A or AN?

3

Should you use A or AN before the word HISTORIC?

asked Jun 08 '13 at 02:05 Angie Barnes New member

Use of "an" or "a" before a word starting with "h" usually depends on whether the "h" is sounded or unsounded. We say "a house" but "an hour". The word "historic", and other three syllable words starting with "h" where the stress is on the middle syllable, doesn't quite fit this rule. Usage has differed over time and differs between countries and also dialects.

However, there is a group of words of three or more syllables with the stress on the second syllable, such as historic, historical, hypothesis, hysterical, habitual, harmonica and hereditary, where people tended to still use "an" rather than "a". The "h" is less well sounded in these words compared with certain other words starting with "h" where the stress is on the first syllable such as history, histogram, hypothetical, holiday and hemorrhoid, or on the only syllable such as hand, host and hymn. Thus "an historic" is still often used. The word "haphazard" is an interesting exception. Here, the stress is on the second syllable but we hardly ever see, for example, "an haphazard event" even though it fits into the same category of words as "historic" etc above. This is perhaps because the first syllable of "haphazard" is actually quite strong even though the stress is on the second syllable.

All in all, it appears that "a historic" will win the day, although "an historic" will still no doubt be used where the "h" sound is weak. This could especially be the case in certain dialects of spoken English - "an 'istoric" can be easier to say than "a historic", especially if talking quickly. Otherwise, "a historic" seems to be becoming the norm.

AnjuJun 08 '13 at 05:05

Agree completely, great explanation!

Martha B.Jun 08 '13 at 06:00

I was taught that before a vowel or an unaspirated "h" one should use "an" rather than "a". I read now in more recent grammar texts that "a' is correct in that case, but still think "an historic" sounds better and more elegant.

Martha B.Jun 08 '13 at 06:07

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17 answers


4

The traditional use is to use "an" before the word "historic." The H is an unvoiced vowell that takes the sound of the vowell that follows. As times change, the language changes so I don't think you would be faulted for using "a historic ..." but I use the traditional "an."

link answered Jun 08 '13 at 02:25 Linda Ofshe New member

Agreed, as well.

Martha B.Jun 08 '13 at 06:01

Agreed. Although it seems to be falling out of "style" in non-scholastic settings, using "an" with "historic" strikes me (in my experience) as the sort of thing that, if missing, is duly noted by an academic, often very much to the author's disadvantage.

KatieJun 10 '13 at 18:53

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2

I disagree with answers 1-3. It's the sound that matters in this case. Use "A" when the word sounds like (or is) a vowel, otherwise, as in this case, use "AN" because the "H" in historic is not silent and does not sound like a vowel. Had I not had to sign-up first, I'd have slipped in before Linda. I must, however, point out the correct spelling of vowel. It's one of those words you look at for a while and say to yourself, "Nah, can't be right." In this case it is - with respect, only one "L," Linda. ("L" capitalized for clarity).

link answered Jun 08 '13 at 02:31 Brother Dave Contributor

The sound matters. Hard "h" and soft "h" vary in different countries/languages. If the h is silent, "an." If it's not, "a."

hedlinesJun 08 '13 at 02:50

correct

Brother DaveJun 08 '13 at 04:17

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1

Use of "an" or "a" before a word starting with "h" usually depends on whether the "h" is sounded or unsounded. We say "a house" but "an hour". The word "historic", and other three syllable words starting with "h" where the stress is on the middle syllable, doesn't quite fit this rule. Usage has differed over time and differs between countries and also dialects. However, there is a group of words of three or more syllables with the stress on the second syllable, such as historic, historical, hypothesis, hysterical, habitual, harmonica and hereditary, where people tended to still use "an" rather than "a". The "h" is less well sounded in these words compared with certain other words starting with "h" where the stress is on the first syllable such as history, histogram, hypothetical, holiday and hemorrhoid, or on the only syllable such as hand, host and hymn. Thus "an historic" is still often used. The word "haphazard" is an interesting exception. Here, the stress is on the second syllable but we hardly ever see, for example, "an haphazard event" even though it fits into the same category of words as "historic" etc above. This is perhaps because the first syllable of "haphazard" is actually quite strong even though the stress is on the second syllable. All in all, it appears that "a historic" will win the day, although "an historic" will still no doubt be used where the "h" sound is weak. This could especially be the case in certain dialects of spoken English - "an 'istoric" can be easier to say than "a historic", especially if talking quickly. Otherwise, "a historic" seems to be becoming the norm.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 05:06 Anju New member
1

Keep the rule simple.

