Easily Confused Words: A vs. An vs. And

A vs. An vs. And: these three words are easily confusable for one another.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It suggests what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions couldn’t be more off base and produces humorous results.

An is an indefinite article. I usually try to avoid using the word itself in its own definition, but here it’s impossible. Why? “An” is used before words that start with a vowel (a, e, i, o , u, sometimes y), and words that start with a vowel sound. Article starts with a, so it’s preceded by “an.”

An’s sister indefinite article, “A,” is used before words that start with a consonant (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, x, y, z), and words that start with a consonant sound.

Lastly, what’s that “indefinite” business about? “An” and “A” precede words that mention a type of thing, but not one specific thing. “The” is an article that precedes words that mention one specific thing among many.

Here are some examples:

“It’s Friday. Did you read an article about what’s happening this weekend?I want to see and be seen.”


“I see you are reading our local news website. Did you see the article about the mayor’s recent embezzlement scandal?”

[SIDEBAR: In marketing copy, you may notice “the” being used when an “a”/”an” would have sufficed. This is to add prestige to the product, to make it sound more one of a kind, special, or unique.]

And is a conjunction. Conjuctions link two or more words together for a list or other grouping: “And,” “but,” and “or” are all conjunctions.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Annabelle planted a bunch of bulbs in her small patio garden: a tulip, a daffodil, a crocus, several leeks, and some fennel. She also planted an elm tree sapling. 


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