Talk:A and an

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I'm not sure "a/an" is a precise synonym for "one". "Make one wish" has a slightly different meaning from "make a wish". --Auximines 17:11, 26 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Sure there are differences (why else have separate words?), but I think they are similar enough to call them synonyms. In German, they are the same word, so this subtle distinction cannot be made in German (barring awkward rephrasing of course), so it's not essential to human communication ;-) — Timwi 17:45, 26 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I won't argue with a fellow Cantabrigian :) but it would be interesting to define the difference between "a" and "one". Of the languages I know, French and Turkish also use the same word; Dutch and Spanish do not. --Auximines 13:13, 29 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I know I'm replying to something over two years old, but Spanish does use the same words. "Uno" is the number, but before a noun it's always "un" or "una", the same as the indefinite articles. --Galaxiaad 00:22, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
Well I'm not a Cantabrigian.  :-) So what if German only has the one word? English only has one word for "kennen" and "wissen", yet I've seen no one claim that these are synonyms. And whether a distinction is essential to human communication seems irrelevant here. A lot of things are non-essential, yet they still have differences.
I could concede "a hundred", but as Auximines pointed out "make a wish" and "make one wish" have clearly different connotations — "a wish" doesn't necessarily mean just one. Calling them synonyms could imply that "a(n)" and "one" can be used interchangeably in this context, which they cannot.
The OED cites two other uses of "an": 1) to remove the definiteness of a numeral adjective or express an estimate (e.g. "a sixty years", "a two hundred spears", "a many men") and 2) to mean "one, a certain, a particular; the same" (e.g. "two at a time", "an age"). However, it adds that both are now rare and limited to just a few phrases (such as "a few"). -- Damezi 06:50, 31 Mar 2005 (UTC)

"A(n) historic"[edit]

"Can you give some examples of how your edit applies? While this is entirely likely to be ignorance on my part, I cannot think of any dialects of English in which H normally goes unpronounced at the beginning of a word - Yet examples dialects in which the use of an in this context spring to mind easily, despite their sounding of H (Many north american dialects, a couple of dialects in great britain...)"

Hmm ... I may have been a bit hasty; a quick look on Google for "h dropping" and "an historic" reveals that the situation is somewhat more complicated.
It seems dropping of 'h' in pronunciation is mostly confined to England, and there to RP and Cockney accents, though this seems to be dying out, at last among the educated.
While saying 'an historic' must have been prompted by h-dropping, it now seems to be a matter of preference for a lot of people, though it's still less common than "a historic". It seems a lot of people think it "just feels nicer" or seems more sophisticated.
While there are plenty of cases of writing "an historic", my own experience has been that it's rather unusual — I'd definitely notice if someone used that form. (Yes, I'm American, but I've heard Canadians, Australians and English(wo)men speak both on TV and in real life.) Curiously, there's also some suggestion that it's primarily a feature of writing; so, is it possible that a lot of people write "an historic", but actually say "a historic"?
And there are of course various opinions to be found on Google

-- Damezi 10:48, 3 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I think the H-dropping article is a not-awful resource. :)
The dropping of H is quite common in various dialects of English, though rarely is it applied in a general way to all examples, and often its implementation changes from dialect to dialect. In fact, I would suggest that the North American dialects are unique in their near-universal retention of the H sound where appropriate, yet media exported from America show no greater retention of the an h- usage.
Common consensus appears to be that the absence of H is more natural than the presence, from an historical perspective. At times words starting with vowel sounds were generally pronounced with aspiration (the H sound) though the letter itself was not present in the word, and that the spellings gradually changed to reflect this. Of course,spelling was pretty hit-and-miss before the dictionary anyhow...
Many of the relevant words also come to us via French, and thus were spelt with a silent H.
Whichever of these two most popular options applies to any given word, in Received Pronunciation an is always used before a word beginning with an open sound; the use of A is exceptional and would still be considered technically incorrect in most places, as long as somebody noticed. :)
These are my reasons for favouring the less specific description of the phenomenon, and for my disagreeing with the exception for aspiration-retaining dialects, though I certainly can't say that your edit is actually inaccurate. The whole language is a bit of a mess and I think it's wise to avoid applying broad generalisations to any one part of it. :)
ADMcG 18:30, 3 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Well see, I did look for such an article, but I searched for "h dropping" rather than "h-dropping".  :-)
My main point, really, is that while even in America some words (such as "honor" and "herb") have a silent H and normally take "an", I would consider it extremely odd if someone used "an" and pronounced the H, as in "an historical perspective". I would expect to hear either "a historical perspective" or "an 'istorical perspective".
How about this:
It is also used before words beginning with an H sound in an unstressed syllable as in an historic event. This second usage is fading in written English and some dialects of spoken English, such as American English, where it is more common to use "a" rather than "an" before a pronounced H.
I just think the article should reflect any widespread deviations from the 'norm' (and I do think this is one widespread enough). While I certainly can't speak for everyone, I do think the general tendency in pronunciation is for "an" or "h", but not both.
Furthermore, while using "an" in these cases may be considered more prestigious or just better sounding, neither version is really considered correct. On the other hand, a few years ago I heard that young children were learning it was okay to use "a" before a vowel, as in "a octopus", so it may just be that this country is going to the dogs.  :-)
Damezi 11:03, 4 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I think your proposed edit is beautifully put, and certainly has my vote. :)
-- ADMcG 11:42, 4 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I would add the counsel that writers use whichever form occurs in their own idiolect. About "a octopus", while this form may not be the usual, it is the emphatic form, used in speech to represent that there was only one octopus in question, or that any old octopus will serve. -- Smerdis of Tlön 14:01, 4 Apr 2005 (UTC)


