Grammar Tip – A or An With Abbreviations

Cassandra’s question: “When you use an abbreviation that starts with a vowel, such as UN, do you use the article “a” or “an” with it?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a common concern when it comes to using articles. Normally, you use the article “an” before words or abbreviations that start with a vowel. And you use “a” before a word that starts with consonant.


A car

A client

A B.Sc. degree

An account

An email

But you also have to take into account how a word is pronounced. The word “hour” starts with a consonant so normally you would think you have to use the article “a.” However, “hour” is pronounced as “our” — a vowel sound — not h-our. Therefore, you use “an hour.”

Correct Examples

A union meeting (Union is pronounced as you-nion — a consonant sound. Therefore, you use “a.”)

An FBI agent (FBI is pronounced EF-B-I — a vowel sound. Therefore, you use “an.”)

An NGO (NGO is pronounced as EN-G-O — a vowel sound.)

An MBA degree (MBA is pronounced as EM-B-A — a vowel sound.)

A one-week vacation (One is pronounced as won — a consonant sound.)

So to answer this week’s question, it is definitely a UN because is pronounced with a consonant sound — YOU-N.

Isn’t English fun?