Hai grammar nazis: "A history" or "an history"?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by ravenvii, Feb 27, 2009.

  1. ravenvii macrumors 604

    ravenvii

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    #1
    I'm unsure of whether I need to put an "a" before the word, history, or an "an"?

    Given this sentence: "It is a historical part of the football tradition."

    Should it be "a" or "an"?
     
  2. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #2
    It's an "a"

    An is used for words that start with a vowel. A is for consonants.

    There are exceptions but that's the general rule. :)

    EX

    It is a very important assignment.

    She is an amazing student.
     
  3. ravenvii thread starter macrumors 604

    ravenvii

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    #3
  4. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #4
    It's been debated, but most people you talk to or write to will say 'a history.'

    Stephen Hawking's novel is A Brief History of Time.

    Remove the adjective (brief) and it's a history.

    It may be technically correct to say an as it is left over from 'old English,' but like I said almost everyone including professors will consider is a history.

    BTW the Google forum is full of people's opinions, so don't trust it for a definitive answer.

    Going back to the Stephen Hawking example, the A is an article, which is really a form of adjective. Since adjectives describe nouns, the A isn't modifying brief, it's modifying history.
     
  5. Chundles macrumors G4

    Chundles

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    #5
    I've always used "a" for "History" as in "a history textbook" but for some reason always used "an" for "Historical" or "Historic" as in "an historical documentary" or "an historic event." Using "a historical documentary" doesn't feel right for some reason, as though the sentence starts and stops too often. I guess it's because in the word "History" there is more emphasis on the H than in "Historical" where it tends to blend more with the I and the S forming more of a vowel sound where "an" would be the correct usage.

    Meh, who knows. I talk heaps good english and I ain't gonna stop talking good english anytime soon eh.
     
  6. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #6
    :D I also think it depends on your pronunciation. I put equal emphasis on the H in history as I do on the H in historical.

    That reminds me of Family Guy when Brian and Stewie argue about the word 'whip.' :D
     
  7. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #7
    +1 - I'm more accustomed to saying "an historical ___" although I don't think that saying "a historical ____" is necessarily incorrect.
     
  8. fr33 loader macrumors regular

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    #8
    Curious what the exceptions are. I've always used the vowel rule myself as what was taught to me at school.


    P.S. English is my third language.
     
  9. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #9
    I actually can't think of anything right now, but as with everything else in English, there are exceptions. :p

    3 languages is very impressive! English is my first language and I am currently learning Spanish. I hope I can study something a bit more exotic like Russian, German, or Chinese once I get to college. :)
     
  10. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

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    #10
    no, all that has nothing to do with whether it's an "a" or an "an." The rule doesn't have anything at all to do with modifying some word further along in the sentence but rather with the first letter of the word that immediately follows.

    If that word starts with a vowel, then it's an "an." A word that starts with a consonant gets "a"........in your example, "brief" obviously starts with a consonant so it should be an "a"

    An exception is when an "h" is unsounded, then it gets an "an", otherwise "h" gets an "a".....for those of us that live where the "h" in "history" is sounded, then it gets an "a"

    :p IIRC
     
  11. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #11
    The one in my example does work because the "a" isn't describing brief it's describing history. Article=adjective which modifies a noun. Brief isn't a noun. Both "a" and brief are modifying/describing history as is the prepositional phrase "of time." Prepositional phrases can act as both adjectives and adverbs depending on what they modify but that's an entirely different topic.
     
  12. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #12
    The rule, in this case, is not grammatical but pronunciational. The difference between "a" and "an" is based solely on the word that follows, not the noun to which the article applies grammatically.
     
  13. Jaffa Cake macrumors Core

    Jaffa Cake

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    #13
    Same here, but with an exception - as Mr. Giver says, pronunciation plays a part.

    So, I'd write 'a history' but I'd actually say 'an history', because with my accent you don't pronounce the 'h'.

