A/an: university student / utopia / unilateral power[U]

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Senior Member
English- US
Why don't we say "an university student"? Why do we say "a university student"?

An underwire bra
An apple
An underprivileged boy
A university student
A unicycle ??

Is it only words that begin with "uni" that take "a" for the article ?
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    The pronunciation is based on the sound of the letter, not the letter itself. If the sound is a vowel we use "an". If the sound is a consonant we use "a".

    Sometimes "U" is pronounced the same as "you", as in "university". The initial sound is "y", which is a consonant. Any word that starts with "U" where it is pronounced with the "you" sound will use "a":


    ... and many more.
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    Senior Member
    Malaysia English
    The idea that you can try and create a/an utopia in the real world.

    Why is 'an' used with 'utopia'? I believe 'a' is the correct article but don't know why.


    << Moderator's note: I have merged this thread with an earlier thread on a related question. >>
    Last edited by a moderator:


    Senior Member
    I agree with you, Karen. I think that verbs beginning with a vowel that sounds like "y" generally take "a" rather than "an".

    Does that help?


    American English
    Articles precede nouns and adjectives, not verbs, in English. I think there have been other threads on this, but maybe only on words beginning with "h." In any case, "a" or "an" is always governed by whether the "u" has a "you" sound (an) or a "u" as in "un" sound (a).


    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    In any case, "a" or "an" is always governed by whether the "u" has a "you" sound (an) or a "u" as in "un" sound (a).
    I guess you mean the opposite.

    'u' pronounced as you => a
    otherwise => an

    By the way, James brought up the word ukulele, which is a nice example because most continental Americans pronounce it with you, hence a ukulele, but the Hawaiians I've heard speak, e.g. ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, pronounce it as oo-koo-lay-lay (traditional pronunciation) and hence say an ukulele.


    Senior Member
    English - Scotland
    << Moderator's note: This thread was added to an existing thread. >>

    Hi guys,

    Does anyone understand or know why my word document is wanting to change "an unilateral power" to "a unilateral power"? I realise that in spoken English we might just say a unilateral power because for me it seems easier to say it that way, but I would have thought in written English we would have abided by the whole a+consonant an+vowel.

    I can give context behind it but I'm purely looking for the grammar explanation (if there is one, I realise English is strange!).

    Thanks muchly,

    Chessie :)
    Last edited by a moderator:


    Senior Member
    English - AmE
    Because although unilateral begins with a vowel, it has more of a consonant sound (y as in "you").

    Thus a unilateral, a universal, a union; but an unfounded (rumor), an unwanted, an undesirable, etc.


    Senior Member
    British English
    They gave a unique performance.

    We are waiting for a European Directive to be issued.

    I stayed at an hotel (if you intend the 'h' to be silent).

    She was given an honorary degree.

    He's an honest man.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In other words: always go by the sound, not the letter. If someone is a master of ceremonies, and you use the standard abbreviation for that position, he is "an MC."


    Senior Member
    English (American)
    For what it's worth, either this rule was not always followed, or some words starting in U have changed in pronunciation over time. Thus, in the U.S. Constitution (1789), we see that Congress has the power to "establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization." I suppose it was pronounced ooniform at the time?
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