Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A or An Historic Day?

I received a suggestion that, on this historic occasion, I review the use of the articles “a” and “an” with regard to the word historic. I could have sworn that I wrote about this question long ago, and intended to drop a link for everyone with some wishes that everyone enjoy this auspicious inauguration day.

I could find no such post, so I’ll start from scratch. You can use a very simple rule for deciding whether to use a or an before a word, a rule that relies not on the written word but on your accent. You use the article “an” before a word for which you pronounce with a beginning vowel sound.

No one can dictate how different regions or countries pronounce a word. Thus, in some places, Barack Obama’s inauguration is an historic event. In others, a hippopotamus holds more interest. In the United States, as a rule, people pronounce the initial h and thus use the article “a” with such words. In Great Britain, again as a rule, trying to twist your tongue from “a”, over a dropped h, and straight to ‘istoric, may result in an horrible sprain.

So enjoy the spectacle of a historic event, be tolerant of the vagaries of regional dialects, and use whichever article allows you to comfortably read this sentence aloud.