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 Crokong,

The phrase 'What a...!' is a fixed expression showing amazement at the scale of something or how extreme something is. We don't break up phrases like this an assign concrete meaning to each individual part, but rather understand the phrase as a whole as a unit.

The meaning can be understood as something like 'What an amazing example of .... that is!'



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the explanation Peter M. So, in the sentences like 'what a mess!', 'what a waste of time!', does this mean "what an amazing mess!", "what a amazing waste of time!"?

Hello Crokong,

Yes, that's correct. The construction can be used for both positive (What a performance!) and negative (What an idiot!) reactions.



The LearnEnglish Team

I understand now. In positive reactions "what a...!" shows amazement. It means amazing, brilliant, great. But in negative reactions, what is the meaning of "what a...!"? I need an adjective here so that it's clear for me.

Hi Crokong,

I'd recommend thinking of it this way: 'what a ...!' shows a strong opinion or feeling, which can be positive or negative.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir
Should we say ' an English soldier ' or ' a English soldier' ?

Hello amrita_enakshi,

'an' is the correct form here, since the word 'English' begins with a vowel sound.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Good day, I think I am confused between these rules :
"to say something about all the things referred to by a noun" - for definite article "The"
"5. We use a/an with a singular noun to say something about all things of that kind:"
for indefinite article "a and an "

Please clarify!

Thank you in advance.

Hello RamMin,

Please see Peter's response to another user who asked this same question. He explains this difference in detail there.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

That was quite helpful