Today’s tip: The sound of history

A colleague and her friend asked about whether we should use “a” or “an” with “history” and its derivatives “historic” and “historical.” The answer was easy: Use “a.” But many people, especially the folks who read or report the news on TV, use “an.” And that usage leaches into writing.

We choose “a” because American speakers and writers use “a” in front of consonant sounds and “an” before vowel sounds. The “h” in “history,” “historic” and “historical” is sounded, unlike the “h” in “honor” or “hour.” So it’s “an hour” but “a history.”

Bill Walsh of The Slot makes a sharp point on a historic, and he cites many sources.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.