"An historic" is anachronistic in written English, and plain wrong in spoken English *unless* there is h-dropping. The whole point of using "an" rather than "a" is to smooth over ugly letter combinations (compare "an egg" with "a egg", for example); to say "an historic" whilst sounding the h runs against the grain. -- JS.Farrar 09:00, 13 October 2005 (UTC)

"Plain wrong" – except to those who prefer it. I recall a lovely film in which Michael York says something like "We shall have to go to an hotel" and a grande dame replies "How lovely; I haven't heard a young man say 'an hotel' in years." (It might have been in Murder on the Orient Express (1974), in which case it might have been Wendy Hiller, Ingrid Bergman, or Lauren Bacall. I can picture the scene, but not the face.) As observed elsewhere here, there exists a definite intellectual-snob usage where the 'h' is pronounced in "an hotel," "an historic," "an historian." I tend to think of it as an Oxbridge usage. You may not like the sound of it, but many do (including myself). I don't think it can be declared wrong just because it is a bit unusual. It is still in the realm of normal usage. (I've also heard "an unicorn" and "an unique", but these are more likely deliberate extensions of this snobby usage, with less literary legitimacy. Although I must confess to liking them as well, and finding them easier to say than "a unicorn" and "a unique".) Trevor Hanson 02:00, 18 November 2006 (UTC)
I don't know if this helps or hinders, but I was taught (many years ago) that "an" is used with "hotel" only when the word is pronounced as its French form - and technically spelled likewise (so "an hôtel" where the h is silent and there is a circumflex over the "o", but "a hotel" where it isn't and there isn't).
The intellectual snobbery may derive more from a cultural tendency (middle and upper classes in the UK, who were taught to speak "proper" :)) to pronounce "foreign" words using the rules of the appropriate language. Those old enough to remember English newscaster Angela Rippon may recall her odd-sounding pronunciation of words like "guerrilla" for that same reason. AncientBrit 22:37, 12 April 2007 (UTC)
To me, here is the salient point: There have obviously been different "rules" taught to different populations at different times, and different "standard usages" as reflected in the work of respected authors, editors, and publishers. This returns us to the idea that a language and its usage are living things. We can find wide agreement on certain usage topics; but there are also gray areas, like this one, where no single precept or compromise will embrace all "correct" practices. There simply are variations in how people correctly use the language. Trevor Hanson 01:31, 13 April 2007 (UTC)

If you'd like a concise, easy-to-remember rule, how about this:

Use the article a before consonant sounds: a historic event, a one-year term (sounds as if it begins with a w), a united stand (sounds like you).
Use the article an before vowel sounds: an energy crisis, an honorable man (the h is silent), an NBA record (sounds like it begins with the letter e), an 1890s celebration.

