Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

A hotel or an hotel?

with 6 comments

Corinthia Grand Hotel Royale
Image via Wikipedia

Should we write ‘an hotel’ or ‘a hotel’?

Similarly:

‘An historical event’ or ‘a historical event’?

Well, this is an interesting one. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the ‘h’ in words such as ‘hotel’ and ‘historical’ was often not pronounced. This pronunciation (omitting the ‘h’) can still be heard, and so it’s still OK to write ‘an hotel’ or ‘an historical event’.

However, the ‘h’ is usually pronounced in modern speech, and so ‘a hotel’ or ‘a historical event’ is just as acceptable. Don’t mix and match between the two in your writing.

Of course, we write ‘an honour’ and ‘an hour’ as the ‘h’ is definitely not pronounced in these words.

‘A’ or ‘an’ before initialisms?

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6 Responses

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  1. Some people still write ‘an hôtel’!

    Dai

    28/03/2010 at 12:40 pm

    • Yes, that’s true. Thanks, Dai.

      Deborah

      28/03/2010 at 12:55 pm

    • Saying “an hôtel” makes sense to me because the ô forces you to pronounce the vowel as “auh,” dropping the beginning H. In the States, we’d mostly use “a” before “historical” and always use “a” before “hotel.” The only two other H-words that I can think of where we don’t pronounce the H are homage and herb.

      More broadly, as in your prior post about acronyms and initialisms, whether to use “a” or “an” is shaped by the initial vowel sound, not whether the word or abbreviation is spelled with an initial vowel. It’s safer to trust your ear than your eye.

      Michael Farrell

      28/03/2010 at 3:03 pm

      • Thanks, Michael. In the UK we would almost always pronounce the ‘h’ in ‘herb’. Homage is more of a grey area, I think. I agree with your second point. Here’s the link to that post.

        Deborah

        28/03/2010 at 4:47 pm

        • Bryan Garner points out that Americans aspirate (pronounce) the H in “herbicide” (but not in “herb”). He also suggests we should aspirate the H in homage, but that sounds odd to me (Garner usu. favors the plain, all-American version of English). He favors “a historical….” Finally, he mentions “heir” as another unaspirated H-word.

          Michael Farrell

          29/03/2010 at 5:31 am

          • Hi, Michael — that’s interesting about ‘herbicide’ and ‘herb’; for once, we English have it simpler there. ‘Heir’ is a good addition to the list that includes words such as ‘hour’ and ‘honour’ (US: honor). Thanks!

            Deborah

            29/03/2010 at 7:03 am


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