Using “a” and “an” with digits

OK: you know it’s “a” with a consonant and “an” with a vowel. But what about something written with digits?

Simple, actually, and no different from the rule with written words: it goes with the spoken sound (and not necessarily the first letter, as was discussed in a previous post). So it’s:

  • an 18th-century drawing room
  • an 11th-hour deal (for those with Brexit on their minds)
  • an XI without a recognized wicket-keeper
  • a 1-week holiday
  • a 0.7% fall (if you say “nought” or “zero”) or an 0.7% fall (if you say “oh”)
  • an 007 movie (if you say “oh-oh”) or a 007 movie (if you say “double-O”)

In those last two cases, it even gives you a hint of what was in the author’s mind at the time!

Prevalence: low. But it did generate a brief discussion on one of the user groups I follow, so it’s worth including.
Frequency: low. Not an issue I can actually recall seeing in an editing job.
Native: no. We’re used to speaking the language, and we just write what we’d say.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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