    I don't think I'm helping the OP much with that, am I? :p
     
  14. Mr. Giver '94 macrumors 68000

    Mr. Giver '94

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    #14
    Ya I think we've gone slightly off track. Sorry if my example was unclear. Looking back on it I realize it isn't quite relevant to the OP. Pronunciation does play a role, but the rules apply:

    a=consonant an=vowel
     
  15. Jaffa Cake macrumors Core

    Jaffa Cake

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    #15
    I suppose it depends on whether he's writing an essay or giving a speech... ;)
     
  16. fr33 loader macrumors regular

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    #16
    *He is an honest man*


    Using a doesn't sound right to me in that sentence though I don't know which one is right. I'd use an a though before the word "historical".
     
  17. weckart macrumors 68040

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    #17
    That is because the h in honest is silent. Similar story with hour, honour, and heir. These should always be preceded by an, since the words start with a vowel sound.

    The reason why some words starting with a voiced h are often preceded by an is that the h in these used to be silent. Examples, such as humble, hermit and horrible used to be pronounced as if they started with a vowel. Over the years, grammarians have brought back the h in the pronunciation but old habits die hard and there are vestiges of their previous pronunciation with constructs such as 'an heroic effort'.

    A modern day example is herb. The h is silent in the US but pronounced in the UK. Americans would write 'an herb', the British 'a herb'.

    I always stick to the simple rule that if the h is voiced, then NEVER use 'an'. It just sounds naff, just like the people who overcorrect their grammar and come up with howlers like 'this is between you and I'.
     
  18. fr33 loader macrumors regular

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    #18
    Hey, thanks. Clarified a lot of confusion on me.
     
  19. xUKHCx Administrator emeritus

    xUKHCx

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    #19
    Yes but as you said with exceptions and the rule refers to spoken vowels and spoken consonants please carol

    For the OP as previously suggest just read the sentence out loud then you will know which one to use


    "It is a historical part of the football tradition."
    "It is an historical part of the football tradition."

    "I was talking to a European MP"
    "I was talking to an European MP"
     
  20. Mitthrawnuruodo Moderator emeritus

    Mitthrawnuruodo

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    #20
    ...I guess...

    With "historical" you need the "an" to get the sentence flowing, but with a "history" you don't...
     
  21. it5five macrumors 65816

    it5five

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    #21
    It depends on whether or not you pronounce the "h" in history. If you do, you say "a history". If you don't, you should say "an history".
     
  22. northy124 macrumors 68020

    northy124

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    #22
    For that sentence it is "a" now if you were to write "It's an historical part of the football tradition" it would be "an" obviously.

    So stick with "a" unless doing the other sentence I wrote.

    Edit: Actually looking at my GCSE English book (from last year) it appears "An" would be better for that sentence you said.
     
  23. BenEndeem macrumors 6502

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    #23
    I've always used 'a' in front of the word 'history', as well as 'historic', 'historical' and so on. I've tried saying it with 'an' and it just doesn't seem to sound right.
     
  24. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #24
    Just to give one more empirical / popularity based answer...

    Googling "An history" produces some 224,000 hits. Googling "A history" produces 74,800,000 hits. :eek:

    Interestingly, while "a history" is preferred by some 330x over "an history," the ratio of "a historical" to "an historical" is much, much closer, with 20,300,000 hits for the former and 9,710,000 hits for the latter, a ratio of only 2.1....

    FWIW, I do the same as Chundles, even though we live in different nations. :) I also say "a history" and "an historical." There appear to be a number of us....

    I think saying what is consistent with your pronunciation is appropriate (the way I say them is consistent with the way I write them). I think any of them are considered officially acceptable, at least in American English.
     
  25. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #25
    Sometimes common sense is the best rule. At least in American English, you would say "a history book," but "an historical novel." Partly this is simply the sound of the words, but also because (I suppose) "ahistorical" is a word with its own meaning.

    FWIW, as one who writes history for a living, I find that people in my profession don't stick to a common rule. So personally, I would not sweat this one.
     

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