The English language is filled with rules, and some of them get broken by the very language that you have to obey them in. Today, we’ll be covering one such rule: the “a” and “and” rule.
If you were to follow the rule we were taught at school, you would say “an user”. However, it would be incorrect to say “an user”. We should instead say “a user”.
Today, I want to get into why we do this, why this rule is even a thing in the first place. I also want to dive into what a “user” is and where that word came from.
I know that for many of you reading this, it’s been a while since you last sat in an English classroom, having your teacher explain all of the rules of our wonderful language to you. So allow me to refresh your memory.
“A” and “an” are put at the start of concrete nouns (physical things)- unless a “the” or “his/her/their” would be more appropriate.
And the rule for which one to use is if it starts with a vowel (AEIOU), use “an”: an elephant, an orange, an apple.
But if it starts with a consonant, use “a”: a horse, a house, a dog, a car, a hill.
Why we have the rule
If you’re a newbie to the English language, this rule might come across as a little bit stupid, and not making much sense. But the English language has a long and complicated history.
But why do we have the “an/a” rule?
The most common theory is that it just flows off the tongue easier. It’s more natural for us to say “an elephant” than it would be to say “a elephant”.
And “a cat” is easier than “an cat”.
Although there could be an element of easiness, the main reason why this rule has stuck around is tradition.
Why we break the rule
If the rule is what we’ve just said it is, then it doesn’t make much sense for us to say “a user” instead of “an user”. The same applies for “unicorn”.
But I’m afraid the rule I’ve just told you is a bit of a lie. You don’t put an “and” in front of words that begin with a vowel letter. You put it in front of words that start with a vowel sound.
Although “user” begins with a “u”, if you were to spell it phonetically, it would be “yew-zer”. And because it starts with a “y” sound, it begins with an “a” not an “an”.
The same applies for “unicorn”.
The word user comes from “use”. Not really a surprise when you consider that a “user” is someone who uses something.
This dates back to the Latin language, likely having come over here when the Romans invaded.
Initially, the Latin was “uti”, and over time, that evolved into “unus”. The old French turned it into “us”, and eventually, we turned it into “use”.
The English language is a pick n mix of all of the countries who have invaded us.
But when did the term “user” come onto the scene?
The first recorded usage for the word is from “1400”. Although in all likelihood, it was probably spoken long before this time.
It wasn’t actually until 1935 that it came to a euphemism for someone who takes drugs. And it wasn’t until 1967 that the phrase “user friendly” came onto the scene, a phrase often used to speak about computers or technology which is easy to use.
I find it great how words can change their meaning, and take on new meanings over time. The English language is flexible.
Different types of user
Usually, when we use the term “user”, there are two main types we’re talking about.
The first type is usually referring to a person who is using technology. I often hear people referring to themselves as “an iPhone user”.
The second is someone who takes drugs, this is usually in the context of the law or helping their mental health. You may have heard a politician say that “users need help, not jail time” when asked about their opinion on drug laws.
One type of “user” that has gained traction due to social media is a “woman user”. A man who uses women for sex.
Everyone is a user
However, you might argue that most nouns that end in “er” are just quicker ways of saying “user”.
A reader is just a book user. A swimmer is just a pool user. A chef is just a kitchen user.
However, we wouldn’t say “book user” because “reader” is much simpler and quicker.
But it’s interesting to think about how “user” can cover an entire category of words, and most of the time, we don’t even think about it.
Perhaps in the future, an “iPhone user” will just be known as an “iPhoner”.
What kind of word is user
Most of you reading this will probably be aware that “user” is a noun. For those who don’t know, a noun is a thing.
“user” is an example of a concrete noun. Nouns which are physical objects that you can taste, see, smell, hear, taste- although I wouldn’t recommend doing this to anyone you see on their phone or computer.
It’s also a common noun, which refers to people or things in general. The opposite of this would be a proper noun, something like England, Sophie, or McDonald’s.
This information might not serve you much purpose, but it’s still fun to learn about.
Most of the time, words that begin with a vowel start with “an”. However, if you spell the word phonetically, and it begins with “yew”, this is not a vowel sound, and these words start with “a”. Therefore, you should say “a user” and not “an user”.
“User” comes from “use” which originally came from the Latin “uti”.
Usually, when we say this word, we’ll either be talking about someone who uses technology or someone who uses drugs. Occasionally, we might be talking about a man who uses women.
User is an example of a concrete noun and a common noun.