This morning I received an email from a friend who knows a lot about grammar and punctuation. I was surprised that her message included the phrase “a MS word specialist.”
It should have been “an MS word specialist” because “MS” is pronounced “em ess.” Words that begin with a vowel sound should be preceded by the article an–not the article a. Examples:
an unobstructed view
Some abbreviations begin with a consonant, but the consonant is pronounced with an opening vowel sound. These also are preceded by an:
an HTML newsletter
an LCD projector
an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope)
My friend’s use of “MS Word specialist” fell into that category.
In contrast, some words begin with a vowel–but not a vowel sound. These are preceded by the article a.
a uniform (begins with a “y” sound, like this: “yooniform”)
a Oaxacan gallery (begins with a “w” sound, like this: “wahacan”)
a URL (pronounced U-R-L)
After reading my friend’s message, I was thinking about writing this post about a and an. But I had some other work to do first, revising our website. Working on that project, I couldn’t believe what I found: an a/an error in my own site!
One page included the phrase “a 85-page manual.” Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
What had happened? How had I made that mistake? It was easy. You see, the manual used to be 70 pages long, and it was written like this: “a 70-page manual.” When I last updated that web page, I changed the page number, but I forgot to change the article to an. It should have read “an 85-page manual.”
Drat! An error! A mistake! And an MS Word grammar and spellcheck would have caught it if I had only completed one.