Tip: Pronunciation Meets Grammar

10657116415_e22814da5eToday I am going to write about two examples of English pronunciation that affect English grammar.


The only reason that “an” exists is because of pronunciation. It is easier for English speakers to say “an apple” than “a apple.”

Here, the grammar follows the pronunciation. This makes the grammar rule tricky to summarize. Sometimes people say that we say “a” before a consonant and “an” before a vowel. However, this is not 100% true.

The real rule is this: we say “an” before a word that starts with a vowel sound. It doesn’t matter how that word is spelled. It matters that we want to link our words without stopping our voice.

So when you’re doing a crossword puzzle, you might know there’s “an H” in a certain square. It doesn’t reflect that H is a vowel or that our rule is inconsistent. It reflects that when we say the letter H, it begins with a vowel sound.


Similarly, the only reason that some plurals (or third-person singulars in Simple Present) end in -es instead of just -s, is for pronunciation.

It’s not that we’re in love with having another weird spelling thing. And it doesn’t secretly thrill us when “box” has one syllable while its plural, “boxes,” has two. It’s that we want to hear the whole root word plus its ending. We could have made the plural sound like “boxsss,” but that’s not what we do.

We add a syllable to make sure we can hear the plural.

So if you’re not sure if it’s -s or -es, I recommend saying it out loud to yourself. Does the main word end with a syllable that hisses or shushes? /s/, /sh/, /zh/, /ch/, /j/. If so, it’s -es.

But remember this is not really a spelling rule, and it’s not really a grammar rule.

It’s a pronunciation rule that causes the word to change this way.


There are other English rules like these ones – can you think of what they are?


Listen to Emily read this post. (I recorded using Vocaroo.com. It will open in a new tab.)


Photo Credit: Sarah Clark on Flickr

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