It can happen to anyone.
All of us commit minor offenses against the English language every day. No one is perfect.
The English we speak tends to be far more relaxed and forgiving than the English we write.
And yet, here is a common copywriting error wherein the way you speak should be naturally dictating the words you type into your blogging dashboard of choice.
On a daily basis, I encounter the acronym SEO incorrectly paired with with the article a, as in:
I’m a SEO who loves my job.
Should a SEO buy links for clients?
I met a SEO at the conference.
Tsk, tsk, tsk. A SEO can’t love their job, a SEO should never buy links for clients and you should never meet a SEO at a conference.
Speak those phrases out loud and feel the flicker of discomfort that comes across mind and tongue as you jump from ‘a’ to ‘SEO’. The cause: vowel sounds in our language are almost always supposed to be preceded by the an form of the indefinite article. The history of this basically revolves around ease of use. It’s less strenuous for the mouth to form the words an uncle than a uncle. It’s a choice between gliding easily from word to word or galumphing along in your speech.
But, you say, SEO starts with the letter ‘S’, not a vowel.
How true. But the letter ‘s’ starts with a vowel-like sound: ess.
The Easy Rule Governing Whether To Use ‘A’ or ‘An’ Before An Acronym
The easy rule is that when you speak out the individual letters of an acronym, and the first letter starts with a vowel-like sound, use the ‘an’ form of the indefinite article.
An NBA player
An NAACP recipient
An FBI agent
A PTA member
I call this an easy rule, because the spoken word should help you determine which indefinite article feels the most comfortable. English rules aren’t always so easy.
On a final note, when you speak an acronym as though it were a word (think NAFTA, NATO and NASA) the traditional rules of ‘a’ before a consonant and ‘an’ before a vowel come back into play. But, when you deliver each separate letter of an acronym with an individual staccato flourish, simply speak the word aloud to discover whether ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the comfortable, sensible choice. As an SEO or a copywriter, it’s the handsome thing to do.