## Indefinite Article: Why "a agreement" rather than "an agreement"?

33

1

My teacher reviewed an exercise, and corrected something I didn't understand.

This is a piece of what I wrote:

It took some time until they could reach an agreement, but it finally...

It made sense to use an since agreement starts with a vowel.

My teacher, however, gave me this feedback:

Article: You said "...reach an agreement..." You should say "...reach a agreement..." because indefinite article, "an" is used before a vowel sound, "a" otherwise, so I changed a word 'an' to 'a'. e.g., "It took some time until they could reach a agreement..."

So I'm confused. Why should I use a rather than an in this case?

Unfortunately this is an online course and a random teacher is designated to review, thus I can't talk back to my teacher and ask (which is unfortunate).

24Amen to Rupert Morrish's answer. "A agreement" is wrong. Should be "an agreement". Other words may act different, such as "After an hour, a unique agreement enabled a union". (That has three examples of ignoring the first letter of the word.) As Rupert indicated, the reason is based on how the word sounds, and not how it is spelled. – TOOGAM – 2018-02-27T05:57:59.890

11Even if you can't provide feedback to the specific teacher, there should be a means of providing feedback to the online course, which in this case would be "This feedbck from the teacher [citation] is nonsense. 'agreement' starts with a vowel sound." – T.J. Crowder – 2018-02-27T08:06:30.683

19I am most curious to learn how this teacher pronounces agreement so that it doesn't start with a vowel. More likely though it was just one of those moments of brain fuzziness that can affect us all. – Jon Hanna – 2018-02-27T11:09:16.403

3@T.J.Crowder I forgot to mention. We can provide a feedback of the exercise and add a comment, which indeed I did after you all helped me. But I'm not sure if the teacher receives it back, because in other exercises I added a comment with questions regarding the review, and I didn't get any reply. But thanks to you all I could be sure I'm not misunderstanding things, I thought "a agreement" could be possible an exception to the rule. – None – 2018-02-27T11:18:23.293

1@JonHanna most likely the teacher was confused, because they actually say "an" is used before a vowel sound, "a" otherwise, which is correct. – None – 2018-02-27T11:19:38.567

2I wonder whether the teacher was thinking of "reach agreement"" without the article at all, this is good English but has a very slightly different meaning. The teacher is still wrong but that might be the explanation for their error. – BoldBen – 2018-02-27T11:51:24.073

10I love StackExchange questions that prove a teacher wrong :-) – None – 2018-02-27T12:24:34.377

1I gree with all of the answers and comments here. ;) – None – 2018-02-27T19:05:41.103

The teacher's comment shows very poor English grammar (I'm assuming you've copied and pasted what they wrote). Correcting the grammar only, it should be: Article: You said "...reach an agreement..." You should say "...reach a agreement..." because the indefinite article, "an" is used before a vowel sound, "a" otherwise, so I changed -a- the word 'an' to 'a'. e.g., "It took some time until they could reach a agreement..." – CJ Dennis – 2020-01-01T10:38:27.913

111

You are right and your teacher is wrong. "agreement" does indeed begin with a vowel sound, and "an" is the appropriate article.

16I feel it's worth adding the reason this rule is applied, is not because of some arbitrary grammatical history - but because it's extremely hard to actually say "a agreement" instead of "an agreement". – None – 2018-02-27T10:57:11.617

5@Bilkokuya of course there still is some history, as there always is. And the origin is almost the opposite in that English use to have the word an as the only indefinite article, but people tended to drop the consonant sound from it before consonants. – Jon Hanna – 2018-02-27T11:12:11.250

31

Being around non-native English speakers all the time, I would like to add that it's important to distinguish between vowel sounds and vowel letters which are typically given as A, E, I, O, U, (Y) in English. The following examples show that relying only on the first letter of the word is not sufficient to make the "a" / "an" distinction: an urn, a uniform, a hint, an hour.

– ValarDohaeris – 2018-02-27T13:10:03.443

@ValarDohaeris I noticed a uniform and a unique, and if I had to guess, I'd say the proper article would be an because it's a letter. Still it seems to me both words has a vowel sound in the beginning, so I don't quite understand why in these cases we use a. – None – 2018-02-27T13:54:23.880

8@Alisson In "uniform" and "unique", the first sound is like a consonant Y ["you-ni-form", "you-neek"]. Yes, "Y" is itself sometimes considered a vowel, when it is used to sound like a long "e" or "i", but in words like "you" or "yurt" it is treated as a consonant. Thus, the same consonant sound at the beginning of "unique" and "uniform" is preceded by "a", much as one might speak of "a yurt" or "a yoghurt cup". As Bilkokuya indicates with an above comment, the sound is what dictates the use of "a/an" rather than the written letter of the alphabet. – Darren Ringer – 2018-02-27T14:37:00.290

24

Ah, and I forgot to add my favorite example: a SQL database, an SQL database. Both are correct, depending on how you pronounce SQL: S-Q-L or "sequel".

– ValarDohaeris – 2018-02-27T14:50:01.560

2Even Americans often drop initial Hs when they are unstressed, thus it is common to see "a history" but "an historic event". – Lee Daniel Crocker – 2018-02-27T20:29:21.003

10

To say 'a agreement' is incorrect! The right phrase is 'an agreement'. The use of an indefinite article does not just have to do with whether or not a word begins with a vowel or consonant orthographically. It has to do with the phonological sound. For instance, it is correct to say, 'a European' and not 'an European' because the sound that begins the word 'European' is a consonant. So, it is not 'a agreement' but 'an agreement'.

4The problem here is the teacher. – user070221 – 2018-02-27T14:43:43.353

1And even if it were due to orthographic consonant/vowel, the teacher would still be wrong. – fluffy – 2018-02-28T06:06:10.470