Re: a vs. an - you're right; here's the proof

Subject: Re: a vs. an - you're right; here's the proof
From: "Nickell Traduction" <nickelltrad -at- autoroute -dot- net>
To: "Kelly Parr" <KParr -at- c-bridge -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2000 11:24:53 -0500

I keep hearing it too and it drives me nuts. I always thought it was
originally an impropriety in British English by certain classes who don't
pronounce the "h", such as in Cockney ("an istorical..."). Here's what the
British grammar and style books say:

1) In Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (an excellent and thorough
style book from England), he lists:

an hour
an honest man
an heir
BUT a horse
Hour, honest and heir are exceptional; in most words beginning with h, the h
is pronounced and so is the article a. There are a few other words, like
hotel and habitual, which begin with h in an unstressed syllable. Some
people use the article an before these and drop the h, or pronounce it very
lightly. For example, an historian (then he puts the phonetic pronunciation
and it's obvious the h is not pronounced).

2) Even Fowler says:

"A is used before all consonants except silent h (a history, an hour); an
was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning in h and is still
often seen and heard (an historian, an hotel, an hysterical scene, an
hereditary title, an habitual offender). But now that the h in such words
is pronounced, the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt
disappear in time. Meantime speakers who like to say an should NOT try to
have it both ways by aspirating the h.

3) The Bloomsbury Good Word Guide (another excellent book)

The use of an before words that begin with an h sound and an *unstressed*
first syllable, such as hotel, historic, hereditary, habitual, etc., is
optional. Nowadays, the preference is increasingly to use a followed by
hotel, etc. with the h sounded, rather than an followed by hotel, etc. with
the h not pronounced.

Of course, in American and Canadian English, it's not idiomatic to say an
and drop the h.

Chicago Manual of Style (page 208)
Such forms as "an historical study" or "an union" are not idiomatic in
American English. Before a pronounced h, long u (or eu) and such a word as
one, the indefinite article should be a.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but the modern stylebooks concur with what you
believe. So I think it's just North Americans having heard it from others
who said an, but dropped the h, and they have incorrectly assumed that an is
used even though the h is pronounced. Anyway, you can tell your colleague
that even though it's not 100% wrong (as long as he is not pronouncing the h
with the an that is), it is going the way of the dinosaur, so why continue
using it... What sources is your colleague using anyway?


-----Original Message-----
From: Kelly Parr <KParr -at- c-bridge -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wednesday, March 08, 2000 10:50 AM
Subject: a vs. an

|Can anyone tell me the grammatical rule for using:
|"an historical moment."
|I hear this a lot on public radio, etc., and I'm pretty sure it's wrong,
|I'm having a debate with a colleague.
|The typical rule is to use "a" before words beginning with a consonant or
|consonant sound (including "y" and "w" words) and "an" before words
|beginning with a vowel or vowel sound. So why "an historical moment"? I'm
|assuming it's pronounced "an 'istorical..." Is this a British convention
|that we've taken into American usage?
|Kelly Parr
|Technical Writer
|kparr -at- c-bridge -dot- com
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