A/an: European/Eunich/Unicorn

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Jacobtm, Jun 3, 2009.

  1. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    As I'm sure is the case with many native English speakers, I have not a clue how to properly speak English.

    Why does it seem more natural with words, such as European, Eunich, Unicorn, and anything with that particular "u" sound, to use "a" instead of "an"?

    Is this a legitimate rule of English that's been around for a while, or something that's de facto come about because "an European" sounds much worse than "A European"? Also, is it just with that "u" sound, or are there more exceptions I'm not thinking about? I've heard sources argue either way on "An historical event" and "A historical event".

  2. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    We say "an" when the sound that follows is a vowel sound and "a" when the sound that follows is a consonant sound. The rule is consistent, as far as I know. The "u" sound in the words you've given are pronounced in the same way that "You" is pronounced, so the initial sound is that of a consonant.

    Here are some other words that demonstrate the difference between spelling and sound:

    an honest person (pronounced an on-est person)
    an X-ray (pronounced an ex-ray)
    an M & M (pronounced an em-and-em)
  3. The rule for using a or an is based on whether the first spoken sound of the following word (not the first written letter) is a consonant or a vowel.

    European, eunuch* and unicorn all begin with the sound Yoo, of which the first letter is the consonant Y. In speech, consonants are almost always preceded by a, not an. The only exception is H, which is often preceded by an, although there is a lot of argument about whether that is just an affectation nowadays.

    Therefore it should be a European, a eunuch and a unicorn.

    *Not eunich
  4. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Notice how the change in sound changes the article:

    A uniform
    An ugly uniform
    A useful, ugly uniform
    An unusually useful, ugly uniform.

    A Federal Bureau of Investigation employee
    An FBI employee (because the first syllable of the acronym is pronounced "eff")
  5. cycloneviv

    cycloneviv Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    English - Australia
  6. Nicka88 Member

    Spanish - Spain
    And when is a or an stressed?. Because if so, their pronunciations change, right?
    Is there any rule to explain this?, thanks in advance.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  7. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    Certainly not for "an;" there's only one pronunciation of that word I'm aware of.

    Some people in some situations will say "a" with the long sound when it's emphasized: "I said A cracker, not twelve!" It would then take on the "ay" pronunciation, as if you were saying the name of the letter. It's by no means universal, though.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  8. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
  9. Nicka88 Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Thanks both, ... Many dictionaries write about different pronunciations for both a and an, for instance, the following one:

    2 [eɪ ə] INDEF ART (an (before vowel or silent h)) [æn ən n]

    Also, I have heard many people pronunciating them with differently, but cannot get to know when are a/an stressed and when they are not. Maybe it doesn't exist any rules on this..? or as Pob14 commented it is just a question to remark that you are talking about the single unit of something,.. But for example, once I heard this sentence from a half NewYorker half Londoner speaker (an actor and a debating master), he said something like this: There is a [ei] car parked downstairs. (I just can't ask him why,jjj could be interesting if I could ;D)

    Otherwise, thanks Ewie,I have just read the entire thread you mentioned, but I cannot find there the answer I was looking for, thanks anyway. What I've found out is that there is some kind of argue about this issue.. maybe it is not clear for natives either, after all. Thanks anyway.;)

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