I know for words starting with the letter 'h' the usage of "A" vs. "An" depends on how its pronounced.

A - Before a word start­ing with a pro­nounced, breathy “h,” use “a.” Examples: A hotel; A happy time; A his­tor­i­cal day; A healthy, happy baby.

An - Use “an” with words begin­ning with an unpro­nounced “h.” Examples: An herb gar­den; an hour; an honor; An heir.


But what about when your word is just the character 'h' such as in the sentence:

This word starts with a/an 'h'

"An" seems to fit better when I say it, and I suppose it fits the definition of not starting with a breathy "h" sound. But also its not an unpronounced 'h' because that's literally all you're pronouncing.

Which is correct?

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    @sumelic the first linked duplicate is exactly what I'm not asking about, I already know about 'h' words. The second two links are fairly helpful but both answers appear fairly undecided about the actual answer. – DasBeasto Mar 30 '16 at 16:09
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    What that quote means by "a pronounced h" is simply "the sound /h/." It is normally represented by the letter "h" in English writing, but not always—many people use it at the start of words like "jalapeño" and "Chanukkah." If you say "aitch," there is no /h/ sound, so you use "an." If you say "hatch," there is an /h/ sound, so you use "a." "Aitch" or "haitch" is the name of the letter. The name of the letter is not considered a "pronounced h" any more than "comma" is considered to be a "pronounced ,". – herisson Mar 30 '16 at 16:12
  • @sumelic thank you that makes perfect sense! I had trouble rationalizing that h was pronounced aitch but after seeing it written it's much easier. I'd ask you to make this an answer but Colin wrote pretty much the same already! – DasBeasto Mar 30 '16 at 16:18

In some regions of England, the letter is called "haitch". In those dialects, the phrase will naturally be "a haitch".

Everywhere else, the letter is called "aitch". In those cases, the phrase will be "an aitch".

It doesn't matter in the slightest how it is spelt, or whether it might have a funny sort of representation of a sound that isn't quite /h/ in it: the rule about 'a' vs. 'an' is simly about whether the word starts with a vowel sound.

  • I see that makes sense! Sort of what I was thinking but I couldn't verbalized it. Thanks. – DasBeasto Mar 30 '16 at 16:16
  • Would that that were true. A/an hotel; a/an historic ... – Edwin Ashworth Mar 30 '16 at 16:47
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    And Ireland. And probably other places... – Drew Mar 30 '16 at 19:10

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