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Im a programmer and I was writing a comment today that read:

Finds a XPath relative to the Node

From what I understand you should always use 'a' over 'an' when it proceeds a word starting with a vowel. such as

I ate an apple

I ate a orange

It sounds weird to me the way "Finds a XPath" reads. It feels more comfortable reading "Finds an XPath". I know English is full of weird rules and I am wondering if this is one of them. What is the correct usage here?

In case it is relevant heres a link to what XPath is.

marked as duplicate by Andrew Leach, FumbleFingers, Edwin Ashworth, user66974, RegDwigнt Jun 10 '14 at 21:44

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  • 3
    That's because it's correct reading finds an XPath. English grammar rules are based on Pronunciation. Not spelling. English spelling is just an obsolete coding scheme for a dead language; like using CP/M commands in Perl. – John Lawler Jun 10 '14 at 20:08
up vote 3 down vote accepted

What matters is not the letter with which the written representation of a word starts, but the sound. XPath is pronounced as if it were written expath, so "an" would be the appropriate article.

Even if we take the pedantic approach that abbreviations and their derivational terms should be expanded before deciding between "a" and "an", you will eventually wind up at extensible, which again points us to "an" (Personally, I think the only valid approach is to use the term as it would be pronounced; when discussing an FBI scheme, very few people are ever going to reass it as if it had been written a Federal Bureau of Investigation scheme, so "a" woould make little sense even in the most formal writing.)

  • Speaking as a pedant, I'm afraid I disagree that this is a pedantic approach; this is a bureaucratic approach. A pedant is concerned with the student learning. A bureaucrat just wants to make sure all the forms are observed and filled out correctly. – John Lawler Jun 10 '14 at 20:28
  • The bureaucrats are revolting. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '14 at 21:14

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