You are here

The indefinite article: 'a' and 'an'

Level: beginner

We use the indefinite article, a/an, with singular nouns when the listener/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to:

Police are searching for a 14-year-old girl.

We also use it to show that the person or thing is one of a group:

She is a pupil at London Road School.

Police have been looking for a 14-year-old girl who has been missing since Friday.

Jenny Brown is a pupil at London Road School. She is 1.6 metres tall, with short, blonde hair. When she left home, she was wearing a blue jacket, a blue and white blouse, dark blue jeans and blue shoes. 

Anyone who has information should contact the local police on 0800 349 781.

We do not use an indefinite article with plural nouns or uncount nouns:

She was wearing blue shoes. (plural noun)
She has short, blonde hair. (uncount noun)

The indefinite article 1


The indefinite article 2


The indefinite article 3


We use a before a consonant sound:

a banana (starts with /b/) a university (starts with /j/)

and an before a vowel sound:

an orange (starts with /o/) an hour (starts with /au/)

Note that the choice of a or an depends on sound, not spelling.

The indefinite article 4




Hello Sir,

This is the sentence I came across in a blog :

Everyone can't wait for 2020 to be history and with
it all the shake ups it brought.

Sir, why it should not be with indefinite article '2020 to be a history' . What difference in meaning would it make with and without 'a' .

I must say that the blogger is an aclaimed writer and is unlikely to commit a grammatical mistake.

Please share your view sir !


Dipak R Gandhi

Hello Dipak,

The phrase ' history' is a fixed expression. It means something is done, finished or ended. It can also mean that something or someone has been defeated.


We only use 'a history' in the context of a book: this is a great history of the Roman Empire.



The LearnEnglish Team

Undurstood ! Thank you sir !

Hello. Which one is correct?
1- We travelled to Sudan.
2- We travelled to the Sudan.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think 'Sudan' is becoming more and more common, but you can still hear 'the Sudan'. However, this is a political question as much as a language question following the secession of South Sudan in 2011.



The LearnEnglish Team

Exercise 4, last question : why an indefinite article before 'US' in 'does he have - US passport' - generally it is 'the' before

Hi dipakrgandhi,

Good question! It's because in this sentence, US is describing the other noun, passport. US isn't the main noun in the phrase. So, the article we choose depends on the main noun, passport (not on any other nouns that describe it).

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Great answer Sir ! So 'US' here is working like an adjective ! Understood !

Thank you


Dipak Gandhi

Hi Dipak,

Yes! Exactly :)


The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, very recently I read a sentence having in it an indefinite article 'a' before 'most' - I cannot recall the sentence now. Earlier also I have come across sentences having 'a' before 'most'. Would you kindly enlighten us when can we use an indefinite article before most, which is otherwise preceded by the definite article 'the' the most of the times. And is it correct to use 'the' after ' "the" ' - the way I have used in the previous sentence.

Thank you


Dipak R Gandhi