Lv 7
Lôn asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 10 months ago

Why do some people say ' an historic battle' instead of 'a historic battle'? You wouldn't say 'an hand' would you?


I know you'd say 'an honourable victory' as the 'h' is silent. This is not the case in 'an historic'.

9 Answers

  • 10 months ago
    Favourite answer

    You're right about the rule depending on whether the h is pronounced. Historically, the word "history" came from French, where they don't pronounce initial h's, and the British didn't pronounce the h either, so "an" was appropriate. But now most people pronounce the "h"- and if you look on Amazon, you'll find many books named "A historic" instead of "An historic". Language changes, and this seems to be in the middle of a change, where some people were taught the old rule and still follow it. 

  • 10 months ago

    'H' is silent. But it's not always so.

  • 10 months ago

    Some words are indeed optionally pronounced without the initial 'h', and this pronunciation has traditionally been viewed as a marker of upper-class English speech. Typical examples are 'an hotel' and 'an historic victory'.

    I saw an answer addressing this question recently on some other site, and it said - I believe correctly - that this happens ONLY (though not always) when the stress is on the second syllable. This is why it doesn't happen with 'honour' or its derivatives, or with mono-syllabic words like 'hand' or 'horse'. 

    Dropping the 'h' on 'hand' or 'horse' or 'horrible' is of course a marker of uneducated or at best lazy speech. But you'll find 'an hotel' is standard among the English upper classes.

  • Anonymous
    10 months ago

    In some accents H in historic is silent. It never is for hand.

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  • Zirp
    Lv 7
    10 months ago

    best case scenario: because they don't pronounce the H

  • 10 months ago

    SOME people don't say 'an historic battle', everyone who understands correct English grammar says that, because it's correct. As for WHY it's correct, it's an exception to the general 'h' rule in grammar. It is the only 'h' word in fact that requires 'an' instead of 'a' preceding it.

  • k w
    Lv 7
    10 months ago

    that's the way I learned, an historic moment.....but the public fool system does lots of stuipd things these days......doesn't make it right either......

  • liz
    Lv 5
    10 months ago

    I was taught to say an historic battle at school. it is plain English and much easier to say than  a historic battle.

  • Speed
    Lv 7
    10 months ago

    Naturally there's a rule, although it's seldom taught in the US. (And like a lot of so-called rules, this one is slowly changing, becoming less enforced in business and academia, ordinarily the final bastions of grammar rules.)

    Native American-English speakers rarely use "an" before an H-word in casual conversation, and I expect the practice will be considered a quaint eccentricity before I'm dead. It’s already limited in spoken English in the US to those whose speaking style could be considered elevated or even pompous.

    The rule is that for an H-word to be preceded by "an", it must have all of the following:

    --an unpronounced H (words like "hour, heir, honest, honorable, honorific, herb," but not "house, hair, honing, horrible, harp");

    --if three or more syllables, the primary accent on the second syllable (" heroic, historic, historical, horrific, hysterical", etc., but not "heroism, highlander, hillbilly, horrible, hospital, humanitarian," or "hysterectomy");

    --the role of a noun or an adjective immediately before a noun, so an article ("a, an" or "the") can naturally precede it (which excludes "however");

    --the ability to accept the indeterminate article (the one that isn’t "the") because it means a specific one, which leaves out "humanity"); and

    --a formal or academic context, usually. Most US newspapers' and magazines' style standards have long-since dropped "an H-word" usage.

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