Using “a” or “an” before a word comes with a set of rules you need to know. However, when the word’s first letter is “h,” it seems like it’s impossible to tell which way is the correct way to write it. So, let’s look further into whether we say a history or an history and why.
Is It “A History” Or “An History”?
The correct spelling is “a history,” however, there are people that say “an history” (usually upper-class people). We use “a” before a word when that word begins with a hard consonant sound. The letter “h” in “history” is regarded as a hard sound because you pronounce the “h” noise with your mouth when you say it. You would use “an” if you’re not stressing the “h” and saying something more like “an istory.”
However, “history” is one of those words that seem interchangeable based on who is saying it. You’ll always be correct when saying “a history,” so we’ll treat this as the case in this article. There will be a few people that make the argument that “an history” is correct, but that rule actually applies more to words like “historical,” which we’ll get to in a little bit.
What Is The Grammatical Rule That Makes “A History” Correct?
So, using “a” or “an” before a word depends entirely on how it is pronounced and not so much on how it is written. Many people believe that we use “a” or “an” based on written words. In this case, we use “a” before words that start with a consonant (b, c, d, f, g, etc.) and “an” before words that start with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). However, some exceptions prove this rule is false, like “an hour” or “an honor.”
That’s why we go based on how words are pronounced instead. If you were to say something like “a apple” or “a engine” aloud, you’d hear how abrupt the stop between the two words is. Likewise, if you say “an beer” or “an cat,” you’ll hear how the stop between the two words doesn’t sound natural and feels like you need to take an extra breath. This is why we go based on how words are pronounced.
Any word that starts with a harder consonant sound will use “a” before it, like “a history” or “a haircut.” However, words that start with a softer vowel sound (where the consonant “h” is silent) must use the “an” before it, like “an hour” or “an honor.”
Is It “A Historic” Or “An Historic”?
This is where things get a little more interesting (and slightly confusing). Most people believe that they pronounce “history” and “historic” in the same way. For the majority of English speakers, this is false. We say the “h” in “history” in a very tough manner, making sure we emphasize it in our pronunciation. However, in “historic,” you’ll notice that the “h” is much softer and not as aggressively pronounced.
For this reason, “an historic” is the correct what to write it. So, something like “an historic event” would be correct. However, it is also possible to say “a historic” without any problems in American English. No one will question you if you did so because the word “historic” starts with a consonant sound, albeit slightly less pronounced than a typical “h” is.
Is It “A Historical” Or “An Historical”?
What about adding the “-al” to the end of “historic?” Well, the same thing happens with “historical.” We should write “an historical documentary” or “an historical event” if we want to write it properly. However, most people still accept that “a historical event” is the correct way to write it, because again, the “h” is still pronounced (although it’s not a hard pronunciation.
With words like “historical,” it mostly comes down to personal preference for saying them. You’ll find that the more upper-class people in the world will want to use “an historical” as the acceptable term. Even though it is grammatically correct to do so, the rest of the world is happy to write “a historic” or “a historical” when they’re speaking about such things.
Is It “A Historian” Or “An Historian”?
Historian follows much the same rules as “historical” and “historic.” We should use “an historian” because the “h” is less pronounced than usual. However, most people still opt for the “a historian” alternative, which is widely accepted as correct.
11 Examples Of How To Use “A History”
Now we’ll show you some examples of how to use “a history” in a sentence. However, to help you out, we’ll also include some incorrect sentences (and mark them as such) to remind you that “an history” doesn’t work. We encourage you to read them out loud so you can hear the differences between the two and what makes “an history” such a difficult phrase.
Correct:I’ve got to study for a history paper tomorrow.
Incorrect:An history class is important.
Correct:They say I should take a history lesson.
Incorrect:Have you got an history with each other?
Correct:This is a historical documentary.
Incorrect:We are living through an historical event.
Correct:Are you a historian?
Incorrect:Can you show me anything you’ve learned from an history class?
Correct:You need a history book.
Incorrect:Where is the best place to find an history book?
Correct:A history of this school should be recorded somewhere in these files.
Other Words Where People Often Mistake “A” Or “An”
Finally, let’s look at some other words that people often mistake “a” and “an” with. You’ll notice how most of these words start with the letter “h.” Say them aloud if you want to hear the differences.
A hour / an hour
“An hour” is correct. The “h” is silent in “hour,” so the “o” is the first letter pronounced.
A honor / an honor
“An honor” is correct because the “h” is silent again.
A hotel / an hotel
“A hotel” is correct because the “h” is pronounced.