Can someone explain why we say 'an honest answer' not 'a honest answer'?

(10 Posts)

There are a couple of other places where we say 'an' in front of a word beginning with H. Are we saying them wrong, or is there a reason for it?

HarlotOTara Sun 24-Mar-13 08:14:49

Something to do with how hard it is to say 'a honest... '?

tribpot Sun 24-Mar-13 08:14:56

Because the h is silent the word effectively starts with a vowel.

You will sometimes see in older literature 'an hotel', suggesting the word has changed over the years so the h is now pronounced. I hope (ope?) we don't see the same thing happen (appen?) to honest! (HHHHHonest) grin

OneHandFlapping Sun 24-Mar-13 08:16:36

I think it depends on whether the H is pronounced or silent. A silent H makes the word sound like it's starting with a vowel, so "a" changes to "an".

catsrus Sun 24-Mar-13 08:17:05

It's 'an' when the h is silent so

An honest answer but
A horse or a house

Try saying 'an honest ' with the same 'h' as house smile

AllOverIt Sun 24-Mar-13 08:17:59

Isn't it sometimes 'an historic' though?

RustyBear Sun 24-Mar-13 08:22:06

'Honest' is usually pronounced without the 'h' being sounded, which is why 'an' is used instead of 'a'. Also 'heir', 'hour' and 'honour'. But words like 'horse' and 'hair' keep the 'h' sound and use 'a'.

'An' is also often used in front of some words where the 'h' is sounded (OED lists 'hotel', 'horrific' and 'historic') - these were historically pronounced without the 'h' being sounded, but now no longer are, so using 'an' is an unnecessary but common survival.

That was the word I was trying to think of AllOverIt. DD was asking me about Hhhistoric Hhhouses and then asked why it was "an 'istoric 'ouse" grin

The whole problem is compounded because I'm a displaced Cockney so my speech is littered with innaccuracies...

AllOverIt Sun 24-Mar-13 14:18:04

Thanks Rusty. Actually saying 'a historic' sounds weird in my head. Will keep using 'an' for now!

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