Do we say “an historic” or “a historic”?
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probably know the grammar rule that says you use "an"
before vowel sounds (e.g. AN accident, AN item, AN
hour) and "a" otherwise; e.g. A book, A
report, A hotel.
Following this rule, we would say
"a historic", not "an historic".
Some speakers treat differently,
though, words of three or more syllables that start
with "h". For example, which of these
pairs of sentences sounds correct to you?
It is a historic occasion.
* It is an historic occasion.
We can't agree on a hypothesis.
* We can't agree on an hypothesis.
be concerned if you're not sure which is right. Usage
in this respect is quite mixed. Why should this be,
A recent correspondent, Bud, provided
this insightful comment:
In the western US I was told that the divide on
this usage has to do with the difference in the
way the word "Historic" is pronounced.
the British would pronounce the word as "istorik"
the usage would follow the convention of using
"an" before the vowel sound.
Where us yanks would pronounce the word "historik"
the usage would be follow the convention of using
"a" before a consonant sound.
you heard this, or is this a good rule to employ?
I agree with Bud's explanation.
Pronunciation is probably the origin of the variation
in usage. Some British accents involve dropping
an initial "h"; thus, "historic"
is pronounced "'istoric" by some speakers.
I don't think we can say, though,
that all British people drop the initial "h"
or that all Americans don't. Usage is more varied
Few speakers seem to know the reason
for the two usages. Many thus say "an historic"
simply because they hear others around them saying
it, not as a result of any accent. This may be the
reason that the usage has spread.
A quick bit of Googling reveals
that the phrase "a historic" is used on
the web 73% of the time, with "an historic"
used 27% of the time. Of course, the web is a written
medium, not a spoken one. These numbers might not
reflect their usage in spoken English.
In summary, the form you use seems
to be little more than a personal preference. Both
usages are sufficiently common to be considered
correct in contemporary English.
Hope this helps.
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