Source: The Associated Press stylebook. Beagle1971 04:42, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Sure, it's concise; and many people subscribe to this position; and following this rule would never get you in trouble; but still, many don't agree. Try Googling "an hypothesis" or "an historic" to see plenty of deliberate literary and scholarly uses of this form. (Moreover, the "rule" that one doesn't use 'an' before a consonant is a shaky one. We are all familiar with the grade-school list of vowels: "A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y." The 'y' sound is frequently a dipthong beginning with a short i or long e sound: 'yellow' sounds rather like 'ee-ellow' or 'i-ellow'. Unless you say 'yellow' quickly enough, "an yellow flower" would seem to be OK, even by the lowest-common-denominator AP rule.) At any rate, for words with French origins that begin with 'h' like "hotel" and "historian", there is a strong case for using "an" even when the 'h' is aspirated. At least I don't see how one could say such use is wrong, when it has been ubiquitous among scholars since Newton. Trevor Hanson 08:23, 19 December 2006 (UTC)
The rule specifies consonant and vowel sounds, not the letters, requiring you to sound out the words as they are spoken, not spelled. Just because scholars used a certain construction doesn't make it right today. Beagle1971 06:57, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
1. I believe I was talking about sounds. An initial 'y' or long 'u' is often pronounced with an initial 'i' sound. 2. If today's scholars use it, which they do, that "makes it right today." 3. See 'talk page guidelines' about editing others' comments. Trevor Hanson 01:35, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
My apologies about the edit (I restored it, which is probably another violation of the policy). I obviously misinterpreted the tone of your reply, but your use of lowest common denominator and I don't see how anyone could say such use is wrong came across as condescending to me, even if you didn't intend it. (But I didn't do any better in my reply, so I'm just as guilty.) Anyhow, your link was from the works of Isaac Newton, which is why I inferred you meant works of past scholars. Also, I thought you were talking about the spelling because you wrote ...the "rule" that one doesn't use 'an' before a consonant is a shaky one. I looked up the phonetics for y, and it's listed with the consonant sounds, so it doesn't violate the rule. IPA for English I think it has something to do with tongue position so you don't trip over the pronunciation. I think it's similar to French abbreviation of la/le before a word starting with a vowel sound. Beagle1971 02:36, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
Heh heh. Thanks for clarifying your point. I definitely did not mean any condescension; I literally meant: 'I don't understand how "an hypothesis" or "an historic" can be thought wrong, since these forms are in wide current scholarly use.' By "lowest common denominator" I didn't mean anything pejorative, though I can see how it might sound that way. I meant that the goal of standards from organizations like AP is to write clear, understandable prose that will look normal to a newspaper reader – a form of writing that, if I recall correctly, is deliberately geared to the level of a high-school-level reader. In other words, such standards are intended to define a lowest-common-denominator; thus usage that might be normal in an academic journal might be judged inappropriate for AP copy. (Similarly, we use different styles when writing a press release versus a journal paper – or a Wikipedia article.) My citing Newton was simply to show that "an hypothesis" had a long tradition; but a quick Google will find lots of recent uses, along with "an historian", "an hueristic", etc. The bottom line here for me is that, although there are lots of people who seem to want an official rule for such cases, I don't believe that there is any such rule-making body for the English language. We of course have established rules of usage, but these are reached by consensus, and on the use of 'a' versus 'an' I think there remain diverging opinions. I further assert that any usage found regularly in scholarly publications and mainstream literature cannot be declared "wrong". A very similar example exists with split infinitives. Grammarians of another generation attempted to legislate them out of existence, but split infinitives have been used by good writers since before Shakespeare; and so the fact that you or I may prefer to avoid them cannot make them wrong in some a priori sense. (I do realize that this whole argument is a tempest in a teapot, and few people give a hoot. But every time I see someone appearing to don the mantle of the Language Police, I feel I must state the other position: that the language is a living thing, and that, in the end, correct usage is defined by how good writers choose to write – and not the other way around.) Trevor Hanson 03:19, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes, the AP Stylebook is used to standardize spelling, punctuation and some grammar issues, but it's a myth that it defines how to write for one particular audience or level of reader. Reporters don't purposely write down to a certain level, and editors don't dumb down the copy. Most press releases are poorly written because they're often done by advertising and marketing departments who are unfamiliar with writing anything but ad copy and have an agenda of promoting whatever it is they're writing about. The main difference in an academic journal is that the audience already has context in the subject, while a newspaper or magazine not devoted to that subject has to provide it for the reader. Personally, most academics like to think they're good writers, but they just need a good editor to cut out their overuse of clauses and run-on sentences.

