Another grammar question

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?

You’re right, it’s wrong.

Vaguely related, but don’t forget that you also use “an” before words that start with h, where the second letter would normally cause you to use “an”

Therefore: “a human,” “an history.”


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.

RE. LazarusLong42 and “an history”

“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.

Yep to Chronos. It really ticks me off when I call myself “a historian” and get corrected. Sometimes I say, “dammit, I went to Virginia Tech, not Oxford!”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that reinforces my credibility.

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 uncle
an urgent request[/ul]