How did your English teacher at school explain when to use ‘a’ or ‘an’?
Did they tell you that if the word after begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), then we use an, and for consonants (b, c, d, f, etc) a?
Then why do we say: a university and not an university?
Well, your English teacher wasn’t a million miles away. We use an when the following word begins with a vowel sound.
University begins with a vowel, but not a vowel sound (it’s pronounced ‘YOU-niversity’), so a university is correct. A European (‘YOUR-opean’) is another example.
The same logic applies when a words begins with a consonant, but has a vowel sound. Some examples are:
An hour (‘OUR’)
An mp3 file (‘EM-p3’)
An X-ray (‘EX-ray’)
My tip: if you’re not sure whether to use a or an, try saying it aloud with a first. If it feels like your jaw (German: Kiefer) is going to break (try saying “a egg” and you’ll see what I mean), then it’s probably correct to use an.
If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to post them in the comments section below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.