins with a consonant sound.

In summary, use "a" before words with a consonant sound and "an" before words with a vowel sound.

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The question of "a" vs "an" is always decided by the pronunciation of the word that follows the article. Thus, various geographical regions that have different pronunciation rules may use a different article for the same word.

Words that begin with a vowel sound, such as "apple", "egg", or "hour" are preceded by "an".

All other words, such as "cake", "pie", and "user" (which begins with a y sound), are preceded by "a".

Except The rules before "h" are a little tricky, but clear: if a word begins with an "h" sound and the first syllable is stressed (like "house"), then it never takes "an". If the first syllable is not stressed (like "historical") then it is possible to use "an". Some usage authorities would say you must use "an" in those cases, but Nohat is not one of those authorities. You find both "a" and "an" used before words like "historical".

So to answer your actual question:

He ate a green apple.
He ate an enormous Pop-Tart.

"Green" does not begin with a vowel sound, so we use "a".
"Enormous", on the other hand, does begin with a vowel sound, so we use "an".

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