; Skip to Content

A Orange or An Orange: Which is Correct?

It’s a common occurrence: you’re at a restaurant with your friends, and the waiter asks you what fruit you would like with your meal. You love oranges, but you hesitate. Is it a orange or an orange? You can never remember which way to say it correctly!

“An orange” is the correct way to say the phrase. The noun “orange” begins with a vowel sound, so you would use the article “an.” Article usage depends on the sound the word starts with, whether the object is known or unknown, and how many oranges there are.

In this post, we’ll go over some common questions and issues people may have about which article to use with “orange.” We’ll also touch on some other determiners and when to use them. 

Which Article Is Used With Orange? 

When considering the noun “orange,” we will use the indefinite article “an” because the word “orange” begins with a vowel sound (source).

When using indefinite articles, the one you use will depend on the first sound of the word. For instance, words that begin with a vowel sound will use “an,” while words that begin with a consonant sound will use “a.” 

Orange as a Noun vs. Orange as an Adjective

“Orange” actually has two meanings, depending on what part of speech it is. It can be referring to the fruit orange or the color orange. When you refer to it as a fruit, “orange” functions as a noun, but when you are referring to the color, it is an adjective.

Still, whether you refer to the color or the fruit, you will use the article “an” in front of the word orange.

AdjectiveNoun
Is that an orange car? I am eating an orange. 

You can also use the definite article “the” in front of the word “orange,” whether the noun or adjective form.

AdjectiveNoun
He bought the orange car. I am eating the orange. 

What Is an Article? 

There are two types of articles: definite articles and indefinite articles. We use definite articles when the speaker and the listener are familiar with the noun. Typically if you are using a definite article, the noun is one you and the listener have seen before or are aware of. 

For example, if you go to the same store every week, you might tell your mother “I’m going to the store” because she will know which store you are referring to. 

We use indefinite articles when the noun is unknown to the listener or to describe a generic example of an object. Using the same store example, if you are going to a new store that your mother has never heard of before, you might say, “I’m going to a store across town.”

When you use “a/an” instead of “the,” you often indicate to the listener that you expect they have never seen the object or person before or are not familiar with it.

Definite and indefinite articles can work with most nouns, except for some mass nouns (source).

GenericSpecific (known to speaker and listener)
An orangeThe orange
A houseThe house
A catThe cat 
An appleThe apple 

When the speaker (or writer) is speaking about a generic object or one that the listener (or reader) has never seen before, they will use the indefinite article. 

For example: 

  • Person A: Did you have an orange today?
  • Person B: No, I had a banana instead.

In the above example, the speaker is not referring to a specific orange but rather to oranges in general. 

However, we use the definite article when both the speaker/writer and listener/reader are familiar with the object.

For example: 

  • Person A: Where is the orange?
  • Person B: It’s in the fridge.

In the example above, both speakers knew about the specific orange that the first person mentioned.

Indefinite Articles With Vowel Sounds 

Now that we’ve clarified a bit more about definite and indefinite articles, let’s talk a bit more about this “orange” question. As we mentioned earlier, choosing which indefinite article to use will depend on the first sound of the word (consonant or vowel sound). That’s why, with the word “orange,” we would always use the article “an.”

But what about nouns or adjectives that start with a consonant but still have a vowel sound? That’s where it can get a bit more challenging. Typically, words that start with a consonant but have a vowel sound (i.e., the consonant is silent) will still use the article “an” (source).

For example: 

  • An honor
  • An hour 
  • An herb
  • An MP3 Player

You can read more about proper article usage before words that begin with “h” in this article: “‘An Hour’ or ‘A Hour’: Proper Article Use Before Hour.”

Conversely, some words that begin with vowels will require the article “a” if they sound like consonants. In particular, some words that start with a “u” or “eu” sound like they begin with a “y.”

  • A union
  • A university
  • A unicorn
  • A euro
  • A eucalyptus 

Some other words begin with an “o” but still require the article “a” because they actually sound like they begin with a “w.” 

  • A onesie

The important thing to remember is to listen for the word’s opening sound, not to rely only on spelling.

For words beginning with the letter “h,” there are also some exceptions that can use both “a” and “an.” However, this only occurs when the first syllable of the word is unstressed.

So, “historic” can be “a historic” or “an historic,” but “highway” will always be “a highway” because the first syllable is stressed. However, some of these discrepancies, such as “historic,” will depend on if you are in the U.S. or the U.K. In the United States, it would be “a historic.”

What Part of Speech Are Articles?

Articles are a type of determiner, which is a part of speech that modifies a noun. In other words, determiners give context to the noun. Because they are describing the noun, determiners are technically adjectives. 

