Which Is Correct: an MBA or a MBA?

After earning a degree, most people would expect the graduate to refer to that degree correctly. However, even basic English grammar can be hard to grasp for graduate students, as there are so many exceptions to the language rules. Whether you've just completed your MBA, or you're looking to start taking courses for your MBA, you might wonder whether it's correct to say "a MBA" or "an MBA." So, what's the right answer and why?

The "A/An" Rule

In English, an indefinite article such as "a" or "an" is used before a word in order to refer to something that's not specific. This is unlike the definite article "the," which refers to something specific or something previously mentioned in the text. When using "a" or "an" the rule that most people are familiar with is that "a" goes before a word that begins with a consonant and "an" comes before a word that begins with a vowel. Though this is more or less the correct rule, it's actually a bit different. Instead, the article "a" should be used before a word that begins with a consonant sound, while the article "an" should be before a word with a vowel sound.

Why It's Correct to Say "An MBA"

If you're familiar with the rule that most people know, then it would immediately make sense to say "a MBA" instead of "an MBA" since "MBA" begins with a consonant. But, if you say that phrase out loud to yourself, it sounds a bit funny. When we say the "M" in "MBA" it sounds like "EM" not "M." This is similar to the word "hour." Even though "hour" begins with a consonant, it makes the "o" sound, not an "h" sound. This is why we say "an hour" and "an MBA." Even though the first letter of the word is consonant, it's the vowel sound that determines which article to use and not the letter itself.

What About MFA?

As long as you follow the rule of sound, then you will have no problem assigning "a" or "an" correctly before a word. For example, if you're not studying for an MBA, but you're instead studying for an MFA, then the same rule applies. Since the "M" in "MFA" makes the "EM" sound, you would say "an MFA" instead of "a MFA." When you're writing out phrases like this on the computer, most spell and grammar checks will catch this for you, in case you make a mistake. If you're not sure, then just read the sentence out loud to yourself, and you should be able to catch whether or not you're using the "a" or "an" properly.