There is a bizarre urban legend of sorts that you're "supposed to" use "an" if the head noun in the noun phrase it determines begins with a vowel sound, rather than the first word in the noun phrase, giving rise to claims that "an green apple" is somehow "technically" correct. Here is a blog post of someone who seems to have gotten this idea. And here is the discussion on Language Log about that blog post.
In any case, the rule is that you use "an" if the next word begins with a vowel sound. Vowel sound is crucial here because many words that begin with vowel letters do not begin with vowel sounds e. This makes it a kind of sandhi rule for "intrusive N" in English for indefinite articles, avoiding hiatus between the article and the following word. As said, an before vowels and a otherwise. This begins to explain why a won't work before vowels as well as why it is an before consonants.
Finally, it's interesting to know that this was a source of great debate for many years. A lot of people argued that this was anything but phonologically determined, wasting a ton of time and effort.
Pay attention to phonology! Have you really heard conflicting answers? I'm not aware of any controversy amongst native speakers on this issue. Personally, I'm quite happy with waiwai's answer and many of the other points made here. However, one point not really addressed so far is why this rule is so. The answer is fairly simple. For native english speakers, it's easier to physically say 'an apple' rather than 'a apple', 'an hour' rather than 'a hour'. I'm sure speech therapists can explain technically in terms of phonation and resonance, but it's not my area of expertise.
It's understandable therefore, that some non-native English speakers might be puzzled - since their vocal chords may be trained differently. Both rules operate for the same reason: they make it easier to pronounce and understand an article as distinct from the NP following it. If you do either article the wrong way, they will get lost in speech, which will make things harder to understand.
Language is most easily spoken and listened to when there is an alternating pattern between consonants and vowels. It's very easy for the ear to distinguish between vowels and consonants, but not so easy when they are clumped together. To maintain this pattern while using an indefinite article, it's necessary to insert a consonant n between two vowel sounds or remove the n between a vowel and consonant, whichever way you prefer to view it.
An apple is easier to speak and hear than a apple. A bear is easier to speak and hear than an bear. Some regional dialects actually do not pronounce their "h", such as British English. In those regions, it's easier to speak and hear "an historic event" than "a historic event". The choice between a and an for the indefinite article is always based on how the beginning of the very next word in the noun phrase is pronounced. The grammatical role of that word in the noun phrase is irrelevant.
Spelling is also completely irrelevant, except insofar as it relates to the pronunciation. Since there are a lot of cases where English spelling does not relate to the pronunciation in a straightforward way, spelling is an unreliable guide to the use of a vs.
There are many good online dictionaries available for free; you can see a list of some of them at the following post: What good reference works on English are available? Fortunately, there is a very simple rule that you can follow that will never lead you astray, as long as you keep in mind the very important fact that it is based purely on pronunciation and never based on spelling.
In modern standard English, both written and spoken, we use a before words that start with consonant sounds when they are transcribed phonemically, and an before words that start with vowel sounds when they are transcribed phonemically.
As I've already said, this has nothing to do with ordinary English spelling. You need to use your ears, or look at a phonemic transcription of the word most of these are based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. Some of the letters used in the transcription many be unfamiliar to you.
If you've chosen to use a dictionary that uses a different system from the IPA, then you should look to see if it has a table of the sounds used in its transcription system where they are classified as consonants and vowels. So we say "a wing" and "a year. As I said earlier, following the main standard rule is always acceptable. However, there is a set of words where it has often been considered acceptable, but optional, to follow a different rule. That is, both "a historical" and "an historical" are generally considered acceptable although specific individuals may have more restrictive judgements.
For more on this, see the answers to Why we say "an historical" but "a history" and When should I use "a" versus "an" in front of a word beginning with the letter h? It is possible to find historical examples of "an history"; for more on this, see below. Words that are spelled with the letter "h", but pronounced starting with a vowel sound are always used with the article "an", in accordance with the main rule covered earlier in this answer.
So only "an" can be used in "an hour" and "an honest effort". Sometimes, you might hear people use "a" before a word that starts with a vowel sound, with a glottal stop in between the two vowel sounds.
However, this is not standard, and is only common for some speakers. For other speakers, it might only occur as an occasional disfluency. In writing, the use of "a" before a word that starts with a vowel sound may reflect this phenomenon, but is often just an error resulting from edits that change word order or word choice. See 1 Peter , 1 Peter , and the notes there.
As the writer of this epistle asserts that he was on the holy mount with Christ when he was transfigured, he must be either Peter, James, or John, for there was no other person present on that occasion except Moses and Elijah, in their glorious bodies. The epistle was never attributed to James nor John; but the uninterrupted current, where its Divine inspiration was granted, gave it to Peter alone.
