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Why is 'an' used with 'an honour'? Isn't 'an' limited to the vowels?

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related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/629/… –  Chris Dwyer Dec 8 '10 at 1:27
    
possible duplicate of "A user" or "an user"? –  Benyamin Hamidekhoo Aug 29 '13 at 10:26
    
"honour" starts with a vowel. –  nohat Aug 29 '13 at 23:24
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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Because the 'h' is silent in honour (or, in America, honor).

Sometimes 'an' is used even if the 'h' is aspirated, as in "This was an historic occasion."

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But that's because it is pronounced "an 'istoric occasion at an 'otel", but "the historic hotel" has fully aspirated h's; English is weird! You also, of course, get "an umbrella" but "a ukelele". –  Jonathan Leffler Dec 8 '10 at 7:16
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@Jonathan: I frequently hear people say "an historic occasion" with no elision of the "h". –  Robusto Dec 8 '10 at 11:28
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I can't help it if they weren't brought up to speak proper, can I? :D –  Jonathan Leffler Dec 8 '10 at 14:28
    
@JonathanLeffler: "An umbrella" vs. "a ukelele" isn't weird. Ukelele starts with a consonant sound (a y glide). –  LarsH Aug 28 '13 at 15:36
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As I understand it, an 'An' should be used before words that sound like they start with a vowel.

This can lead to ambiguity like 'SQL database'. This could either be written as 'an SQL database' or 'a SQL database' depending upon whether you pronounce SQL as 'S-Q-L' or 'sequel'.

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Good point, I never think of it as Sequel and so always use AN –  mgb Mar 28 '11 at 5:16
    
A vowel is, first and foremost, a sound. The "a"/"an" rule is a rule based on sound. –  nohat Aug 29 '13 at 23:24
    
Thank you very much. This answer is very helpful as well. –  JFW Aug 30 '13 at 16:18
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