I think this discussion of Y might need a new subheading, maybe combined with discussion of U below since they're both using the same phonetics. Beagle1971 02:44, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

I actually wasn't making a strong case about using 'an' before Y and U, which (even I must concede) would be odd usage. (One might find "an unique" in the mouth of a pedantic fictional character, but not so often in normal writing.) I was instead trying to show that the simple-sounding rule of "use 'an' before vowel sounds" wasn't necessarily as simple as it sounded; and, again, that our goal here should be descriptive rather than prescriptive – "What range of usage has been normal among writers with good ears and good educations?" rather than "What set of rules should we insist that writers follow?" Trevor Hanson 03:19, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

How about before U?[edit]

Can someone explain the usage with words starting with the vowel U? It's not "an Unicorn" or "an urinary tract," is it? newkai

OK, n/m, guess an is used for the above newkai 15:40, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Well, no it isn't (except perhaps in some strange dialect I haven't heard). In your examples, the U is pronounced like "you", therefore beginning with a consonant. -- Damezi 21:21, 16 July 2005 (UTC)
yesppity damezi is right... same thing happens with words like euphemism, eulogy, european, and so forth
Yep, me and my dictionary agree. I've added a line. Jumpmanlounge 02:49, 19 June 2007 (UTC)

Merge[edit]

Any objection to merging this into the article (grammar) article? It's currently lacking this info. DJ Clayworth 15:43, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Yes! There is information here that's not relevant to articles, such as the three-dollars-a-kilo usage. O'course, it's been some months since you said that, so you may no longer be interested in trying, but still. —Felix the Cassowary (ɑe hɪː jɐ) 09:46, 15 October 2005 (UTC)
Favoring merge. The has already been merged on the grounds that Wikipedia is not a dictionary, leaving the article article rather lopsided. --SlothMcCarty (talk) 19:00, 4 December 2009 (UTC)

(n)orange[edit]

This article says that there was once a form "norange"in english. However, the article about the word orange says that the n was lost before it reached the english language. does anybody know which article is right

http://www.dictionary.com/ gives (from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition) a definition that agrees with the latter, saying n was dropped by the time it reached Old Italian.
-Dictionary.com says it was lost before, the wiki article on Junctural Metanalysis, and the wiki on Orange (Fruit) also both agree. I'm removing the reference to norage, since there seems to be no basis for it, and a lot of basis against it. -69.160.169.147
Same thing but opposite happened with "An ewt." --Macarion 05:53, 2 July 2006 (UTC)

Acronyms[edit]

Would it be safe to say that 'an' is used before most acronyms. More specifically when the acronyms are spelled when said. For example 'an SAT score' would use an, but 'a RAM chip' would use a because ram is spoken as one word. Can anyone research this a bit? --Zdude255 23:31, 19 October 2005 (UTC)

The rules for acronyms are exactly the same for normal words: If the first sound is a vowel, then you get 'an', otherwise you get 'a'. Hence (in addition to your observations), "a TER score" because you say "tee-ee-aar"; "a US company" because you say "you-ess". Also, some acronyms are written-only, and they're meant to be expanded when read, such as "a SO" because you say "a significant other" (or so the present author intends :). There is some variation; for instance, I pronounce the name of the letter H as 'haitch', so I say "a HTML document". Others who are unfamiliar with my usage might think I intended it to be said "a hypertext markup-language document". —Felix the Cassowary (ɑe hɪː jɐ) 00:24, 20 October 2005 (UTC)
Perhaps this clarification can be added somewhere in the article. Currently it is not definitive. For instance, the article doesn't explicitly state whether you would write "an MBA" or "a MBA". Convention would suggests 'an' is appropriate because of the pronunciation "em-bee-ay". Begaddy 22:39, 25 February 2007 (UTC)

Humungous[edit]

Humungous is slang? Informal perhaps, but that is not the same as being slang, is it? DLCinMaine 21:41, 7 January 2006 (UTC)

It's a name. Lord Humongous. Trepan 16:51, 16 June 2006 (UTC)

function?[edit]

hi. this article is about form and historical development. however, it has almost nothing about function, i.e. what does a/an do in English? it has several functions which could be stated and perhaps contrasted with English the. peace – ishwar  (speak) 22:05, 6 February 2006 (UTC)

perhaps a link to the "indefinite article" article will suffice?

