While running a post through a spell checker, I was told that I was mistaken in writing “an untarnished reputation” and that I should have written “a untarnished reputation”.
My understanding has always been that “an” should precede vowels. I realize that exceptions are made when a word begins with a vowel that is pronounced as a consonant (such as “a unique event”) but that did not occur here. Was my spell checker in error or is there a rule here I am unaware of?
I usually run papers through the grammar-check when I’m done writing them, just for the laugh value. I’ve never yet obeyed one of its suggestions, though. Spell checker is usually more reliable, but just remember: You smart, computer dumb.
As for “an” before h-words (“An historic event”), that’s a matter of some debate. Basicaly, it depends on how you pronounce the initial H, which varies with dialect. If you turn the H into a definite consonant sound, as most Americans do, you should use “a”, but if you say it such that it just makes the vowel a little more aspirant, as some British speakers do, it’s not significant enough to mask the vowell, and you should use “an”.
Grammar check (and the green sqiggley lines, which I have turned OFF!) is a joke. Like Chronos said, for laugh value only. If you have even a basic grasp of grammar, you can do better than the computer.
“An was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h (an historical work), but now that the h is such words is pronounced, the distinction has become pedantic, and a historical should be said and written…” If Fowler (probably not the wildest of trendsetters) thought so in 1926 or so, that makes Mr/Ms 42 another dinosaur.
My guess is that your grammar checker can’t distinguish between inital us that sounds like “uh” and like “you”. Many u- words should take “a”, not “an.” [ul]
a united front
a useless computer
a unanimous decision[/ul]Most u- words, including almost all un- words (but not unique) should take “an”, not “a” [ul]
an unlikely event
an urgent request[/ul]