Preservation Grammar: An Historic or A Historic?

In elementary school, most of us learned that it is proper to use “an” before a word that begins in a vowel. Otherwise, use “a”. However, the English language has exceptions to every rule. This is no different. For example, “an hour” is proper as opposed to “a hour”. So why do we come across “an historic” when historic begins with “h”? Don’t we all pronounce the “h” in historic? Sort of. “H” is a weak consonant and pronounced differently across the world, which affects our choice of indefinite article (a or an).

Is there an answer? Yes. Historic is correctly pronounced with the “h” and therefore requires “a” before it. So, the correct pairing of words is “a historic.”

Trusted sources include Grammar Girl, the Oxford Dictionaries, and The Slot. How do you feel about an historic v. a historic? Any other grammatical pet peeves?

Previous Preservation Grammar posts: Affect v. Effect and Historic v. Historical.


16 thoughts on “Preservation Grammar: An Historic or A Historic?

  1. Ann Cousins says:

    Ah ha! I’ve wondered. So…to be clear (I’m confused by the “an” in the explanation): A historic is correct; an historic is incorrect?

    • Kaitlin says:

      Ah, you caught a typo – a very important one at that. thanks, Ann. I’ll fix it right away.

      To be clear, “A historic” is correct. “An historic” is incorrect.

  2. Suzassippi says:

    Pet peeve? People who write loose when they mean lose. You should not loose your way, nor can you loose weight. I know people with PhDs who don’t know the difference. On the other hand, if people misuse a word long enough, it can become an acceptable variation. I grew up learning there was no such word as empathetic. If you had empathy, you were empathic; if you had sympathy, you were sympathetic. Now, it seems empathetic is acceptable. Worse than that to me, herb (erb) is now acceptable to pronounce with the h sounded (hurb). I suppose language does evolve, but that does not mean I will go gracefully into the night.

    • Mark says:

      Whoa, take it easy sister, or your gonna blow a gasket ! LOL.

      My mother was the female version of archie bunker, she mangled the english language. When I was a kid she once talked to me about my “first total communion”. (I’m Catholic) For the next 40 yrs I repeated that phrase until someone recently said: ” um, don’t you mean first holy communion ?!”

        • Mark says:

          I just laughed. And laughed. Its something that Suzassippi touched on: if you think or say something long enough it has a way of gaining legitimacy. It’s funny how we take stuff from parents or other authoritative figures and accept it as gospel.

    • Kaitlin says:

      @Suzassippi: It’s so interesting how everyone has varying pet peeves. Though I agree with you: an incorrect use of a word should not become correct just because everyone uses it. It’s similar to slang words becoming completely accepted. Then again, that’s an interesting topic: when certain words appear in our language (such as “cool”).

  3. Frank says:

    Since I’ve been around people who pronounce historic with both a silent and hard ‘h’ sound, I’m not as militant as I once was regarding ‘a’ or ‘an’ but people who want to set off plural nouns with possessive apostrophes? Ugh…don’t get me started.

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