Hi, which is correct: If I’m reading it to myself as “es-dee-em-bee”, an, right? But if I lengthen it to Straight Dope Message Board it should be a? How do I know what’s right for the masses? Is it worth worrying about?
As an acronym: “An SMDB.”
As a word: “A Straight Dope…”
Anything that begins with a vowel sound (like “Ess”) or silent consonate followed by a vowel (like “historic”) should begin with “an.”
I apologize if this is considered a side-track, but I’ve never understood the “h” in historic being silent. Where does this come from? Are there other “h” words that have this quality?
If the answer to this question is lengthy or involves debate, I’d be happy to start a different thread on it.
Historic is iffy to me, because you do hear the aitch, but “honor” and “hour” are clear-cut.
Here’s more; it depends on the pronounciation and stresses in the h-word. (“An hotel” just feels wrong but they say it’s right.)
Mindfield’s answer is correct, but I don’t believe that it addresses your question. If I may:
Whether an acronym gets pronounced as its own word or pronounced as what it stands for depends on both the acronym itself and the audience. Most acronyms are pronounced as their own word, but as a technical writer/editor I come across many that aren’t, so I often have to try to figure out what my audience is most likely to think when they see them. In this particular case I think that most folks think “ess dee em bee” when they read “SDMB,” so “an” is correct.
If that wasn’t actually your question and Mindfield did, indeed, do the trick, please feel free to ignore.
To my knowledge it is a regionalism, and not a general rule: I know many linguists who insist that the “h” in “historic” be pronounced (for example). Again, whether to use “a” or “an” before such a word comes down to how your audience is most likely to pronounce it.
As to how the “h” ever got dropped in some places to begin with, I have no earthly idea. My best guess is either pronuciation laziness, or a holdover from a certain British accent.
Thanks for the link…I believe I’ll be sticking with a historic. Using “an” in those situations where the h is not absolutely silent has always sounded wrong to my ears, and that article doesn’t give me any compelling reason to change.
I can’t believe I typed “consonate.” Gaudere is haunting me.
Anyway, no idea where the “historic” guideline came from. It’s never been an official rule, and I see about as many people who say it with “an” as the other ways, obviously there’s some confusion. “an” sounds “more” right to me, just because it’s how I was brought up – though “an hotel” sounds wrong. Even I’m not exempt from the confusion.
In general though the rule is indeed that anything beginning with a vowel sound should be preceded by “an.” Even acronyms that are pronounced like their own words (Scuba, Laser, etc. which start with consonant sounds, therefore are preceded by “a” adhere to that rule, since whether single letter or word, they’re either going to start with a consonant or vowel sound, and so need to be treated accordingly:
A laser beam.
An SEC filing (assuming people don’t pronounce the acronym as “seck” – and if you do, then it’s “a SEC filing”)
An SDMB post.
A SAM missile (I don’t think anyone actually enunciates the letters in this case; I’ve only ever heard it pronounced like a word. And yes, I’m aware of the redundancy of the word “missile” after it, but it’s kind of necessary so as to avoid confusion with things like a “Speed Advance Module”)
This looks like a good candidate for GQ.
I don’t read SDMB as letters. It always gets expanded out automatically in my mind so “a” for me.
I have asked this question before and the general consensus (although there were a few who disagreed) was that **Mindfield **has it correct.
You don’t really need that second bit. Anything that starts with a “silent consonant” followed by a vowel (sound) is something that begins with a vowel sound.
The Straight Message/Dope Board? Wow, talking about mixed signals!
A “vowel” is a sound, not a letter. So anything that starts with a consonant gets “a”; anything that starts with a vowel gets “an.” No subrules or elaborations are necessary.
And this applies only to those in whose dialects there is no “h” sound ('istoric) in the word.
I think that the “h” is silent in “historic” in a minority of English dialects.
And don’t forget abbreviations like “N.Y.,” “N.J.” (most American states), “Mr.,” “Dr.” etc., that are pronounced in full.
“A N.Y. address,” because it’s pronounced as “A New York address.”
I say what is spelled as “a historic”, but my pronunciation does change for the breathy aitch. For example, while I would usually pronounce “a” like:
a dog = uh dawg
a light = uh light
for “a historic” I say a-as-in-hay historic.