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When should I use “a” versus “an” in front of a word beginning with the letter h?

What's the proper wording here, neither one sounds right to me:

"Chevra, an humanitarian organization..."


"Chevra, a humanitarian organization..."

My instinct says it follows the same rule as "an hour", but the 'h' sound is more pronounced in 'humanitarian', so I'm unsure.

marked as duplicate by Matt E. Эллен, RegDwigнt Jan 10 '12 at 11:41

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  • if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? – Claudiu Nov 16 '10 at 23:27

It depends on your accent, because the "a/an" pattern is completely phonological. Some dialects don't pronounce the [h] very strongly or at all in cases where it is followed by [j] (the "y" sound), like in "humanitarian" [hjumæn...], "humor", or "huge". In my dialect, the [h] is definitely pronounced so I would write "a", and I believe this is the most common pronunciation in the US (though I am not certain).

  • But even if someone drops the /h/, wouldn't they use "a" because /j/ is a consonant? We don't say "an universe" (or at least, not in modern English), and that starts the same as ’umanitarian. – sumelic Aug 30 '16 at 7:06
  • @suməlic: Yes. I have no idea what I was thinking back then. The part about [h] pronunciation is true but it has no impact on a/an. – Kosmonaut Aug 31 '16 at 14:06

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