Posted by: thebylog | February 1, 2005

Articles (the short kind)

A basic rule of grammar is that you use the article “an” in front of a word that begins with a vowel (“I went to see an eagle spread its wings last night” or “When she burped there was an awkward silence in the room”) and the article “a” in front of a word that begins with a consonant (“A light went on in his brain when he realized that he could use the law of total probability to solve the problem” or “A torch allows most people to see when, without it, they couldn’t”).

But what do you do when you use an acronym, for ease of writing, that represents a noun phrase beginning with a consonant, though the acronym itself begins with a vowel sound. For example, you would surely say “a stochastic process”, but what would you write and say if you shortened “stochastic process” to “SP”?

My professor writes “a SP”, as in, “Suppose you have a SP composed of the following random variables…”



  1. I vote for “an SP.”


  2. Maybe it depends on how you would read (out loud) it. I vote with Crystal.


  3. I think “an”.


  4. I believe (without checking) that it depends on the initial SOUND of what comes next that determines which article is used. If the next sound is a vowel sound, “an” is the article to use. If the next sound is a consonant sound, “a” wins out. Wait a minute; I just checked it out and my opinion was confirmed at It even covers abbreviations such as “SP” nicely. Hope this helps you sleep tonight, By! While we are getting technical, I also believe that an acronym is a word itself that is formed from the initial letters of the words of a compound term. For instance, “NASA”. We don’t say “N-A-S-A”; we say it as a word itself.

    –The Former Teacher, EG (Yeah, Ag, EG is back–for at least a one-time appearance)

  5. Hey My Eggy Friend! So nice to “hear your voice” again.


  6. Hey,
    Yeah, I know I might be a little late with the comment, But I was just wondering if you would play a ukulele or an ukulele. And can you ride an unicycle, or is it a unicycle?

  7. You would play a ukelele and you would ride a unicycle.


  8. Yes, I think you’re right, Eg, but now I’m a little confused. Have I labored under an illusion all my life, or have I just done something correctly without ever thinking about it? It’s AN uncalled-for dilemma. The “yoo” as in universe warrants an “a,” (I won’t say “an university”) but the short “u” sound (as in “under”) demands an “an.” And should I still write “an unicycle”?


  9. >The “yoo” as in universe warrants an “a,” < See that “y” at the beginning of “yoo”? It’s that exactly. If the word starts with a consonant SOUND even though the letter is actually a vowel, the rule is that you then preface it with “a.” A (y)unicycle. Make sense?

  10. Ha! Light bulbs light up!

    thankfully un-befuddled

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