Okay today I’m going to start with the most basic of the English language- a, an.
Before that let me tell you the meaning of the possible symbols that I can use in the is meme-
When a quotation or example shows a misuse , it is clearly marked as wrong by means if a cross: ❌
And if it is a doubtful or ill-advised usage, it is marked with a question mark: ❓, or a double question mark: ❓❓
Is it wrong to say an hotel? Not really wrong – but not recommended any longer, particularly in writing.
The general rule is this: it is pronunciation, not spelling, that governs the choice between a and an. Words beginning with a consonant-sound take a; words beginning with vowel-sound take an. So: an umbrella but a unit and a eucalyptus tree; a £1 note but an only child; a haircut but an honour. And since the standard pronunciation of hotel today requires a audible h-sound, the preferred form is a hotel.
The face remains that it is not easy to say a hotel out loud. In rapid speech, the h is so weak that it seems quite natural to say an hotel, an habitual liar and so on.
Note how different things are, however, when it comes to ❌ an hostel, ❌an horrible liar, and so on. Clearly, these sound impossibly awkward today, though, as old texts show, they used to be standard:
It was a curious little green box on four wheels,……drawn by an immense brown horse, displaying great symmetry of bone. An hostler stood near, holding by the bridle another immense horse.
– Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1837)
The h of hostler was probably pronounced very faintly by Dickens, if at all. Today, however, this use of an is unacceptable: the h-sound is now too prominent, even in rapid speech, since hostel and horrible are stressed in the first syllable. In hotel and habitual the first syllable is unaccented and the h-sound much softer accordingly, so an is less awkward here.
The positioning of a and an in a sentence, and even its presence there, are not always straight-forward matters. The indefinite article usually comes before both the adjective and the noun: a sweet smile, an inviting smile…but:such a smile, so sweet a smile, what an inviting smile, many an inviting smile, how sweet a smile, too sweet a smile.
(Note that some of these constructions are now rather old-fashioned: many a sweet smile would today usually be expressed instead by many sweet smiles or a lot of sweet smiles.)
There is a temptation to follow this inverted pattern in similar constructions where it is not in fact appropriate to do so:
❌ Have you ever seen more inviting a smile?
❌ That’s not sufficiently sweet a smile.
These should read:
Have you ever seen a more inviting smile?
That’s not a sufficiently sweet smile.
Sometimes a or an is not simply wrongly positioned but wrongly included in the first place – notably when the adjective no is used in the sentence to qualify the noun: no then means ‘not a’, so the inclusion of an explicit a is redundant:
❌ No more inviting a smile had he ever seen than the one the mermaid now directed towards him.
The a should be omitted. If the sentence is restructured, you can see more easily that the a is unnecessary: No smile more inviting had he ever seen…
Okay now this was all for today’s post!!
Now do tell what you think if it? Have you ever been confused about this? Are there any other words between which you have been confused lately?
Or is there anything else to share? Feel free to tell me!