Not an unusual error

There seems to be a general impression with Yahoo! staffers that the correct indefinite article before a word starting with a vowel is an, not a. Sometimes it is. But not always, as illustrated on the home page of Yahoo! Celebrity:

an uterine cel

It doesn’t matter what letter the word begins with; it matters what letter it sounds like it begins with. So, it’s an unusual rule, but a useful one.

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An L of a mistake

It’s not an elegant way to start off a sentence on yahoo.com:

fp a la

It’s also not a big deal, but it bears repeating: Choose an indefinite article based on the beginning sound of the word it precedes, and not based on the first letter. If the word (or abbreviation) sounds like it starts with a vowel (as LA does), use an, not a.

What’s wrong with an MTV award?

What’s wrong with an MTV award? Nothing. What’s wrong here on Yahoo! Celebrity is a MTV:

a mtv cel

The decision to choose a or an is based on the sound of the word that follows — not the spelling or the first letter of the word. In this case, MTV is pronounced em-tee-vee, and the initial sound is that of a vowel. Ergo, an, not a, is the correct indefinite article.

Not a one-time error

The number of errors found on the Yahoo! front page is not small. And most errors recur, like this misuse of the indefinite article an:

fp an 1000

I don’t know why the writer chose to use an instead of a. Perhaps he or she thought that because the word following (which would be one) starts with a vowel, it must be preceded with an. That would be incorrect. The choice between a and an depends on the sound of the word that follows it, not the first letter of the word. If the word sounds like it begins with a consonant, then use a, not an.

An NFL error

When do you use the indefinite articles a or an before a word? You use an before any word that starts with a vowel sound. It doesn’t have to start with a vowel; it’s the sound, not the letter, that’s important. It might be a new concept for the writers at yahoo.com who don’t realize that NFL starts with a vowel sound:

fp a nfl

It’s a historic mistake

It’s not a horrible mistake, but it’s a common one on the Yahoo! front page:

fp an historic 2

Most words beginning with H are preceded by a, not an because the H is pronounced: a head, a heart, a hand.  But some words beginning with H are preceded by an, not a because they start with a vowel sound: an hour, an honor, an honest mistake.

An elephant in the sentence

This may look like the correct indefinite article before L.K. on Yahoo! Style, but it sounds like an incorrect one:

a lk bennett style

The indefinite article an precedes a word (or a letter) that starts with a vowel sound. Thus, it’s an L.K., just as it’s an elephant.

An delightfully unconventional word

Do you recognize the objects tied around the box, below? The writer for Yahoo! DIY didn’t:

ticket stub 2

She claims they’re ticket stubs:

ticket stub 1

They are not. They are actual tickets. Ticket stubs are the part of a ticket that the buyer keeps as a receipt.

So, the writer occasionally has trouble with choosing the right word. Sometimes the result is a delightfully unconventional stumble. Sometimes the result is a mismatch of a subject (like perforation) and verb (like help). Either she meant to type perforations or she meant to type helps or she meant exactly what she typed. Which would be not so delightful.

When did this become correct?

I wouldn’t drop an F-bomb over this headline from Yahoo! Style, but I would be appalled by the writer’s ignorance:

a f-bomb style

The letter F starts with a vowel sound, so the correct indefinite article before it is an, not a.

Not a historic event

It’s hardly a historic event when the folks at the Yahoo! front page use the wrong indefinite article before words like historic, hotel, and eulogy:

fp an historic event

Use a (and not an) before a word that begins with a consonant sound, even if its first letter is a vowel.

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