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Is it A or An?

I’m a graphic designer and a customer wants the sentence: “I’m a M&M peanut.” I say it should be an because even though vowels preceed consanants, the sound dictates. It’s not mother or mouth, but “EM” the sound of the letter. That makes it a vowel to me.

  • January 28, 2004
  • Posted by chuck
  • Filed in Usage

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Jesus, are you kidding? I thought that pronuciation went out in the Elizabethan era. For what it's worth, I think "an hotel" is an affected pseudo-Englishism favored by American Anglomaniacs.

speedwell2 February 5, 2004 @ 8:26AM

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He's simply hung up on the spelling. Fix your customer's cognitive dysfunction this way:

Tell him about the different dashes in typesetting. He probably won't know whether you are talking about an "N" or "en" dash, or an "M" or "em" dash, since English is obviously not his strong suit. Ask him which sounds better, "a" or "an" en dash or em dash.

If he is a Cockney and persists in calling the smallest dash "an 'yphen," you are lost. Give up.

speedwell2 February 10, 2004 @ 9:42AM

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MS, in Australia you don't pronounce the initial H in hotel or hallucination, do you?

speedwell2 April 12, 2004 @ 11:30AM

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Anonymous, there are no exceptions. It's exceedingly simple. A word that begins with a consonant sound is preceded by "a." A word that begins with a pronounced vowel sound is preceded by "an." No need for the sturm und drang.

speedwell2 September 4, 2004 @ 6:30PM

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LOL. I think I know what happened. Amy read my post and had what we in Texas affectionately call a "brain fart." She saw "vowel" and thought "consonant," and saw 'consonant" and thought "vowel," and decided then and there to set me "straight." She probably died of embarrassment when she realized what she posted. I know the feeling. I've done it too.

speedwell2 October 8, 2004 @ 8:10AM

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Maybe your customer is treating M&M as an acronym and thinks it's pronounced "MMMMMMMNNNNMMMMMMM."

Consider, "this is a NASA project". "NASA" is usually pronounced "nasuh".

Now consider "this is an NEA project". "NEA" (National Endowment for the Arts) is pronounced "en-ee-ay", the letters spelled out.

If someone wanted to, they could say "this is an NASA project" and say it as "this is an en-ay-ess-ay project".

If you saw it written rather than hear it spoken, it would be have to be inferred that the writer intended on NASA being spelled out one letter at a time; unusual, but not necessarily incorrect.

Similarly, someone could say "this is a NEA project", pronounced "this is a nee-uh project".

Of course, M&M is not actually an acronym. It is pronounced: "em and em" or maybe "em an' em", so, of course, you are correct, not your customer.

By the way, George Carlin once said "if you have 24 odds and ends on a table, and 23 fall off, what do you have left, an odd or an end?"

My retort is "if you have 24 M&M's on a table and 23 fall off, what do you have left? an M or an M?"

porsche April 11, 2006 @ 6:07PM

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Dave, that is an interesting observation about unstressed vs. stressed, but I have a small disagreement about collapsing into a schwa. The first syllable of historical, at least the way everyone I know pronounces it, starts with a short "i" vowel sound, not a schwa, and the "h" is aspirated.

When I was in gradeschool (long ago) I vaguely recall learning that saying "an" instead of "a" before an aspirated "h", was less common but completely acceptable in all cases. I'm sure that are many that will disagree or have alternate rules that I am not familiar with.

porsche April 16, 2006 @ 10:35AM

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Just a small explanation to Silvana--the use of "em" as a word in Scrable is neither lame nor pathetic. Both "em" and "en" are words used extensively in design and layout with reference to the size of space between words. Perhaps your Scrabble companions are involved in the publications business....

amazed August 9, 2007 @ 1:50PM

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jun-dai-- "anyways"??? Talk about incorrect and/or inappropriate!

amazed August 9, 2007 @ 1:52PM

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I agree. You would also say he has an MBA because you say the letters, but what about if you aren't sure how the abbreviation will be read by the reader? A M.Div. degree could be said "a masters in divinity" or "an M.Div". Which do you think would be correct? To make it even muddier, I actually have to use both degree abbreviations in one sentence.

TeresaJo April 1, 2018 @ 1:18AM

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Hairy Scot April 2, 2018 @ 7:10AM

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Hairy Scot April 2, 2018 @ 7:12AM

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