See the preface. It is not unfrequent for the writers of the New Testament to draw a comparison between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations; and the comparison generally shows that, glorious as the former was, it had no glory in comparison of the glory that excelleth. Peter seems to touch here on the same point; the Mosaic dispensation, with all the light of prophecy by which it was illustrated, was only as a lamp shining in a dark place.
There is a propriety and delicacy in this image that are not generally noticed: a lamp in the dark gives but a very small portion of light, and only to those who are very near to it; yet it always gives light enough to make itself visible, even at a great distance; though it enlightens not the space between it and the beholder, it is still literally the lamp shining in a dark place.
Such was the Mosaic dispensation; it gave a little light to the Jews, but shone not to the Gentile world, any farther than to make itself visible. This is compared with the Gospel under the emblem of daybreak, and the rising of the sun. When the sun is even eighteen degrees below the horizon daybreak commences, as the rays of light begin then to diffuse themselves in our atmosphere, by which they are reflected upon the earth. By this means a whole hemisphere is enlightened, though but in a partial degree; yet this increasing every moment, as the sun approaches the horizon, prepares for the full manifestation of his resplendent orb: so the ministry of John Baptist, and the initiatory ministry of Christ himself, prepared the primitive believers for his full manifestation on the day of pentecost and afterwards.
Here the sun rose in his strength, bringing light, heat, and life to all the inhabitants of the earth. So far, then, as a lantern carried in a dark night differs from and is inferior to the beneficial effects of daybreak, and the full light and heat of a meridian sun; so far was the Mosaic dispensation, in its beneficial effects, inferior to the Christian dispensation.
Perhaps there is scarcely any point of view in which we can consider prophecy which is so satisfactory and conclusive as that which is here stated; that is, far from inventing the subject of their own predictions, the ancient prophets did not even know the meaning of what themselves wrote. There is no god but He: of a surety He will gather you together against the Day of Judgment, about which there is no doubt.
And whose word can be truer than Allah. Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their evil deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way. They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing as they : But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah From what is forbidden.
But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and in any case take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-. Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty of peace , or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people.
If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and instead send you Guarantees of peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you to war against them.
Others you will find that wish to gain your confidence as well as that of their people: Every time they are sent back to temptation, they succumb thereto: if they withdraw not from you nor give you guarantees of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and slay them wherever ye get them: In their case We have provided you with a clear argument against them.
Never should a believer kill a believer; but If it so happens by mistake, Compensation is due : If one so kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave Is enough.
If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, is prescribed a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Allah. If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein For ever : And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.
When ye go abroad in the cause of Allah, investigate carefully, and say not to any one who offers you a salutation: "Thou art none of a believer! Even thus were ye yourselves before, till Allah conferred on you His favours: Therefore carefully investigate. For Allah is well aware of all that ye do. Not equal are those believers who sit at home and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit at home.
Unto all in Faith Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit at home by a special reward,-. Ranks specially bestowed by Him, and Forgiveness and Mercy. For Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: "In what plight Were ye? Except those who are really weak and oppressed - men, women, and children - who have no means in their power, nor a guide-post to their way.
For these, there is hope that Allah will forgive: For Allah doth blot out sins and forgive again and again. He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth Many a refuge, wide and spacious: Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah.
When ye travel through the earth, there is no blame on you if ye shorten your prayers, for fear the Unbelievers May attack you: For the Unbelievers are unto you open enemies.
When thou O Messenger. And let the other party come up which hath not yet prayed - and let them pray with thee, Taking all precaution, and bearing arms: the Unbelievers wish, if ye were negligent of your arms and your baggage, to assault you in a single rush.
But there is no blame on you if ye put away your arms because of the inconvenience of rain or because ye are ill; but take every precaution for yourselves. For the Unbelievers Allah hath prepared a humiliating punishment. When ye pass Congregational prayers, celebrate Allah. And slacken not in following up the enemy: If ye are suffering hardships, they are suffering similar hardships; but ye have Hope from Allah, while they have none.
And Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. We have sent down to thee the Book in truth, that thou mightest judge between men, as guided by Allah. But seek the forgiveness of Allah. Contend not on behalf of such as betray their own souls; for Allah loveth not one given to perfidy and crime:. They may hide Their crimes from men, but they cannot hide Them from Allah, seeing that He is in their midst when they plot by night, in words that He cannot approve: And Allah Doth compass round all that they do.
