Why "an historical" ?

I asked this in general questions, but I thought I’d try the literary folk as well…

Sorry, I must have missed this in English class–

Why do I hear many people say “an historical”?

I recall that one would use the word “an” before a word that starts with a vowel.

Is there a special rule regarding this?

Thanks for any help!

Well, if you drop your haitches like Eliza Doolitle and other stage Cockneys, you are allowed to say “an 'istorcal.”

Otherwise, you should say “a historical,” just as you would say “a horrific” or “a hat.”

Many people don’t, but then many people don’t pronounce “nuclear” correctly either.

(Note that it’s “a historical” but “an honorable” because you don’t pronounce the “h” in “honorable.”)

Thank you. That confirms my thoughts about many American media personalities, especially those reporting from the White House!

What I can’t figure out is why so many of the same people say “an historical” but “a history.” Now that makes little sense.

FWIW, when I studied history in Canada and the UK I heard relatively few people say “an historical.”

Actually something I’ve been wondering for a long time (and, on one occasion, came this close to asking the teeming millions). I’m definitely noticing a shift here (more and more people saying “an historical”). Even a thoroughly British Shakespearean actor like Patrick Stewart pronounces it that way (in the narration at the end of X2, for instance). I even find myself doing it sometimes (but then, I’m no native speaker, so I don’t count).

I think the difference is in the quality of the H, whether it’s forceful or just mouthed, and the N provides a bridge between vowel sounds so you don’t have to stop cold (fancy phonetic jargon omitted).

It’s “in an hour”, not “in a hour”.

If you want a really complicated explanation, there’s this. Basically, H sounds that are unaccented are becoming extinct in English, and when you want to say “a historical,” you tend to pronounce “historical” without the accent in the beginning (compare to “History class”). So the H sound is dropped, and people treat it like it is a vowel- instead of “ayy istorical artifact,” they say “an istorical artifact.” Kind of interesting;

I’ve always preferred “an historical” as the pronunciation, and I believe that the accent explanation bears out (the lack of first syllable accent creates the need for the bridge). Also, I would note that the following vowel sound makes a difference. In Wumpus’s examples, ‘horrific’ and ‘hat’ have stronger vowels after the ‘h’ in contrast to the weak short ‘i’ vowel after the ‘h’ in “historical.”

And, if nothing else, I would just say it sounds better. It’s not a rule thing; just idiomatic usage.

RTA, the “h” in “hour” isn’t pronounced at all (blame the French), hence it’s unambigously “an hour.” But the “h” in historical is pronounced, in my neck of the woods, at least. Hence “a historical.”

I wouldn’t have a problem with this trend it if what Jimmy said were really true and everyone went Cockney by dropping the “h” in “historical.” The problem is that most of the media types UltraCat42 mentions say “an historical” BUT also pronounce the “h” quite clearly. This is just confusing.

An Australian friend of mine does an impression of me that is characterised by the phrase ‘…an hilarious joke…’
He likes the idea that I, as a Welshman, speak more correct English than they.

My general rule: If someone makes any reference to an historian, they probably are one.

Thus speaks an history major. :smiley:

I was taught back in the stone age that ‘an’ is correct when it makes the words flow more easily. I wouldn’t say “an house”, but routinely write “an historical note” or “an hysterical comedy”.

An historical sounds right to folks who have heard it that way. A historical sounds right to the others. In all cases the other way is bound to sound wrong.

I have in my collection around 13 different stylebooks or grammar/usage books with no fewer than three different “rules” on this.

The easy one: If the H is pronounced, use A
If the H is not pronounced, use AN (AP stylebook from late '80s)

The next level: If the H is pronounced but the word has more than one syllable and the stress is on any but the first syllable, use AN. (This stylebook dates from the '60s; I think I got it for a college grammar class.)

(I think this is the one giving trouble.)

The third rule: If the word beginning in age derived from the French language then use AN. :confused:
This is from a '20s-era grammar book. I guess in those days everyone knew which words were derived from the French language. (Hotel, honor, history . . . wait, could this be the source of the problem?)

And many people do drop their aitches. Still others pronounce some of them as Ys, e.g.: Youston, Texas. I tend to use this the way I pronounce it, therefore: “A historical romance. A historic moment. A Houston-based company.”

It is basically the way it sounds, the same rule that gives us “A European country” and “an electrical outage.”