A norange, again[edit]

Another example is that "an orange" used to be written "a norange" (cf. Spanish naranja), until the 'n' shifted from the beginning of the noun to the end of the article.

This thing just never dies, does it? Once and for all: the word has always been "orange" in English, and never "norange". See the above discussion as well. I've tried to debunk it explicitly in the article. JRM · Talk 17:11, 25 June 2006 (UTC)

A few confusing bits[edit]

Many British usage books, therefore, discount a usage which some Americans (amongst others) employ as being a derivative of the Cockney. Which usage? Using "an" before words that start with "h"? In that case I'd say it should be just "Many British usage books, therefore, discount this usage as being derivative of the Cockney." The way it is is ambiguous in both "a usage" and "employ as being a derivative of the Cockney". I know that isn't why Americans (and others) employ the usage, but... ;)

I can't find anything about it in the Manual of Style, but the plural of the letter "h" is spelled "h's" and "h"s in two different places in the article. In fact, should letters be in double or single quotes?

Hence "an" may be seen in such phrases as "an historic", "an heroic", and "an hôtel of excellence" was the by-line in an advertisement in a New York City newspaper. Presumably only the last was printed in a New York City newspaper (which one, anyway? I think we should either cite completely, or not at all, as these are just linguistic examples and it's fine for them to be invented), in which case the part after the last comma is a whole sentenced smashed onto the end of a list. Furthermore, was it printed as "an hôtel"? Then it should be in the section about French-derived words. And one more thing: I've never heard by-line used that way. As far as I know it only means the name and position of the writer (see byline).

Just wanted to run these things by people who may be able to confirm them before I make the changes. --Galaxiaad 01:04, 3 August 2006 (UTC)

These confusing sentences have been here for 18 months since the last comments. May I remove it? dbfirs 15:36, 18 January 2008 (UTC)

As an ESL (English Second Language) person...[edit]

...I've one burning question on this subject -- which is the proper form to use; "A European perspective" or "An European perspective"? Thank you! 84.192.116.254 16:05, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

Most people (and most of the rules cited here) prefer "a European", because the word begins with a 'y' sound. Using that form would never be incorrect. Most participants in the discussion on this page would further assert that "an European" is in fact wrong. I personally disagree, and believe that a case could be made for it – that one will encounter this form in both written and spoken English. However, it is certainly not the most common usage, and the situation is less clear-cut than "an historian", "an hypothesis", or "an hotel" (which I believe are so well-established in literature and speech that their validity is beyond argument). This is of course just my own opinion. Trevor Hanson 19:15, 5 January 2007 (UTC)
Trevor, my dictionary here (3rd edition MacQuarie) is very clear: "pronunciation rather than spelling is the criterion". So: "a European", "a user", "a one-year term", "a hypothesis". Words where the initial "h" is variable - like "historical" - can have "a" or "an" in front of them.

"An" is not only before vowel sounds[edit]

The article states that "an" is used before a vowel sound, but this is not entirely true. The word "early" starts with a sonorant consonant [ɹ], not a vowel, but you would still say "an early morning," not "a early morning." A better definition would be that "an" is used before syllables without onsets. --Runner5k 11:22, 11 July 2007 (UTC)

I couldn't read which IPA character you wrote, but looking up Wikipedia, you seem to mean an Alveolar approximant, one of a number of "r"-like sounds. I can't help to think that, if this is true, it seems to be limited to certain dialects, I don't think I have ever heard that pronunciation, either in General American or Received Pronunciation. 惑乱 分からん * \)/ (\ (< \) (2 /) /)/ * 17:29, 8 August 2007 (UTC)
Yes, I did mean an alveolar approximant. I'm not an expert in phonetics, but I am almost certain that, at least in General American pronunciation, this consonant is pronounced as a syllabic consonant in many common words, such as fur, her, girl, and early. This web site gives a good explanation of this, using the website "Flickr" as one example. (The second syllable of "Flickr" contains a syllabic alveolar approximant.) --Runner5k 19:02, 13 August 2007 (UTC)
So you mean the "ear" part is a syllabic consonant, in itself? 惑乱 分からん * \)/ (\ (< \) (2 /) /)/ * 11:55, 14 August 2007 (UTC)
Yes, at least that's how I understand it. --Runner5k 10:33, 15 August 2007 (UTC)
My logic would claim otherwise, but linguistics isn't always a science that makes logical sense to me, besides, I'm not a native English speaker. Anyway, I'd claim the first sound in "early" is [ɜː], without any consonantal r, i.e. not "'r". Further input from anyone else, more knowledged in the matter? 惑乱 分からん * \)/ (\ (< \) (2 /) /)/ * 16:20, 15 August 2007 (UTC)

