1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi all! No longer will threads be closed after 1000 (ish) messages. We may close if one gets so long to cause an issue and if you would like a thread closed to start a new one after a 1000 posts then just use the "Report Post" function. Enjoy!

"A" vs. "An" question

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by expo86, Apr 21, 2010.

  1. expo86

    expo86 Member

    A colleague and I are in disagreement. Please help.

    Should it be a historical event or an historical event? Does it make a difference if it's Canadian English?

  2. Cupid

    Cupid Well-Known Member

    I say "a historical" event - although some people think the "h" is silent, and therefore say "an historical event." I think both are correct.
  3. Cloudy_Gumdrops

    Cloudy_Gumdrops New Member

    'An historical event' sounds more right to me.

    But, 'a historical event' is probably correct.
  4. Matryeshka

    Matryeshka Well-Known Member

    An historical event is right, but it sounds stilted, like it's part of a conspiracy to make us all sound like English bulters. Probably the same people that thought up the word "whom."
    BittyBug and (deleted member) like this.
  5. marbri

    marbri Hey, Kool-Aid!

    I was taught "an" when the "h" makes the sound it does in words like historical.
  6. Prancer

    Prancer Strong and stable Staff Member

    It depends. Traditionally, British and often Canadian speakers did not aspirate the h, ('istorical) and so used an. Americans generally did aspirate the h (hissssssstorical) and so used a.

    But according to the CBC, the use of an is dying in both Canada and the UK, as more people aspirate the h at the beginning of words

  7. marbri

    marbri Hey, Kool-Aid!

    I guess that shows my age. Interesting article though but I was surprised to read most North Americans drop the "h" in "herbs". I don't know that I've ever heard it said that way over here (aside from French Canadians who wouldn't know an "h" if it hit them in the face ;) xo)
  8. Prancer

    Prancer Strong and stable Staff Member

    I've never heard hhhhhhherb; it's always 'erb. :lol:
  9. Veronika

    Veronika gold dust woman

    Pretty much what Prancer said--if the "h" is silent, use "an." If it's not, use "a." :)
  10. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    It's 'erb where I grew up near Boston. And oddly enough, get this - it's "hhhhistorical" with the H, but it's "an 'istorical event."

    I've just tested a bunch of my friends from home, and they all do this, as do I and my husband.
  11. Prancer

    Prancer Strong and stable Staff Member

    This was always a tricky one when I was editing, because no matter which way you write it, there are people who will consider it wrong. And it will all depend on how they pronounce the words, so there is no way to whack them over the head with some rule you pull out of a book and declare to be LAW.

    The end result of this for me is that both versions sound wrong. :p
  12. suep1963

    suep1963 Well-Known Member

    As for the herb thing--does anyone remember the Night Court episode where (at the end of the show) the punch line was "That isn't herb tea--that's HERB!"

    PeterG and (deleted member) like this.
  13. Aussie Willy

    Aussie Willy Hates both vegemite and peanut butter

    That is a tough one. I thought you could have used both and they would both sound correct.

    Someone here at work thought that you use "an" when the next word starts with vowel.
  14. bardtoob

    bardtoob Former Choreographer for Anna Maria Tragikova

    I was taught this also, that the rule is based on the way the words are written.

    However, I later learned by way of studying other languages that such rules are based on how the words sound when properly spoken, and came into existence to maintain the continuity of the rhythm of the spoken form as sounded by native speakers (usually of high social status).
  15. Squibble

    Squibble New Member

    I do not understand why anyone other than a Cockney would ever use the article "an" before "historic" or "historical." No one would say "an History student," "an hiss," "an hysterical reaction," "an Hispanic," or "an hysterectomy." So why would "an historical novel" ever be correct?
  16. genevieve

    genevieve drinky typo pbp, closet hugger Staff Member

    Writing, I would use a instead of an...but when I speak it, I would say a history...but an historical. Just based on how it sounds. :saint:

    The only person I've ever heard to aspirate the h in herbs is a Brit, BTW
  17. essence_of_soy

    essence_of_soy Well-Known Member

    In 'artford, 'ererford, and 'ampshire, 'urricanes' 'ardly HEVER 'appen.
  18. antmanb

    antmanb Well-Known Member

    I thought there was some archaic rule about an "h" being a form of semi vowel that meant "an" was correct before anything beginning with an "h" whether you pronounce the "h" or not.

