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A or An? - Day 1

DAY 1

Are we staying in a hotel? Or an hotel?

These are questions that will ruin the weekend before you’ve even checked in. ‘Do we get a free bottle of fizz?’ is more relevant, but doesn’t pose any grammatical problems.

(Talking of hotels, this is the Balmoral in Edinburgh. Room 552 was where JK Rowling wrote the last chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

(photo credit: Flickr user Jennifer Morrow;

used under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.)

We’ve all known that you say a giraffe but an elephant since we were two years old.

That’s important – we learn to speak before we learn to write. It’s a thing if the thing starts with a consonant and an thing if the thing starts with a vowel.

But you do have to pay attention to a and an (the indefinite articles as they are also known).

Because although ewe starts with an e when you spell it, it actually starts with the consonant y. It sounds like you.

So we say:

A female sheep is a ewe.

Not:

A female sheep is an ewe.

(She loves ewe, yeah, yeah.)

(photo credit: Flickr user jonathan_siberry;

used under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.)

Now here are some examples you might actually come across. We write:

A £70,000 mortgage (starts with a consonant sound)

But:

An £80,000 mortgage (vowel sound)

We write:

A stamped, addressed envelope (starts with a consonant sound, st) but:

An S.A.E. (starts with a vowel sound – in your head you are saying ess-ay-ee.

The same rule regarding sound rather than spelling applies to abbreviation:

a CD but an LP.

In your head you are saying see-dee (starts with a consonant) and ell-pee (start with a vowel.)

And in a neat flip of the a rule, this is also true when an unpronounced consonant comes first: an heir (which sounds like it is spelt air).

Right, let’s get back to that hotel, darling.

The reason anyone ever said an hotel is because the emphasis in the word hotel was on the second syllable:

an hoTEL an hySTERical English teacher

Because the stress came on the second syllable, the first one was rushed and the phlegm-creating h sound was simply lost. It became an oTEL.

Not even the most strict of grammarians ever said an hat. A cockney might but that is a whole other can of worms.

The truth is that saying an hotel nowadays sounds old-fashioned to most people. It really is falling from use. BUT there are some people who think it is correct.

Which kind of person have you just run away with?


Address

Edinburgh, UK

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