For most Americans, the first sound in "early" is an R-colored vowel like [ɝ]. This has the same relation to [ɹ] that [u] has to [w] or [i] has to [j]. This sound is essentially treated as a vowel in American English, so the correct usage is "an early."71.112.156.137 (talk) 19:11, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

The standard US and UK pronunciation of 'early' is ˈɝli, though it sometimes pronounced as ˈɝɹli. It is never correctly pronounced in the manner suggested by Runner5k; such a pronunciation would resemble certain dialectal pronunciations of the word 'really'.--Jeffro77 (talk) 20:33, 14 September 2008 (UTC)

Another use of "a/an"[edit]

Compare "I have a little trouble with my kids" versus "I have little trouble with my kids." In context, the two sentences have virtually opposite meanings, though the difference lies entirely in the presence or absence of the indefinite article. I wonder what mechanism is going on here, and whether it can be mentioned in the article. marbeh raglaim 15:07, 12 August 2007 (UTC)

No, this comes under used of little. dbfirs 15:40, 18 January 2008 (UTC)

I think that in the first sentence, "little" is an adjective modifying "a trouble", indicating that there is a problem that is small. In the second, little seems to be a determiner with meaning opposite to "much" or "a lot". So the first sentence means that the speaker has a small (non-zero) amount of trouble with her kids, while the second means that the speaker doesn't have much trouble with her kids. These are slightly different, but hardly "virtually opposite meanings." But it seems like the first sentence is more likely to be using "little" sarcastically, so if I actually heard the two sentences, I might also interpret them in opposite senses. 71.112.156.137 (talk) 19:18, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

An historian?[edit]

Does 'a' or 'an' come before 'historian?' After watching a Star Trek episode where a character said "I'm a doctor, not an historian," I've used 'an.' However, my professor took points off one of my essays, stating that I used the incorrect article. She said that in 'historian,' the 'h' is audible, so therefore, one must use 'a' as the article. Is she right? Ye Olde Luke 02:57, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

I'd agree with your professor, although I'm not a native speaker, and not aware of all the differences between different accents and dialects... 惑乱 分からん * \)/ (\ (< \) (2 /) /)/ * 20:22, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

I have a book called An Historical Atlas of Kent ISBN 1-86077-255-2 , I immediately thought that it looked odd and that it should use "A", now I'm not too sure but the author and publisher thought it was right. Carlwev 09:00, 13 October 2007 (UTC)

This is explained in the article. Either is correct, depending on whether you pronounce the "h" or not. In Kent of old, they did'nt; the Star Trek doctor didn't; but the professor evidently knew that User:Ye Olde Luke does pronounce the "h" in historian. dbfirs 15:45, 18 January 2008 (UTC)

An h-, again[edit]

This perennial problem came up recently here. I gave this response, which is from my original research (I adapt it slightly):

Strictly, the implicit traditional rule seems to go like this:

A before all consonant sounds, including /h/, /j/, /hj/, and /w/; an in all other cases. Except that an may be substituted before /h/ (and possibly before /hj/) if the first syllable of the word bears a weaker stress than the second syllable.

This successfully accounts for all of these usages (which are quite typical in some traditional styles):
  • a history
  • an historical occasion
  • a hysterectomy [primary stress on 3rd syllable; secondary on 1st]
  • an hysterical response
  • an honest woman
  • a home-made bomb
  • a homiletic monologue
  • an homologous structure
  • a human emotion
  • a[n] humanity that is respectful of the non-human [an is less likely]
  • a[n] humane gesture [an is less likely]
  • a[n] humanitarian gesture
  • a[n] hubristic proposal [with /hj/ pronounced]
  • a unity
  • a "oui" instead of a "non"
Needless to say (but I shall), these forms will be disputed. Of course there has always been great variation. In the KJV Bible you get an hundred, and this occurs even in Jane Austen.

--There is no way one would use "an" before a word beginning with the sounds "h" and "y," as in "humanity."

I wonder what thorough and respectable resources can be found that deal exhaustively with this?

