A or an before h



It’s easy most of the time to know when to use a and when to use an: the initial sound of the next word determines that. However, there are a few combinations that puzzle me: a/an historical perspective, a/an hotel?

Jacksonville, Mississippi


Historically speaking, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), ?strong>an was once a common variant before words beginning with h in which the first syllable was unstressed; thus, 18th-century authors wrote either a historical or an historical but a history, not an history.?By 1926, H. W. Fowler (Modern English Usage) regarded the continued use of an before such words as pedantic. Nowadays it survives primarily before the word “historical? one rarely encounters a reference to “an hysterectomy?or “an hereditary trait.?

Apparently using a or an before the h- of the unstressed syllable of a few words is at the discretion of the speaker or writer. Some people say a historic time, others say an historic time; some say a hotel, others say an hotel; some say a hysterical child, others an hysterical child.