These are the sort of men on whose behalf ye may contend in this world; but who will contend with Allah on their behalf on the Day of Judgment, or who will carry their affairs through? If any one does evil or wrongs his own soul but afterwards seeks Allah. And if any one earns sin. But if any one earns a fault or a sin and throws it on to one that is innocent, He carries on himself Both a falsehood and a flagrant sin. But for the Grace of Allah to thee and his Mercy, a party of them would certainly have plotted to lead thee astray.
But in fact they will only Lead their own souls astray, and to thee they can do no harm in the least. For Allah hath sent down to thee the Book and wisdom and taught thee what thou Knewest not before : And great is the Grace of Allah unto thee.
In most of their secret talks there is no good: But if one exhorts to a deed of charity or justice or conciliation between men, Secrecy is permissible : To him who does this, seeking the good pleasure of Allah, We shall soon give a reward of the highest value.
If anyone contends with the Messenger even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that becoming to men of Faith, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell,- what an evil refuge! Allah forgiveth not The sin of joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this: one who joins other gods with Allah, Hath strayed far, far away from the right.
The Pagans , leaving Him, call but upon female deities: They call but upon satan the persistent rebel! Allah did curse him, but he said: "I will take of Thy servants a portion Marked off;. Satan makes them promises, and creates in them false desires; but satan's promises are nothing but deception. They his dupes will have their dwelling in Hell, and from it they will find no way of escape. But those who believe and do deeds of righteousness,- we shall soon admit them to gardens, with rivers flowing beneath,-to dwell therein for ever.
Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book can prevail : whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides Allah, any protector or helper. If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them. Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in Faith?
For Allah did take Abraham for a friend. But to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: And He it is that Encompasseth all things. They ask thy instruction concerning the women say: Allah doth instruct you about them: And remember what hath been rehearsed unto you in the Book, concerning the orphans of women to whom ye give not the portions prescribed, and yet whom ye desire to marry, as also concerning the children who are weak and oppressed: that ye stand firm for justice to orphans.
There is not a good deed which ye do, but Allah is well-acquainted therewith. If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed.
But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away from a woman altogether, so as to leave her as it were hanging in the air.
If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self- restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. But if they disagree and must part , Allah will provide abundance for all from His all-reaching bounty: for Allah is He that careth for all and is Wise. To Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth. Verily we have directed the People of the Book before you, and you o Muslims to fear Allah. But if ye deny Him, lo!
Yea, unto Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth, and enough is Allah to carry through all affairs. If it were His will, He could destroy you, o mankind, and create another race; for He hath power this to do. If any one desires a reward in this life, in Allah. Follow not the lusts of your hearts , lest ye swerve, and if ye distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do. Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and the scripture which He hath sent to His Messenger and the scripture which He sent to those before him.
Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe again and again reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way. To the Hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them but a grievous penalty;-. Yea, to those who take for friends unbelievers rather than believers: is it honour they seek among them? Nay,- all honour is with Allah. Already has He sent you Word in the Book, that when ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if ye did, ye would be like them.
For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith - all in Hell These are the ones who wait and watch about you: if ye do gain a victory from Allah, they say: "Were we not with you? And never will Allah grant to the unbelievers a way to triumphs over the believers. The Hypocrites - they think they are over-reaching Allah, but He will over- reach them: When they stand up to prayer, they stand without earnestness, to be seen of men, but little do they hold Allah in remembrance;.
They are distracted in mind even in the midst of it,- being sincerely for neither one group nor for another whom Allah leaves straying,- never wilt thou find for him the way.
Take not for friends unbelievers rather than believers: Do ye wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves? The Hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire: no helper wilt thou find for them;-. Except for those who repent, mend their lives hold fast to Allah, and purify their religion as in Allah.
And soon will Allah grant to the believers a reward of immense value. What can Allah gain by your punishment, if ye are grateful and ye believe? Nay, it is Allah that recogniseth all good , and knoweth all things. Allah loveth not that evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice hath been done; for Allah is He who heareth and knoweth all things. Whether ye publish a good deed or conceal it or cover evil with pardon, verily Allah doth blot out sins and hath power in the judgment of values.
Those who deny Allah and His apostles, and those who wish to separate Allah from His apostles, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": And those who wish to take a course midway,-. They are in truth equally unbelievers; and we have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment. And recite and teach what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him.
And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; no obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds. Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject it : for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose smoke and flames , like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink!
How uncomfortable a couch to recline on! As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a single righteous deed.
For them will be Gardens of Eternity; beneath them rivers will flow; they will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade: They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good the recompense! How beautiful a couch to recline on! Set forth to them the parable of two men: for one of them We provided two gardens of grape-vines and surrounded them with date palms; in between the two We placed corn-fields. Each of those gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein: in the midst of them We caused a river to flow.
Abundant was the produce this man had : he said to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument: "more wealth have I than you, and more honour and power in my following of men.
He went into his garden in a state of mind unjust to his soul: He said, "I deem not that this will ever perish,. His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him: "Dost thou deny Him Who created thee out of dust, then out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned thee into a man?
There is no power but with Allah. So his fruits and enjoyment were encompassed with ruin , and he remained twisting and turning his hands over what he had spent on his property, which had now tumbled to pieces to its very foundations, and he could only say, "Woe is me! Would I had never ascribed partners to my Lord and Cherisher! Nor had he numbers to help him against Allah, nor was he able to deliver himself.
There, the only protection comes from Allah, the True One. He is the Best to reward, and the Best to give success. Set forth to them the similitude of the life of this world: It is like the rain which we send down from the skies: the earth's vegetation absorbs it, but soon it becomes dry stubble, which the winds do scatter: it is only Allah who prevails over all things. Wealth and sons are allurements of the life of this world: But the things that endure, good deeds, are best in the sight of thy Lord, as rewards, and best as the foundation for hopes.
One Day We shall remove the mountains, and thou wilt see the earth as a level stretch, and We shall gather them, all together, nor shall We leave out any one of them. And they will be marshalled before thy Lord in ranks, with the announcement , "Now have ye come to Us bare as We created you first: aye, ye thought We shall not fulfil the appointment made to you to meet Us! And the Book of Deeds will be placed before you ; and thou wilt see the sinful in great terror because of what is recorded therein; they will say, "Ah!
It leaves out nothing small or great, but takes account thereof! We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam": They bowed down except Iblis.
He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! I called them not to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth, nor even their own creation: nor is it for helpers such as Me to take as lead men astray!
One Day He will say, "Call on those whom ye thought to be My partners," and they will call on them, but they will not listen to them; and We shall make for them a place of common perdition. And the Sinful shall see the fire and apprehend that they have to fall therein: no means will they find to turn away therefrom. We have explained in detail in this Qur'an, for the benefit of mankind, every kind of similitude: but man is, in most things, contentious. And what is there to keep back men from believing, now that Guidance has come to them, nor from praying for forgiveness from their Lord, but that they ask that the ways of the ancients be repeated with them, or the Wrath be brought to them face to face?
We only send the apostles to give Glad Tidings and to give warnings: But the unbelievers dispute with vain argument, in order therewith to weaken the truth, and they treat My Signs as a jest, as also the fact that they are warned! And who doth more wrong than one who is reminded of the Signs of his Lord, but turns away from them, forgetting the deeds which his hands have sent forth?
Verily We have set veils over their hearts lest they should understand this, and over their ears, deafness, if thou callest them to guidance, even then will they never accept guidance. But your Lord is Most forgiving, full of Mercy.
If He were to call them at once to account for what they have earned, then surely He would have earned, then surely He would have hastened their punishment: but they have their appointed time, beyond which they will find no refuge.
Such were the populations we destroyed when they committed iniquities; but we fixed an appointed time for their destruction. Behold, Moses said to his attendant, "I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or until I spend years and years in travel. But when they reached the Junction, they forgot about their Fish, which took its course through the sea straight as in a tunnel. When they had passed on some distance , Moses said to his attendant: "Bring us our early meal; truly we have suffered much fatigue at this stage of our journey.
He replied: "Sawest thou what happened when we betook ourselves to the rock? I did indeed forget about the Fish: none but Satan made me forget to tell you about it: it took its course through the sea in a marvellous way! Moses said: "That was what we were seeking after:" So they went back on their footsteps, following the path they had come.
So they found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence. Moses said to him: "May I follow thee, on the footing that thou teach me something of the Higher Truth which thou hast been taught? The other said: "Verily thou wilt not be able to have patience with me! Moses said: "Thou wilt find me, if Allah so will, truly patient: nor shall I disobey thee in aught.
The other said: "If then thou wouldst follow me, ask me no questions about anything until I myself speak to thee concerning it. So they both proceeded: until, when they were in the boat, he scuttled it. Said Moses: "Hast thou scuttled it in order to drown those in it?
Truly a strange thing hast thou done! He answered: "Did I not tell thee that thou canst have no patience with me? Moses said: "Rebuke me not for forgetting, nor grieve me by raising difficulties in my case. Then they proceeded: until, when they met a young man, he slew him. Moses said: "Hast thou slain an innocent person who had slain none?Them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.' Peter i. 1. Peter seems to have had a liking for that word 'precious.' It is not a very descriptive one; it does not give much light as to the quality of the things to which it is applied; but it is a suggestion of one-idea value.