I'm trying to understand this simple concept.

As far as I understood it, back to the days when I was a student, "an" should be used only before vowel words, that is, only before the following words: "a","i","o","u".

Yesterday my sister asked me a question related to this subject and I wasn't sure if my answer was correct because there are so much controversial sources explaining this subject.

The original question she asked me was which one of the following is the correct form to be used in a sentence:

An history


A history

I told her that she should use "a history" only because 'h' isn't a vowel word. Is it correct?

Thank you very much

  • The importance is not the letter but the sound it makes. Use an before vowel sounds, no other time. – Matt E. Эллен Aug 25 '13 at 11:47
  • Please search the site before asking. This is the 137th time this question gets asked. It is our most frequently asked question ever. We even have a dedicated blog post. And it's a very, very basic question to begin with, that can be looked up in a dictionary of your choice. Thank you. – RegDwigнt Aug 25 '13 at 13:28
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    After much searching, I think I've finally found someone whose opinion I'd agree with totally, at quora.com/Grammar/… . – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '13 at 8:09

Words of one or two syllables beginning with ‘h’ are normally preceded by ‘a’. They include ‘hotel’, ‘hostel’, ‘host’, ‘hearty’, ‘hero’ and ‘hardy’. (Some speakers may say ‘an hotel’, because ‘hotel’ is also a French word, in which the ‘h’ is not aspirated.)

Words of three or more syllables beginning with ‘h’ in which the first syllable is stressed are also preceded by ‘a’. They include ‘history’, ‘herbalist’, ‘heightening’ and ‘helicopter’.

Words of three or more syllables beginning with ‘h’ in which the second syllable is stressed give rise to some uncertainty. They include ‘historian’, ‘historical, ‘hiatus’ and ‘Hibernian’. I and some other speakers of British English precede them with ‘an’, but others don’t.

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    So OP's 'this simple concept' is a misnomer. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '13 at 13:30
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    Not as simple as it seems, perhaps, but not fiendishly complex either. – Barrie England Aug 25 '13 at 14:02
  • It can get complex: ' historic/al: Note that the article is "a" not "an", unless directly quoting someone' ' hotels : "a" hotel not "an" ' (Guardian Style guide). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 26 '13 at 18:14
  • House style guides are one thing. What people actually say and write is another. – Barrie England Aug 26 '13 at 18:49
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    At the Grammar Police, we keep close tabs on hour henemies. (Didn't you notice the pink Rolls Royce?) – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '13 at 8:14

You use an before words that sound like "a","i","o" or "u". So if you were to pronounce history as "istory", then "an istory" (or "an history") would be correct. Same as you say "an hour" and not "a hour" even though the word hour starts with an 'h'.

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