I have been asked several times recently (mostly by writers) about using a versus an. The questions were primarily about which of these articles to use in front of the word historic. Is it a historic or an historic? They both sound all right, but are they? Well, the old rule still applies: Words that begin with a vowel sound (not necessarily a vowel, just a vowel sound) use an. Words that begin with a consonant sound (not necessarily a consonant, just a consonant sound) use a. Some words that begin with h, like historic, have a definite consonant sound at the beginning; others, such as honor, begin with a vowel sound.
For some reason, both a and an sound natural with historic (and other similar words).
Following the rule, use an with honor (it begins with an o sound—the h is silent). However, use a with historic, since the h, a consonant sound, is pronounced.
These words should be prefaced with the article a:
These words should be prefaced with the article an:
You may notice that when you put the a in front of historic, you pronounce is as a long a, while in front of most words you would pronounce it “uh.” But pronouncing it isn’t so much of a problem; that is simply the way it rolls off the tongue—which is exactly why a fits in front of some words, and an fits in front of others.
Follow the basic rule, and you won’t go wrong.
What about the other article, the? Well, the goes in front of any letter. However, you will notice that there are two ways to pronounce it . One way is thuh (rhymes with duh); the other way is thee (rhymes with tree). When you put the before a word that begins with a vowel sound, you will automatically say thee because it just rolls of the tongue that way. Before a consonant sound, you will generally say thuh. Try saying the in front of historic. You might say it either way because, once again, they both sound okay. Since the is always spelled the same, there is no problem here.
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