1. Berserkr
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    Berserkr Member

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    An, or A?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Berserkr, Jan 26, 2009.

    Hi,

    I was just wondering what the rule is for using 'an' or 'a' before a word beginning with H? For example: "It must have been an hallucination."

    It seems that 'an' is always used, but when I speak I would always say "It must have been a hallucination." as it sounds correct to me.
     
  2. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you are correct. "Hallucination" starts with a consonant sound, so "a" should be used.

    The purpose of using "an" instead of "a" is to make it easier to pronounce words starting with a vowel sound. Try saying "a apple" or "a orange", for example.
     
  3. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I refer you to this previous discussion, which should answer most of your queries, especially about half way down the responses: http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=12560
     
  4. Berserkr
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    Thanks for the replies, and thanks for the link, Gannon. So it's basically whatever sounds right at the time? I was reading Stephen King and he wrote an hallucination, and I thought: Well, if Stephen King does it, it must be right." Just didn't sound correct to me. Cheers.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To summarize the other discussion, if the word is pronounced by the speaker of narrator with a leading vowel sound, use an. Otherwise, use a. Therefore it's an FBI agent (pronounced eff bee aye), a USB cable (pronounced you ess bee), an hour, etc. Some words or acronyms may be pronounced differently by different speakers, so the use of a or an may dependd on that speaker's pronunciation of the word: a historic occasion or an historic occasion, depending on whether, for that speaker, the h is silent.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'historic' is an exception to the rule, actually, since no one really pronounces it with a totally silent 'h' yet most of us will put 'an' before it when spoken, and thus write it that way, as well... that may owe its origin to british speech/usage...
     
  7. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I have noticed that words beginning with vowels are preceded with 'an,' while consonants are preceded with 'a'.

    There are exceptions, (FBI, for example) and words beginning with 'h' usually have 'an' at the beginning.
    (An hero, an hour, an historian, et cetera)
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes you may need to check a dictionary and not rely on your personal pronunciation,
    e.g Brits with standard ('RP') accents do indeed still SAY 'an istoric event/day/event etc' missing off the 'h', but they WRITE 'an historic ... ' in formal style.
    But they say 'a herb' and it's correct British English to write it like this, since the 'h' in herb is always pronounced in a standard British accent. 'An herb' would be incorrect in a British publication unless it was dialogue with an American speaking.
    Either 'a hotel' or 'an hotel' is correct in British English, the latter being older style (speaking and writing)--I don't know about in the US.
    There are a few more oddities like this, anyone remember any more?
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    while historian often gets an an, no one i know ever says 'an hero'!... i've never heard or seen it done that way, either...

    as for FBI, any acronym that starts with a letter that's pronounced with a beginning vowel sound, would take 'an' before it... such as 'an MS Word doc'...
     

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