– Noetica♬♩Talk 23:53, 17 January 2008 (UTC)

Usage has changed with pronunciation over time, and it also varies with regional pronunciation, so it is impossible to give a list of correct usages (I would argue with historical, hysterical, homologous and all the [n]s, but that reflects my pronunciation of these words, and I would accept Noetica's list if I heard Noetica's pronunciation). Two of the most thorough and respectable dictionaries in the world: Merriam-Webster, and the Oxford English Dictionary both give exactly the same guidance which is the same as that given in the article. Briefly, it is this: if you pronounce the "h" use "a"; if you don't pronounce the "h" use "an". This simple rule is sufficient for all words beginning with "h". dbfirs 16:03, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, but this rule gives a wrong result for humanity, humane and humanitarian. If you pronounce them without h, the pronunciation of the word will still start with a consonant – [j], like unique (or unity, which has initial stress). Therefore an humanity, an humane and an humanitarian are always incorrect, and an hubristic is, too. Just stick to "if your pronunciation starts with a vowel, use an, else a", the simplest, most basic and historically correct (original) rule. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 11:41, 19 September 2012 (UTC)

Pronunciation[edit]

What is the strong pronunciation of a? Is it "ei" as in "hate" or "a" as pronounced in "hat"? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 213.151.83.161 (talk) 21:03, 31 May 2008 (UTC)

a as in hate.

The pronunciation is dependant on the phonetics of what follows the "a". It is not always the same sound. Note that this question pertains to speech, not to writing. I'm unaware of any situation where the correct sound matches the sound from the word "hate", except when reference is made to the letter itself. Here are three URLs with a similar opinion: http://www.faqs.org/qa/qa-18587.html http://www.azargrammar.com/teacherTalk/blog/labels/articles.html http://www.english-test.net/forum/ftopic34906.html --kernel.package —Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.211.232.220 (talk) 01:05, 14 September 2009 (UTC)

Etymology[edit]

Nothing on the etymology of "a"? The article mentions where "an" comes from, but doesn't actually say where "a" came from. I assume it was just the dropped of the N on "an," but the article never states it one way or the other. And since this is the article about "a"/"an" as the indefinite article in English (see the header of A), I believe it would be appropriate to discuss here. RobertM525 (talk) 21:08, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

It's really simple: the Old English form ān (cognate to German ein, Latin ūnus and others) split into two words depending on stress – one is the result of the stressed variant, an the result of the unstressed variant. Before consonants, an ended up losing the n, so an is the older variant. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 11:48, 19 September 2012 (UTC)

External References[edit]

The Owl at Purdue University has one of the better explanations for deciding whether to use "a" or "an". In short, the difference is determined by the phonetics of the word that follows, which is unlike most rules. Most rules seem to be based on spelling. The Purdue link that addresses this particular conundrum is here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/591/01/. -- kernel.package —Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.211.232.220 (talk) 00:46, 14 September 2009 (UTC)

Our Wikipedia article has a better explanation than the Owl at Purdue's article. See the text in the section "Discrimination between a and an". The Purdue article mentions nothing about the glottal stop which is the fundamental determining phonetic rule in the choice between a and an. Cadae (talk) 06:57, 24 October 2009 (UTC)

Pronounce or Spell, that is the question[edit]

I can't think of a proper word for the example, so I'll use a name for one. Say you had a word spelt "Evil". But it was pronounced (And I know this is unlikely wherever, but hypothetically) "Jarvil" ('Jar' as in "a glass jar" and 'vil' pronounced like in "village", if it has any impact). Really, this would benefit from a proper example (surely one exists), but anyhow. Would you say "an Evil" or "a Evil"? Which has priority, the spelling or pronunciation? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Sgtlion (talkcontribs) 15:30, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

Read the article, in particular, see the rule under "Discrimination between a and an". It is determined by pronunciation, not by spelling convention. Cadae (talk) 07:00, 24 October 2009 (UTC)

Homage[edit]

Both a and an for homage. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/magazine/07FOB-onlanguage-t.html?ref=onlanguage. Regards, Sun Creator(talk) 14:44, 2 September 2012 (UTC)

Why this page?[edit]

It seems to me this page adds nothing to the information at English articles, except for various uncited and weird statements that have been successfully expunged from that other page. Given that noone seems to be working on it, can we put it back to bed and make this title a redirect to that page (as it happily was for a long time)? Victor Yus (talk) 09:38, 6 October 2012 (UTC)