An Historic or A Historic?

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An historic OR A historic?

I always thought it was AN historic until one day my teacher friend texted me to ask if it was AN one-hour class or A one-hours class. I knew it was “a,” but I wanted to be able to explain why, so I of course referenced my to-go grammar queen, Grammar Girl, to see what she had to say. That is how I ended up reading about the use of AN vs. A, and my grammar nerd mind was blown.

I assumed Grammar Girl would back me up on my use of AN before an “h” word like historic. Alas, she did not, and it was a slap in the face of everything I thought I once knew. According to this post, Grammar Girl says:

Some Americans argue that it should be an historic, but I come down firmly on the side that says it should be a historic event.”

She also referenced this post as one that agrees with her position. I decided to poll my office on the subject, and I found that most held my original understanding that it was “an historic event.” Quoting from Grammar Girl again:

The rule is that you use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound.

So it would be A historic event, because the “h” sounds like a consonant.

But you would say AN honor, because the “h” makes a vowel sound, similar to “ah.”

This also explains why you say A one-hour class, because the “o” in one sounds like the consonant w, as in won. (Which is what I told my teacher friend. At least one problem was solved that day.)

But you would say AN only child, because the “o” in only sounds like the vowel o.

So, in conclusion, after getting sucked down the grammatical rabbit hole, I think I may have changed my position on the matter of a vs. an. Nothing will ever be the same again, I think.

So let’s discuss. What do YOU think? Have you, like me, always thought it was AN historical? Do you agree or disagree with Grammar Girl?
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P.S. For those of you who noticed, I apologize for not posting last week. It was crazy at work, and I completely forgot it was Thursday until it was Friday, and then I figured I might as well just wait until next week to post something.

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8 thoughts on “An Historic or A Historic?

  1. So… it’s by how the letter sounds and not what’s written? I’m not sure I like that at all. So question at work we have a tool called SMS that is used to create tickets. Would it be an SMS ticket or a SMS ticket? I’ve always wanted to say the former but thought the latter was correct but with what you just wrote I think the former is now correct because the S has that E sound before the ‘s’ (Es).

    • I’m not sure I like it either 🙂 I would say the former is correct: AN SMS, because of what you said, the ‘s’ sound is like “ES,” which is more like a vowel sound. Confusing!

  2. I always knew it was “a historic” because of the sound thing, but then at some point in college, people started using “an historic” all the time and it got me all confused and then I started to doubt myself! I’m glad you cleared this up!

  3. I’ve always done it by sound, it makes sense because it’s what’s easier to say. In Spanish the same thing applies. You don’t say “de el” (of the) you say “del”.

  4. Although in both American and British English, “a historic” is now considered correct, it wasn’t always so. In 18th and 19th century England “historic” was often pronounced without the initial H, so “an historic” was considered correct for a long time.

  5. Just one more example of English being a very complicated and confusing language. I have no idea why I knew this. Maybe I had a great language arts teacher in school. 😉

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