 

If the 'h' is sounded (so covering the dialect issue), use 'a'.

link comment edited Jun 08 '13 at 09:06 phill New member
1

I think it is a regional thing and tied in with dialect.  In some parts of the world the "h" in historic is aspirate and in some it is not.  If you pronounce the "h" then it should follow "a" and if you do not pronounce the "h" it should be "an".

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 11:10 Marion New member
1

I totally agree that in this case the "a" is correct. It sounds right and feels right!

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 15:04 Joan Adamo New member
1

Simply put. Use an with historic

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 15:31 vshoudt New member
0

A historic

"A" is used if you have a consonant sound, as in historic. "An" is used when you have a vowel sound, as in hour.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 02:19 Des New member
0

If writing, it is "a" historic; "a" if the succeeding word begins with a consonant, "an" if with a vowel.  If speaking, i.e. in the vernacular, "an" historic flows off the tongue much better (but is technically incorrect), and spoken English, or any live language,  is much more flexible than written English or other live language.

link comment edited Jun 08 '13 at 04:46 Marshall N Brown New member
0

You should use “an” before a word beginning with an “H” only if the “H” is not pronounced: “an honest effort”; it’s properly “a historic event” though many sophisticated speakers somehow prefer the sound of “an historic,” so that version is not likely to get you into any real trouble.

~ Quoted from the book 'Common Errors in English Language'

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 05:14 Anūp Chakravartī New member
0

A historic occasion. The aitch sound is audidible.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 05:19 Anil Kumar Srivastava New member
0

When the word begins with a vowel, use "AN." When the word begins with a consonant, use "A." There are exceptions when a word starts with a consonant but when spoken it sounds like a vowel. So, in this case since "historic" does not sound like a vowel, you would write/say "a historic."

link comment answered Jun 09 '13 at 08:17 Melissa Crook New member
0

Of course there are exceptions to that rule, but as an English teacher in today's society I am not going to tell my students that, as in "their" world everything "sounds" right, which makes grading writing assignments riddled with what "sounds right" very unpleasant.

link comment answered Jun 13 '13 at 18:06 Karen Jackson New member
-1

A sound option to decide whether to use "a" or "an" with a word like historic is simply to remove it. For instance, you would not say something is "a event." Instead, it is grammatically "an event" and, thus, "an historic event." Keeping one's eye on the object of the modifier pretty much will keep one on the proper grammatical track.

link answered Jun 08 '13 at 05:45 Joe Gillette New member

If I follow your suggestion, do I ask for an avocado-colored ball or a avocado-colored ball .Simply stated, vowel sound goes with "an" consonant sound receives "a"

Gracious GoodnessJun 08 '13 at 20:25

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-3

You should use "a." "An" is used only before vowels (an apple/orange/angle), and "h" in "historic" is not silent in English (as opposed to French or Spanish, for example), so you need "a."

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 02:07 Elin Tomov Contributor
-3

I think historic is an irregular adjective and it deserves an an.

link comment answered Jun 08 '13 at 04:36 Michael Mahoney New member
-4

An "a" should be used in front of historic because it begins with a consonant. "An" is used for words that begin with vowels.

link answered Jun 08 '13 at 02:16 Karen Jackson New member

Elin/Karen somtimes you must throw down the textbook and go with what sounds right.

Brother DaveJun 08 '13 at 04:19

exactly.

Scarlet DarwinJun 12 '13 at 17:35

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