Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Common Confusables: Sounds and the Use of A and An

You've heard them, you know you have, those, those people, for wont of a better word, who use the wrong article before a noun.

"Hey, I've got a idea. Let's have a egg for breakfast."

I could just scream.

This "rule" is so simple, it's mind-numbing how many people get it wrong.

Does the first syllable of the next word sound like a vowel? Then it gets an. If the first syllable sounds like a consonant, it gets a.

Hear that? It's the first sound.

So for "idea," "egg," "ointment," and every other danged vowel word, use an. Please. I'm begging you. Begging with every fiber of my being. An.

For almost everything else, use a.

I think what messes up most people are words that start with h, like honor, huge, and historical.

Here the rule, if you can call it a rule, is that if the h is silent, like it is in honor, use an. Otherwise go with the sound—hhh. Hhhonor. Hhhistorical. Hhhuge. (Not "yyyuge," by the way. Where do people get off saying "yyyuge"?)

So, to clarify, it's "It's an honor, your Honor."

It's "To put it into a historical context…"

It's "Hey, I've got an idea."

It's "Let's go to a movie tonight."

So, do we have AN agreement?