Some other determiners besides articles include possessive pronouns, demonstratives, quantifiers, and numbers. The table below gives examples of the main types of determiners you can use. 

ArticlesDemonstrativesQuantifiersPossessivesNumbers
The
A
An
This
These
That
Those
Many
Much
A lot of
Most
Some
Any
My
Yours
His
Hers
Theirs
One
Two
Three
Four
Five
etc.

We can also break down determiners into referring determiners and quantifying determiners. 

Referring

The main types of referring determiners include articles, possessives, and demonstratives. They tell us who owns the noun, where it is, and if it is known to the listener or not. 

For example, we use “this” or “these” for nouns that are close to you, while we use “that” or “those” for nouns further from you.

  • Person A: Where did that orange come from? 
  • Person B: I got this from the store. 

In the example above, Person B is closer to the orange, while Person A is further away — across the room, perhaps. 

Possessives tell you who owns the noun, and sometimes the gender of the owner as well. “His” and “hers” will tell you who owns the noun and their gender, while “my/mine,” “your/yours,” “their/theirs” only indicate who the noun belongs to, not the gender. 

  • Person A: Is that your orange? 
  • Person B: No, it’s his orange. 

Quantifying

Quantifying determiners include quantifiers and numbers. They tell you how many examples of a noun there are. Numbers tell you specifically how many there are, while quantifiers are more general. 

  • Person A: How much money will the movie tickets cost? 
  • Person B: A few bucks. 

In the examples above, they never determined the specific amount of money. Numbers will tell you exactly how much something costs or how many objects you have.

  • Person A: Do you still have the 12 oranges I gave you? 
  • Person B: No, I ate three of them.  

Zero Determiner

In some situations, you will not use a determiner. Grammarians refer to this as the “zero determiner” or “zero article.” We use the zero determiner with uncountable nouns and when we want to be generic with plural nouns.

For example: “I want fruit.” 

We generally wouldn’t say “I want a fruit” because fruit is uncountable. For example, it’s not correct to say, “I want three fruits,” the correct way to say it is that you want “some” fruit or “a lot” of fruit.

Other times, we use the zero determiner because we want to be generic with a plural noun. 

For example: “I like apples.” 

We wouldn’t say “I like the apples” because that means we are talking about a few specific apples. Instead, if we were saying that we like all apples, or apples in general, we would leave any determiners out, just like in the example above.

Why Does It Matter Which Article I Use?

Image by Pixabay via Pexels

For some English language learners, it can be a bit confusing or difficult to understand article distinction and its utility. However, there are generally two main reasons why article usage matters in English.

The first reason is to tell us if the noun is known to us or if we are referring to a general, nonspecific noun. This helps the listener understand if we are talking about a general idea, a new place, or a more specific object that both the listener and speaker know about. 

The use of definite versus indefinite articles will change the context of the conversation quite a bit. For example, if you say, “I ate the banana today,” but the person you are speaking with has never seen that banana, that will cause some confusion. 

However, if you say, “I ate a banana today,” this lets the listener know that you ate a banana, but not that it was a specific one that they might know about. 

When we are using indefinite articles, the reason we choose “a” or “an” helps with clarity and ease of speaking. 

English words generally alternate between consonant and vowel sounds. When we use two vowel sounds right after the other with no consonant in between them, that can be difficult or awkward to pronounce. 

The desire to avoid this awkwardness is why we add the consonant “n” for “an” to break up the vowel sounds.

Where Does the Article Difference Come From?

Questions about articles and where they come from are common for English language learners, especially because some languages don’t have articles at all, or their articles do not distinguish between definite and indefinite articles. 

Interestingly, English has not always had indefinite articles. In Old English, there were only definite articles. What’s more, definite articles would change depending on if the noun was singular or plural, which is a distinction that no longer exists in English (source).

Most Slavic and East Asian languages do not use any articles. Instead, the nouns themselves will change depending on who you are speaking to, if there is one noun or many, the gender of the noun, and other factors (source).

Learning English when a Slavic or East Asian language is your mother tongue can be particularly challenging for this reason. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

At the same time, some languages offer more distinction with their articles than English. Spanish articles, for example, tell you if the noun is specific or generic, male or female, and singular or plural (source). See the table below for reference.

Number and GenderSpecificGeneric
Singular femaleLaUna
Singular maleElUn
Plural femaleLasUnas
Plural male (or male and female)LosUnos

Final Thoughts

Mastering grammatical rules in any language can be a bit of a learning curve at first. The important thing to remember is that you’ll always use “an” first when you want to talk about oranges.

Hopefully, through reading this article, you understand a bit more about when to use “the,” “a,” and “an” in a variety of situations and a bit more about determiners in general.