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A Woman, a Black, an Hispanic–No!

On Comcast’s online news, I just read an article about the reaction of U.S. Democrats to a Supreme Court decision. The Associated Press (AP) writer stated:

A historically diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates–a woman, a black, an Hispanic and five whites–denounced an hours-old Supreme Court affirmative action ruling. . . .

An Hispanic? No way, Jose. The article an precedes words that start with a vowel sound:

an action
an egg
an iguana
an opera
an umbrella
an hour
an MBA

The word Hispanic starts with a consonant sound, h, doesn’t it? In my American Heritage College Dictionary the h is pronounced. If we agree to pronounce the h, then let’s write:

a woman, a black, and a Hispanic

However, if you live in a place where the word is pronounced “istoric,” you may use an.

I was pleased to see that the AP writer did not say “an historically diverse field,” although that might have been consistent with “an Hispanic.”

If you are remembering a time when “an historic” was the rule, I am too. When I was growing up in the U.S., we always wrote “an historic” and “an historical.” But that style is now out. Let’s just call it an historical use–not a current one.

For more about a and an, read this post.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “A Woman, a Black, an Hispanic–No!”

  • Lynn:

    I am an hispanic living in USA. Can you please explain if it is right to write an hour, and an MBA?. I just do not understand.

  • Carlos, these are correct:

    –an MBA
    –an emblem
    –an enchilada
    They all start with a short e (vowel) sound, as in egg. Compare them to:
    –a major
    –a mother
    Both start with the m (consonant) sound.

    These are correct:
    –an hour (the h is silent, as in the Spanish “hola”).
    –an honor (silent h)
    –an otter
    –an orphan

    They all start with an o (vowel) sound. Compare them with:
    –a house
    –a hat
    –a Oaxacan
    These start with the h or w (consonant) sound.

    I hope that helps!


  • I read your article An error, A mistake: “A” & “An”.

    In there you mention something about SASE that has to be writen as an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope).

    My question is why SASE has to go with the article An and not A. I think that SASE start with the consonant sound s.

  • Carlos, the abbreviation SASE starts with the sound “ess” just like “an essay” and “an estimate.” Only if you read the abbreviation as if it were spelled out does it start with the “S” sound: a self-addressed envelope, a sedan, a selection.


  • Hi, T. If a Spanish person speaking English does not pronounce the “h” in “Hispanic,” then using “an” would be consistent with the rule. In writing, though, I recommend “a Hispanic.”


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