The English language is a fascinating tapestry of rules, exceptions, and idiosyncrasies. One such quirk lies in the choice between using “a” or “an” before certain words. In this blog post, we’ll explore the nuances of this decision, focusing on words beginning with the letter “h.” Buckle up as we dive into the historical depths of grammar.

The Basic Rule

Before we delve into specifics, let’s revisit the fundamental rule: “a” precedes words that begin with a consonant sound, while “an” comes before words with a vowel sound. Seems straightforward, right? Well … not quite.

The “H” Dilemma

Ah, the letter “h.” It’s a sneaky fellow, capable of playing both sides. Let’s examine three common scenarios:

1. Historical

“Historical” begins with an “h” but has a vowel sound (think of it as “istorical”). Therefore, we say “an historical event.” However, this usage is waning, and many now prefer “a historical event.” Both are acceptable, but consistency matters across your document as this indicates to the reader that you have made a conscious choice of one version over the other.

2. Historian

“Historian” starts with an “h” that produces a consonant sound. Hence, we say “a historian.” No debate here!

3. History

“History” begins with an “h” but has a vowel sound (try saying it aloud). Thus, we opt for “an history lesson.” Again, some prefer “a history lesson.”

Regional Variations

Hold on, there’s more! Regional variations spice up the mix. In British English, the “h” in words like “historical” and “history” tends to be silent, reinforcing the “an” usage. Meanwhile, American English leans toward “a” in these cases.

Exceptions and Context

  • “An hour”: Here, the “h” is silent, so we say “an hour.”
  • “A hotel”: The “h” in “hotel” is pronounced, so it’s “a hotel.”


Navigating the “a” vs. “an” conundrum can be perplexing, especially when the “h” throws a curveball. Remember the basic rule, consider regional variations, and stay consistent. Whether you’re a history buff or a budding linguist, mastering this quirk adds a touch of elegance to your language skills. Happy grammaring! 

About Emma

Photograph of Emma

As an introvert haunting the corners of storytelling festivals, it’s incredibly difficult to track Emma down. She’s best known for writing Scottish fiction about working-class women and communities and their misrepresented lives. You can find her recent book A Gypsy’s Curse here.

Otherwise Emma is helping others improve their books and theses.

Emma Parfitt

Proofreader for business and academic documents, translations, and English writing.


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