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Pronunciation: o, ah, æ, ay, e, i, aw, ah, ê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Article, Preposition

Meaning: 1. The letter A (a) is simply the first letter of the alphabet, with the eight pronunciations above when it appears in words. 2. The indefinite article, referring to a single indefinite thing or something of which the listener is unaware, is actually an, pronounced [æn] before vowels, and a, pronounced [ê] before consonants. 3. Per, the distributive preposition expressing a rate, as in a hundred dollars a day or twenty dollars an hour.

Notes: In addition to appearing at the beginning of the Latin alphabet (to which English subscribes) today's Good Word has the greatest number of pronunciations of any other letter in the alphabet: eight (8): war [wor], far [fahr], fat [fæt], rate [rayt], frigate [friget], pillage [pilij], wall [wawl], and alert [êlêrt]. It isn't the shortest word because, as a word, it is really an, the N dropping off before consonants: an apple but a tart.

In Play: When deciding between a or an, remember that the critical issue is whether the word is pronounced with a consonant or vowel at the beginning. Both ear and ewe are spelled with an initial vowel E, but ewe begins with the consonant [y] when pronounced, so we say an ear but a ewe. Even though hour begins with a consonant, it is silent, so we say, "I'll see you in an hour."

Word History: While the letter A comes from Latin, the English article is a reduction of an earlier version of one, hence the N. The Proto-Indo-European language did not have definite and indefinite articles, so they had to be added to the languages that devolved from it. In English's cousin, German, the word for a(n) is ein, which still also means "one". The definite article, the, is a reduction of that and, again in German, the word for "the" is still the same as the word for "that": der (masculine), die (feminine), das (neuter).

Dr. Goodword,

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