"an historic occasion" - Is this correct?

"an" vs. "a" before "historic"

  • "a historic" is correct; "an historic" is wrong.
  • "an historic" is correct; "a historic" is wrong.
  • They are both acceptable, but "a" is better.
  • They are both acceptable, but "an" is better.
  • They are equally acceptable.

0 voters

I hear and see it a lot: “Today is an historic occasion.” I also encounter “a historical occasion.”

So which is it?

Which do you say? Which is considered correct where you are from? Which is correct according to the rules of “Standard English” (whatever that may be)? How do you explain your choice? Are there different rules in different dialects?

Let the discussion begin!

Quoted from Michael Swan’s – Practical English Usage. I believe he is a Brit and it is published by Oxford University Press.

The choice between a and an depends on pronunciation, not spelling.

We use an before a vowel sound, even if it is written as a consonant

an hour / an MP

And we use a before a consonant sound, even if it is written as a vowel

a university / a one dollar bill

Some people say an, not a, before words beginning with h if the first syllable is unstressed.

an hotel (a hotel…… is more common)
an historic occasion (a historic ………is more common)
But not an housewife – as the first syllable is stressed.

If you pronounce the “h” in historic, you must use “a”; if you don’t pronounce it, you must use “an”; anything else is wrong, based on the above-cited rule.

So far the results seem surprising to me.

I say “a historic”. The reasoning is simple:

The way I was taught, “a” precedes consonant sounds and “an” precedes vowel sounds. Since “historic” starts with an audible consonantal sound (/h/) and not a silent “h” as in “hour”, it should be “a historic”.

When I hear “an historic”, it sounds to me like the speaker is artifically affecting his speech in an attempt to sound intelligent.

By the way, my dialect is west-coast USA.

an with vowels.
a with consonants.

[quote=“TainanCowboy”]an with vowels.
a with consonants.[/quote]
And of course you’re talking about the first sound, not the first letter.

a university
an MBA
an hour

Chris has a MBA from Wharton. This has served him well as this is a university widely recognized as providing some of the finest graduates in the business management field.

Commom sense - if it works, it works.

I agree with Michael Swan/Blackadder. This may be British usage only though. It seems to be dying out in the spoken form, though.

I would add that in the UK, the very welll spoken, for example certain playrights, announcers on the BBC world service or traditional sporting commentators (tennis/cricket) are more likely to use an ‘an’ when the ‘h’ is stressed.

It’s an historic victory! (Although victories are rare nowadays, I can just hear the well to do saying that.)

The vast majority of Brits would use ‘a historic …’ - although I am only going by experience - and is perhaps reflective of my very ‘umble’ upbringing!

Not where I come from! It’s istoric, init?

Perhaps in classes where it is not common. In the UK, it’s things like this that differentiate the classes and highlight those born with a silver spoon in their mouth. True, this is unfairly broadbrush, but there is some truth in it.

Just like Michael Swan said - it’s not in the spelling - it’s in the pronunciation. I’m a Londoner.

Not where I come from! It’s istoric, init?

Just like Michael Swan said - it’s not in the spelling - it’s in the pronunciation. I’m a Londoner.[/quote]

That’s just local dialect, though. You’d also say “an 'orse”, if I’m not mistaken. (In my experience, even Cockney speakers “know” they’re “supposed” to pronounce the “h”, and sometimes hypercorrect by adding an “h” where there is none.)

How would it be pronounced in Received Pronunciation: “a historic occasion” or “an historic occasion”? If the latter, why?

It’s “an” if you insist on dropping your aitches. Of course, some non-U speakers stick aitches in front of words where they doesn’t belongs, see? So that is confusing too. Like “an h’onour” with h’an h’aspirated h’aitche.

That’s known as 'ypercorrection!

I’m Canadian and I say and write “an historic” with the “h” pronounced. It sounds ugly, and in fact causes the mouth to widen in an unpleasant way, to say “a historic.”

Since there is an option, I go with the more euphonic one. Swan would approve.

This is all very interesting to a language geek like me! It seems there’s a division between US English and Commonwealth English in this matter.

When I say it, I say [ItsaenIstaurIk]… in other words, I don’t pronounce the ‘h’.

[quote=“Bryan Garner’s terrific Dictionary of Modern American Usage”]Writers on usage formerly disputed whether the correct article is a or an with historian, historic and a few other words. The traditional rule is that if the h- is sounded, a is the proper form. Most people following that rule would say a historian and a historic [news articles cited]

The theory behind using an in such a context, however, is that the h- is very weak when the accent is on the second rather than the first syllable. . .

Today, however, [color=red]an hypothesis and an historical are likely to strike readers and listeners as affectations[/color]. As Mark Twain once wrote, referring to humble, heroic, and historical: "Correct writers of the American language do not put an before those words. . . " [cite] [color=red]Anyone who sounds the h- in such words should avoid pretense and use a[/color]. An humanitarian is, judged even by the most tolerant standards, a pretentious humanitarian.[/quote]

btw, if you love words and don’t know of Bryan Garner’s book, it’s a must have. In addition to loving language, Garner is an attorney and editor of Black’s Law Dictionary. His Dictionary of Modern American Usage is packed with helpful tips and is so interesting and well written it’s actually enjoyable to sit down and read through it.

A historic…not An historic.

How can anyone get their mouth to say an infront of a vocalised “h?” It’s just not right!

I’m with ImaniOU on this although we are from different sides of the pond - I pronounce it as “an’istoric”. For reference I think I have a pretty neutral southern English accent and I’m certainly not upper-class, nor am I a cockney.

If you listen to BBC Radio 4 (the UK’s most ‘proper’ radio station) the RP announcers will use “an historic” with a vocalised ‘h’. Public speakers like Tony Benn and Gordon Brown also use the “an historic” version; Brown is a Scot so I don’t think it’s just limited to the RP accent.

I think it is being seen more and more as an affectation, but for me it’s just the way I speak - I’m not trying to get above my station!