Thursday, January 15, 2015

A(n) Historical . . .?

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."
Conclusion: for the purposes of this blog, I am a historical novelist.


  1. Thank you very much for this post. I have tried to understand this for a long time without getting any convincing explanation. Now it is clear!

  2. I am glad it was useful. It was news to me too!

  3. I think there are no many people with the knowledgement of this gramatical rule. But I learnt it when I was young so much younger than today (with Beatles songs, including this underlined phrase, in a music named HELP) (Lol), in an English course here in Brazil named Yázigi. Am I right in my annotations? If so, let me know. Thanks and greetings from Rio/Brazil

  4. "But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured." :-) Obrigado por seu comentario. Eu gosto de Rio.

    1. Yeah! I'm not so self assured. But think I'm still living those days, singing the songs, and enjoying a cover band of a friend of mine, named BLACKBIRD. The little bit of english I speak and write today, I thank to Beatles, Elvis and many musicians and artists all of the world. Glad to know you like Rio. We have here a lot of histories and stories for good novels. Abraços