Submitted by jenniferlee on August 11, 2004

An unit

Trying this query on Google to no avail, I was asked today whether it’s correct to say “a unit” or “an unit”. The rules of grammar I was taught at school (in England) would suggest the latter; yet the former seems, somehow, more right. Pages on Google use both freely, sometimes using both in the same document. So - which is correct?

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To American ears (like mine), "an unit" sounds like a British affectation, right up there with "an horrible person" (though "an'orrible person" would be fine, if he weren't 'orrible).

The rule I learned is that you use "an" when the following word starts with a vowel sound. "Unit" does not.

Of course, there are differences between British and American usage, so I'll only pretend to report what's right for an American, not what's right, period. It's interesting to see that individual writers get confused about this, though--and apparently some of these pages are from American sources.

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I would choose "a unit". I was taught that it needed a vowel sound. 'U''s short sound is vowel like, but a long 'U' at the beginning of a word soulds like a 'y', usually not considered a vowel.

This is why most people say 'an hour' and "a usual day".

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When pronouncing a u as (yew) sound we (Brits) use the article 'a'
For example:-
a unit, a uniform, a eunuch etc...

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Adam - Certainly I can think of a lot of British expressions with 'an' before silent 'h'. An honour, for example. I think in the case of 'unit', spoken it is fairly trivial to decide (albeit with possible variations depending on accent), written I'm glad to accept the consensus of 'a', but still expecting proofreaders and editors to pause over it for a moment with a red pen.

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This ex-proofreader/editor wouldn't have hesitated one second, Jennifer. The preceding posters are correct; the use of a/an depends on sound, not spelling. So if it's correct to say "a young woman" or "a yellow submarine," it's also correct to say "a unit of measure" or "a uniform consistency."

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In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, there are a couple of nouns in English that begin with a U but do not begin with the sound "yoo." "Ululation" (meaning a sort of fluid vocalization) is one of these (according to the American Heritage Dictionary). So in that case it would be correct to say "an ululation."

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speedwell has the measure, methinks. there are exceptions to lots of grammar rules and this be one of 'em.

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It is common to put an "an" in front of words that begin with consonant aitches, particularly in the phrase "an historic moment." It doesn't prove much, but:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8...

At least you can see that Google found 12,100 examples of "an historic moment."

Outside of that, I don't think there are any exceptions to the rule that you use "an" in front of words that begin with a "vowel sound" (e.g., ugly, educated, e-mail, albatross, hour, Ypsilanti) and "a" in front of words that begin with a "consonant sound" (e.g., needless, preferred, zebra, unit, eunuch, yew, wheat, wowed).

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Sorry. I forgot. You don't put "an" in front of all consontant aitches. You put "an" in front of consonant aitches that begin with an unstressed syllable (e.g., historic, hotel, horrific, heraldric), but not in front of consonant aitches that being with a stressed syllable (e.g., history, herald, hostile, happy, heated). But this is only believed and followed by some people (though "an historic moment" has developed a life of its own, particularly amongst speech-makers and press people), you will seldom be corrected for not heeding it, and you will often be corrected if you do.

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Adam Rice wrote: To American ears (like mine), "an unit" sounds like a British affectation, right up there with "an horrible person"

What gives you the right to go about denigrating the British in this way when, as you admit, you don't know what you're talking about?

"An unit" is not used in English (British or otherwise) because it is wrong. End of story.

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"An unit" is wrong love.

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"an unit" is not a British affectation, it's simply incorrect. A British affectation is something like "an historic", which is using "an" before unstressed "h" -- which is listed as affectatious in American Usage references. Therefore, definitely "a unit", and better "a historical".

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I believe "a unit" would be correct, just as "an honor" is correct. It's a matter of pronunciation; if the "a, an" rule was inflexible, it would defeat its own purpose, which is to make one's speech flow better. Since "unit" is pronounced "you-nit" and honor is pronounced "on-er", you generally go by whether the first syllable has a vowel sound or not.

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This is not a grammar rule, and this is not an exception to a rule. It's a phonological rule to use 'an' before vowels and 'a' before consonants, and in phonology these are sounds. There's no grammar involved, and 'a unit' and 'an honour' aren't exceptional.

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The rule is that you use "an" before a vowel, but that's understood to mean before a vowel SOUND. "Unit" begins with a consonant SOUND, a "y". So phonetically, you're saying, "YOO-nit." Therefore, you must use "A unit." "An unit" violates the rule.

If "Waiter" were spelled "Ouaiter," that wouldn't compel a change to "an ouaiter." It's all about the vowel sound, not the written letter.

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Also note: a university, a union, a one-way ticket. All the nouns start with consonant sounds.

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How about an LP. meaning a long play record?

I recently wrote a sentence saying, "This is from an LP."

Using an 'a' just wasn't as comfortable.

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"An LP" is correct because the letter "L" is pronounced "elle" like the french pronoun. Since it is pronounced with a vowel sound, the article "an" is the correct option for this sentence.

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