Is it a or an hypothesis? I am not a native speaker (and not very language talented) so I would appreciate any explanation/rules.

  • Use "a." As a rule, whenever the "h" is pronounced out loud, we use "a." Unfortunately, you have to consult a dictionary for each individual word to see whether the "h" is silent or pronounced, but it's usually pronounced. – hunter Dec 20 '13 at 16:16
  • You should use a hypothesis; although a minority of native speakers say an hypothesis, that's a more complicated rule to learn, and if you use it you risk sounding like a pretentious British snob. See this question. – Peter Shor Dec 20 '13 at 16:17
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    This question has been asked many times before. Please search the site before asking. The "Frequent" tab under "Questions" is a good place to start. Thank you. – RegDwigнt Dec 20 '13 at 16:22
  • British newsreaders (and I) say an historic. – Barrie England Dec 20 '13 at 16:26
  • @RegDwigнt The 'Frequent tab under Questions' didn't show me anything at all... – DaPhil Dec 20 '13 at 17:19

In US usage, words beginning with a silent h take an as if they began with a vowel

an honor

Words that begin with h in an accented or stressed syllable take a

a haircut

Words that begin with h in an unaccented (unstressed) syllable can take either

an historic occasion

a historic occasion

In the first version, following an, the h is often effectively silent, but both pronunciations are heard.

The use of a in this last case is much more common, and the use of an may be viewed by some as a bit pompous, but surely correct.

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    So which one is it for hypothesis?? – emcor Aug 17 '15 at 13:13
  • @emcor Either could be used, but in the US, a is more common. – bib Aug 17 '15 at 13:56

‘H’ represents a consonant sound, so we would expect ‘a hypothesis’, and that is what many say and write. However, where the stress in a word beginning with a sounded /h/ is on the second or subsequent syllable, some native speakers precede the word with ‘an’ rather than ‘a’, so you will also see and hear ‘an hypothesis’. But if you say and write ‘a hypothesis’, you will not be wrong.

  • I believe Americans who use "an" usually say an ypothesis. The 'h' in an unaccented syllable is often dropped after a consonant (which "an" ends with). – Peter Shor Dec 20 '13 at 16:20
  • @PeterShor: Everyone using an will connect the two words and drop the h, I would say? Anistoric, anypothesis, anonour, aneir, anour... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 20 '13 at 16:23
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    @Cerberus: Your last three...there's no question, those words already start with a vowel not the glottal aspirate. No one says 'A hour'. – Mitch Dec 20 '13 at 16:33
  • @Mitch: My point is they are pronounced the same way if you use an. When you use an, the same pronunciation kicks in. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 20 '13 at 16:35

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