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.


An L of a mistake

It’s not an elegant way to start off a sentence on

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.

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 who don’t realize that NFL starts with a vowel sound:

fp a nfl

That’s an F-bomb

I almost dropped an F-bomb when I read this on Yahoo! Style:

a f-bomb sty

The indefinite article you put before a noun doesn’t depend on the letter that noun starts with, but on the sound it starts with. In this case, it starts with an F, which sounds like a vowel, so the correct word is an, not a.

It’s an American thing

Where the heck was this written? It’s on the Yahoo! front page, but it doesn’t look like it was written by anyone familiar with American sports or pronunciation:

fp an homerun

Unless the writer is referring to the Singaporean film “Homerun,” that should be home run. And unless the writer pronounces it omerun, that indefinite article should a, not an.

Please tell me that’s a typo

This must be a typo, right? No one thinks that the correct indefinite article before generous is an, right?

fp an gen

A little mistake like that would go unnoticed except when it’s the first word of a teaser on the Yahoo! front page. Then, it’s just embarrassing.

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.

%d bloggers like this: