a: ✓ a ✗ an

By | May 1, 2017
Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.
La tecnologia è un servo utile ma un padrone pericoloso.
- Christian Lous Lange
✓ Pavia is a university town.
✗ Pavia is *an university* town.
Pavia è una città universitaria.
Generally we use a + consonant (a dictionary, a nice day, a party), and an + vowel (a, e, i, o or u) (an aunt, an idea, an ugly dog).

There are two "exceptions" to this "rule". The first is that we use a, not an, before words beginning with u- or eu- pronounced like the letter u (pronounced "you"), and also before one and once. Some examples:
a unit of measurement, a UFO, a union member, a euphemism, a European capital, a one-euro coin, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
*an unit* of measurement, *an UFO*, *an union* member, *an euphemism*, *an European* capital, a one-euro coin, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
un'unità di misura, un UFO, un iscritto al sindacato, un eufemismo, una capitale europea, una moneta da un euro, un'occasione irripetibile
Note that these are not really "exceptions", but simply a question of pronunciation. Try saying "a Euro" and "an Euro". Which is easier? The first, of course (if you pronounce Euro correctly, that is, "you-roh").
The second "exception" is before a "mute h". There are only four words in the English language, all of French origin, which begin with a silent h: hour, honest, honour and heir (and their derivations, such as honourable or heiress). Examples:
✓ See you in an hour!
✗ See you in *a hour*!
Ci vediamo tra un'ora!
✓ I'd like an honest opinion.
✗ I'd like *a honest* opinion.
Vorrei un parere sincero.
✓ It would be an honour for me.
✗ It would be *a honour* for me.
Sarebbe un onore per me.
✓ The king and queen have no children, so there isn't an heir to the throne.
✗ The king and queen have no children, so there isn't *a heir* to the throne.
Il re e la regina non hanno figli, quindi non c'è un erede al trono.
In all other words beginning with h, the h is pronounced, and so we use a:
✓ There's a hotel near the station.
✗ There's *an hotel* near the station.
C'è un albergo vicino alla stazione.
✓ I had a bad dream last night - I'd watched a horror film.
✗ I had a bad dream last night - I'd watched *an horror* film.
Ho fatto un brutto sogno stanotte - avevo guardato un film d'orrore.

Now try the quiz below! There are TEN answers. The pass mark is 90% (9 out of 10). Click on the blue arrows to go to the next or previous question. You can check your answers immediately or when you've finished the quiz.

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