The Debate: “A European” or “An European”?

When it comes to the English language, there are numerous rules and exceptions that can confuse even the most proficient speakers. One such debate revolves around the use of the indefinite article “a” or “an” before the word “European.” While some argue that “a European” is correct, others insist that it should be “an European.” In this article, we will delve into the grammatical rules, historical context, and common usage to shed light on this linguistic conundrum.

The Rule of Indefinite Articles

Before we dive into the specifics of “a” versus “an,” let’s first understand the general rule of indefinite articles. In English, the indefinite article is used to refer to a non-specific or unidentified noun. It is typically used before singular countable nouns that begin with a consonant sound, such as “a cat” or “a book.”

However, there is an exception to this rule. When the noun begins with a vowel sound, the indefinite article changes to “an” to ensure smooth pronunciation. For example, we say “an apple” or “an hour” because the initial sound of these words is a vowel sound, even though the written form starts with a consonant.

The Pronunciation of “European”

Now that we understand the general rule, let’s apply it to the word “European.” The pronunciation of “European” begins with a “y” sound, which is a consonant sound. Therefore, according to the rule, we should use “a” before “European.”

Consider the following examples:

  • A European country
  • A European citizen
  • A European vacation

Using “an” before “European” would be incorrect based on the pronunciation of the word.

The Historical Context

While the pronunciation rule seems straightforward, some argue that the historical context of the word “European” should be taken into account. In Old English, the word “European” was pronounced with a vowel sound at the beginning, similar to “you-rope-an.” Therefore, they claim that “an European” is the correct form.

However, language evolves over time, and pronunciations change. In Modern English, the pronunciation of “European” has shifted to begin with a consonant sound. As a result, the grammatical rule of using “a” before consonant sounds applies.

Common Usage and Examples

Language is not solely governed by rules; it is also shaped by common usage. When we examine the usage of “a European” versus “an European” in contemporary English, we find that “a European” is overwhelmingly preferred.

Consider the following examples from reputable sources:

  • A European Union” – The New York Times
  • A European country” – BBC News
  • A European vacation” – Lonely Planet

These examples demonstrate that “a European” is the widely accepted and commonly used form in both written and spoken English.


1. Is it grammatically correct to say “an European”?

No, it is not grammatically correct to say “an European” based on the pronunciation of the word “European.” The correct form is “a European.”

2. Why do some people argue for “an European”?

Some people argue for “an European” based on the historical pronunciation of the word in Old English. However, language evolves, and the modern pronunciation of “European” begins with a consonant sound.

3. What is the general rule for using “a” or “an”?

The general rule is to use “a” before singular countable nouns that begin with a consonant sound and “an” before nouns that begin with a vowel sound.

4. Are there any other exceptions to the rule?

Yes, there are a few exceptions to the rule. For example, we say “an hour” instead of “a hour” because the initial “h” is silent, and the word begins with a vowel sound.

5. What is the most commonly used form?

The most commonly used form is “a European.” It is widely accepted and preferred in both written and spoken English.


In conclusion, the debate between “a European” and “an European” can be resolved by considering the pronunciation of the word. Since “European” begins with a consonant sound, the correct form is “a European.” While some may argue for the historical pronunciation, language evolves, and the modern usage overwhelmingly favors “a European.” By adhering to the grammatical rules and common usage, we can ensure clear and effective communication in English.