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“A historic…” or “An historic…”?

Such as

  • an heinous crime
  • an hideous monstrosity
  • an hallucination

This always looks wrong to me. I would expect it in spoken English, if the speakers accent suppresses the aspiration of the h. However some people use an even when they aspirate the h. Worse still some people write it as above.

I hear this with reasonable regularity from government / official figures

What is your opinion?

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Highly related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/629/… –  Dusty Apr 9 '11 at 5:09
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marked as duplicate by Uticensis, kiamlaluno, JSBձոգչ, Kosmonaut Apr 9 '11 at 18:50

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I agree. 'An hotel' seems to be the one I hear most.

'an' should only be used were a vowel sound follows, 'an heir to the throne' is fine, for example.

Also, where 'H' is the first letter of an acronym. So,

'a Harry Potter fan' would become 'an HP fan' (I couldn't think of a better example...) because we pronounce the capital letter 'aytch' not 'haytch'

Written English should follow the pattern of spoken English.

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Also consider the letter 'l'. a lucrative offer -but- an LP. I don't think we would have the same discussions with 'l' as we so often see with 'h' even though the same rules apply. –  Karl Apr 9 '11 at 5:40
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I was always taught that "an" is used before a word if the word begins with a vowel sound, not necessarily an actual vowel.

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I agree, so I would expect a Cockney to say "an 'allucination," or (comically) "an 'einous crime" (lol). But some seemingly educated people use "an" even when they pronounce the h. Also in written English, I would not expect the Cockney to emulate his regional pronunciation and acrually write "an hallucination". –  trideceth12 Apr 9 '11 at 5:06
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