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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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November 06, 2008



Thank you! It annoys me sooooo much when people say an in front of H words. Historic and hallucination seem to be the most common words with this problem.

J Smith

A historic is more common in online writing, but both usages are sufficiently common to be considered correct.

A well known grammar rule says that we should use an before vowel sounds; for example, an accident, an item, an hour. We use a otherwise: a book, a hotel, a university.

Notice that we say an hour, not a hour. The choice of a or an is based upon the sound of the word, not the spelling. Hour sounds as if it starts with a vowel sound (ow); hence, we use an.

Following this rule, we would say a historic, not an historic because (for most speakers) historic doesn't start with a vowel sound.

Words of three or more syllables that start with h are treated differently by some speakers, though. (This may be because of the tendency of some regional accents to drop initial Hs.)

Here's another example. Which of these pairs of sentences sounds better to you?

We can't agree on a hypothesis.
We can't agree on an hypothesis.
A quick bit of Googling reveals that — as of December 2008 — the phrase a hypothesis is used on 2.22 million pages (80%), and an hypothesis on 538,000 pages (20%). Similarly, a historic gets 70% of the popular vote, and an historic only 30%.

There is a clear preference on the web in favour of a hypothesis and a historic. Even so, a significant minority uses the other form. This supports the view that both forms are widespread. Which form you use seems to be little more than a personal preference and perhaps a matter of accent.

In summary: A historic is more common in online writing, but both usages are sufficiently common to be considered correct.

Freelance article writer

Wonderful article with grammatical usage of this very common word...for me I still use "an" instead of "a" before historical...

Scottie V

I know the post is a bit old, but J Smith, I'd like to note that just because many people do it, doesn't make it correct. Especially on the internet; see: Your/You're, Their/They're/There. People misuse these all the time, common=/=correct. A historic is grammatically correct, in American pronunciation, plain and simple. In fact, I'm not even sure if people with British accents pronounce it with a silent "h"


THANK YOU!!! I am DISGUSTED at the ignorance of this country. I am an English major, and it has ALWAYS been "A historic day", not "AN historic day". I can't even believe that nearly every stupid newscaster on t.v. can't even get this right. I don't know when this started--because I do remember when people actually DID know the correct way to say that-- but it drives me up the wall every time I hear someone make this annoying grammar mistake. Thank you SO much for pointing this out!!!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Liz, you are welcome. I hope you feel better now!


The Son

Also, with regards to "in an hour's time". You would never hear the Queen say that! She would only say something like "in one hour's time" because that is more proper. "In an hour" is just another version of shortening and convenience.

I use her as an example since 'The Queens English' seems to be a benchmark of speech and pronunciation quality.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

I have not heard enough from the Queen to comment.



in an hour is surely correct since it doesn't start with an "h" sound more of an "o" sound no one says hour and pronounces the H... I hope!!!


I agree it should be "A historic day" rather than "An historic day" which is how I found this page. Today they have a banner, on the BBC news no less, saying "An historic day" which to me sounds very wrong.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Lou. Yes, "in an hour" is correct. Pronouncing the "h" would sound crazy, wouldn't it?

I don't actually blame the BBC for "an historic day," with many British speakers pronouncing the word "istoric."

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.


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