    I've certainly heard presenters talk about "an historic event" rather than "an 'istoric event".

    I've never really understood why Americans say 'erb or 'erbal, especially since most people i've heard do it would have a cup of hot 'erbal tea at their hotel - and only drop the 'h' in herbal?

    Another pronunciation thing that always surprised me is that the name Graham or Graeme seems to be pronounced like gramme as opposed to the British pronunciation of it as two syllables (gray-am).

  19. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    I always use "an" for "an historical event". :shuffle:

    And pronounce the "h" in "herb". I 'ate, 'ate the dropping of the "h". :drama:
  20. bardtoob

    bardtoob Former Choreographer for Anna Maria Tragikova

    Wikipedia: Discrimination between a and an

  21. JJH

    JJH Well-Known Member

    Squibble, I actually do say "an hysterical reaction" and "an hispanic", although I don't use an with the other examples you mention.
  22. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    There are lots of US native accents that are based on older British accents, so it makes perfect sense that someone in, say, eastern Mass. might say "an 'istoric."

    And I would actually say, "an 'isterical reaction", actually. I also believe that I do say, "an 'ispanic".
  23. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    Of course it's important to mention that with my accent, the man, Herb, is always HHHHerb. Not 'erb. But the vegitation is 'erb.
  24. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    As another poster mentioned, whether or not the initial "h" is sounded depends on from which language English took the word, which ruling body/nation was influencing the elites and their speech at the time, and I'd also add re: the colonies - when the immigrants left the UK, and from where. So although there is a logic there re: why the initial h in one word is pronounced and in another is not, native speakers aren't aware of it, and they just speak as they speak.

    Believe me, Hhherb has a cup of 'erbal tea all the time, where I'm from, and no one thinks anything of it.

    Likewise, when I lived in Ireland, people pronounced Billy Joel's last name as "Jo-elle". Two syllables. In the US, it's one.
  25. Prancer

    Prancer Strong and stable Staff Member

    Yes, but we say things like "It's an honor to be here, even if I can only stay an hour."

    If you drop the h, the words begin with a vowel sound and use "an" as the article.

    "An hisstoric" would be wrong, even if the BBC does it :p, although I've heard some presenters who only slightly aspirate the h, which would make it a bit trickier.

    That's sort of true, but then you have words like unicorn, which starts with a vowel with an initial sound that is pronounced like a y. Even though the word starts with a vowel, you would still say "a unicorn" and not "an unicorn" because of the pronunciation.

    "An x-ray" as used in bardtoob's link would be an example of the opposite, in which you have a consonant, but the initial sound is that of a vowel--ex.
  26. expo86

    expo86 Member

    Thanks for your input, everyone. This is really interesting!
  27. emason

    emason Well-Known Member

    I respectfully disagree on this; I always hear (and pronounce) his name as two syllables here in the US, although the break between the syllables is very very slight. I, for one, cannot pronounce it as one syllable.
  28. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    At least in the Rocky Mountain US area, you'd sound stuck up if you said, "an historical event."
  29. Squibble

    Squibble New Member



    It makes no sense to use "an" before "historical" but "a" before "history," which (obviously) has the same root, or "an" before "hysterical," but "a" before "hysterectomy," which, likewise, has the same root. :confused:
  30. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    Well, it does make some sense, because in the noun forms the first syllable is accented and therefore the initial h sound is stronger, whereas in the adjective forms the stress is on the second syllable so the first syllable and its h sound are weaker.