'A European' or 'An European': Which is Correct?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 21, 2023

If you're wondering whether to say 'a European' or 'an European,' you're not alone. After reading this article, you'll no longer wonder.

In short, the correct answer is 'a European.' Read on to find out why.

Is It 'A European' or 'An European'?

This one trips many people, and I'll tell you why. There are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, many of us think the decision around which article to use is based on the first letter of the following word. That's not entirely correct.

Secondly, there's confusion around whether 'y' is a vowel or a consonant. Let's clarify all this.

How to Use Indefinite Articles

'A' and 'an' are indefinite articles. They're paired with singular nouns and signal to the listener or reader that there's only one. They also show that you aren't referring to something specific, as opposed to the definite article 'the,' which refers to a specific thing.

The rule determining whether you should use 'a' or 'an' dictates that you should use 'a' if the following word begins with a consonant and 'an' if it starts with a vowel.

The bit that trips people up is that we assume this means we should look to the first letter when in fact, we should be listening to the first sound.

For example, the word 'honor' may begin with the letter' h,' but the first sound you hear when you say the word is, in fact, /ɒ/, the sound made by the letter 'o', since the 'h' is silent. That's why it's 'a honor' and not 'a honor.'

The word 'European' begins with the letter 'e,' but the first sound you hear is /j/, the sound made by the letter' y.'

That leads me to my next point.

Is 'y' a Vowel or Consonant?

So now we know whether or not to use 'a' or 'an' depends on the beginning sound of the preceding noun.

We also know that 'European' begins with the sound of the letter' y.'

But wait a minute, is 'y' a vowel or a consonant?

The exact answer is… it depends.

Officially, it's primarily recognized as a consonant, except when (source Merriam-Webster):

  • The word has no other vowel (gym, my)
  • The letter is at the end of a word or syllable (candy, deny, bicycle, bravery)
  • The letter is in the middle of a syllable (system, synonym)

Since the 'y' in 'European' doesn't meet any of the above criteria, we can safely conclude that in the case of 'European' is a consonant!

Therefore, the correct phrase is:

A European

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'European'

Okay, so we've got that out of the way. And you might have noticed I've used some odd-looking symbols, like /ɒ/ and /j/. These come from the International Phonetics Alphabet (IPA), which is very helpful for English language learners and anyone looking to improve their pronunciation because there's a symbol for each sound.

Here's how the IPA spells' European':

/ yʊər əˈpi ən /

It might look like a completely foreign language to look at it like that, so I'll also spell out the word how I think it sounds, using the traditional alphabet.

[ yoor-uh-pee-uhn ]

Using 'A European' in a Sentence

Now let's look at some example sentences that use 'a European' to see how it sounds in context.

I got a new job with a European organization.

Do you have any European friends?

My European adventure has been canceled.

Concluding Thoughts on 'A European' or 'An European'

That concludes this article about the difference between 'a European' and 'an European', and which one to use. Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • 'European' begins with a 'y' sound
  • 'Y' is a consonant
  • Use ‘a’ with consonants
  • Say 'a European'

If you found this article helpful and would like to continue improving your English grammar skills, head over to our Confusing Words blog, where you'll learn about lots more grammar concepts.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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