Hey there! This is TOP episode 116: Uses Of ‘A’ and ‘An’ You Need To Know

My name’s Ola and I am an English teacher. My goal is to help you start speaking English with confidence and get rid of speaking barriers. It’s time you started speaking English fearlessly! I’ve been there. I was unable to speak English for many reasons that now I call a language blockade. Today I teach people like you how to speak English with confidence. Go to my website for full transcripts and worksheets to each episode. Happy learning! 

Hello, welcome, or welcome back to Teacher Ola Podcast. Today we are going to discuss the nuances of indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’. I’ll give you nine situations, nine occasions on which you should add ‘a’ or ‘an’. There’s an episode about 18 uses of the definite article ‘the’, it’s episode 112. Just to let you know. 

Before we get to it, please let me thank you for tuning in and also ask you to share this episode with someone who might need it. 

Until the second week of November 2021 I run live lessons on Sundays at 8 pm on my Facebook and Instagram. During those live lessons we analyse vocabulary from a Netflix series ‘Sex Education’. I would love to see you there next Sunday so please join us.  

After listening go to teacherola.com/116 and grab the worksheet. It’s an extension to this lesson, gives you a chance to check your understanding while translating sentences into English. 

Now. Let’s see what are those eight uses of ‘a’ and ‘an’.

Indefinite articles modify nouns which are not specific to us. Indefinite means ‘not specific’. Before we get into the nitty gritty of this let’s see the difference between ‘a’ and ‘an’.

We use ‘a’ before a consonant sound. A cat, a house, a film. Note that what matters here is the sound. A consonant sound, not necessarily a consonant letter. If you see a vowel letter, like ‘u’, but you know that this word starts with a consonant sound, like university, it’s not an university. That would sound odd. We seek smooth connections, linking between words. A u. a uni. A university. That’s smooth. No sharp breaks between words. A uni, a uni. A european car. A Union. A Unit. 

We use ‘an’ before a vowel sound. An orange, an elephant, an umbrella. Otherwise it would really be uncomfortable. Listen to this: a orange, a umbrella, a elephant. It Sounds horrible, it’s sharp, broken and just just sick! It’s madness! Again. The vowel sound is important here, not the spelling. See this example: an hour. See? ‘H’ is a consonant sound, but it’s silent, it’s not pronounced. An hour. An honest mistake. An hourglass. An honour. 

Additionally. We don’t look at the noun at all times. I’ve seen an excellent film. The adjective starts with a vowel sound  and that’s what we need to link and make smooth. An excellent. It doesn’t matter what sound the noun begins with. To summarise, the choice of ‘a’ or ‘an’ depends on the sound at the beginning of the word directly after the article. That’s what determines our choice .

When do we use indefinite articles? First of all. We use them before singular countable nouns. A shoe. An orange. But: I’ve got new shoes. I hate oranges. These are plural nouns. Shoes, oranges. I cooked soup. Not a soup, soup is uncountable. 

Two. I’ve just seen a cat. This is the first time I have mentioned a cat. It’s not a specific cat for the listener, for you. If I continue the story you’ll know what cat I’m talking about. Hence, the cat was black. 

Three. Not a specific one. One of many, any, on. I bought a dress. I bought one dress. ‘A’ means ‘one’. Which one? It doesn’t matter which one. I just bought one dress out of millions of dresses on this planet. 

Can I have a sandwich? I don’t care what sandwich, I’m hungry. Give me a sandwich please. One of all those sandwiches you have. 

Four. Jobs. We use indefinite articles for jobs. She’s an accountant. 

Five. We also use it to show that the person or thing is one of a group. She was a student at Princeton University. 

Six. Use a or ‘an’ with nationalities and religions in the singular. In fact, members of religious groups as well as citizens represent a group. I like to make specific examples so that they are easier to memorise. An English woman lives next door to us. A Greek won the race. A Mexican named Frida Kahlo was an extraordinary artist. A Catholic, a Protestant,  a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew. 

Seven. Phrases of frequency. A day/a week/a month. I go to work five days a week. I drink coffee twice a day. Also, it costs 20 euro a kilo. 

Eight. Exclamations. Use them to show surprise, or other strong emotions. What a beautiful car! What a coincidence! What a surprise! But, what luck! Luck is uncountable, we can’t put ‘a’ before it. What a stupid idea! What stupid advice! Stupid is uncoundable, the same applies. 

Nine. Use ‘a’ with the names of days of the week when not referring to any particular day. I’m not sure when we can meet exactly, but I do know it must be a Friday. My birthday falls on a Wednesday this year.

Let us practice now. Listen and repeat the sentences out loud. If this is your first time here, and you have no idea what’s going on and why you should repeat those sentences, listen. This is what we do here in order to train your brain, your mouth, your muscles, your mind, your whole ‘you’ that you speak English and you’re more and more fluent with every sentence. Keep up! If you wish to learn more details, go to episode 9. It’s about a self-talk. Additionally, I’d love  you to tune in to episode 76. 

It gives you a clear blueprint on how to use this podcast and improve the learning process. Buy a notebook and do this for ten minutes a day, episode 76. Now, let’s practice. Listen and repeat:

They bought a European car. 

I’ll see you in half an hour. 

I’ve made an honest mistake.

It’s been an honour. 

I’ve seen an excellent film.

I cooked soup.

I’ve just seen a cat.

I bought a dress.

Can I have a sandwich?

She’s an accountant.

A Mexican named Frida Kahlo was an extraordinary artist.

I drink coffee twice a day.

It costs 20 euro a kilo.

What a coincidence! 

What a surprise!

What luck! 

What stupid advice! 

I’m not sure when we can meet exactly, but I do know it must be a Friday. 

Good work! I hope this episode will help. Thank you so much for being here. Don’t forget to grab the worksheet, that’s your homework. If you’re not a member, download the worksheet at teacherola.com/116 and become one. It’s free. It’s worth subscribing because in my emails I give you exclusive content and worksheets every week.

I’ll see you here next Wednesday. Come here next week, and see what to do if you’re bored learning English. Happy learning. Take care! Stay fearless and say it out loud. Bye!