When one wants to write historical novels, the first question that comes to mind is which indefinite article to use prior to "historical", "a" or "an"? I know, I know. That is not really the first question. My kids hate it when I exaggerate. But it is a point of confusion that was probably never cleared up in Freshman English, and it was bothering me, so I looked it up.
Here is the rule for using the indefinite article prior to words beginning with the letter "h":
- Use "an" when the "h" is silent, as in "honest." For example, we speak and write: "an honest woman."
- When the "h" is spoken but the first syllable is unstressed then we use "an" in speech, but we write "a." Thus, in speech we would say "an historical novel", but we write "a historical novel." This rule has transformed over time so that it is usually considered correct to write either "a" or "an." Spoken usage has also evolved to where using "an" in this case is considered formal, even pretentious. Translation: when the first syllable is unstressed, do whatever you want.
- When the first syllable of the word beginning with "h" is stressed, then "a" is always the correct indefinite article. Example: "a hat."