‘An Historical Note
‘He was sojourning at an hotel in Bond Street.’
Here’s a hypothesis – or rather four separate but vaguely related hypotheses – on words beginning with h and an unstressed syllable (or why some people say an history, an hotel and an hypothesis):
- Once upon a time all educated people spoke French and so pronounced history, such as the French word histoire, with a silent h. Appropriately they gave it the article an.
- Some – less well-educated and therefore non-French-speaking – people spoke badly, were lazy about pronouncing their aitches, and so got into the habit of saying an ‘istory.
- Educated people disliked dropping aitches, so began to pronounce them in French words that traditionally used the article an: an history.
- People spoke too quickly, running together the words a and history, so that it became pronounced anistory. When they paused for breath, and separated things out a bit, they thought the word must be an history.
Note the inherent snobbishness of these hypotheses. It crops up a lot in the study of language.
But whatever the origins of the practice may be, the rule is: if the h is pronounced (as in history, hotel and hypothesis), the correct article is a; if it is not pronounced (as in honour and hour), use an.’
– Taggart. C., Wines. J.A. 2008. My Grammar And I (or should that be ‘me’?) London, Great Britain: Michael O’Mara (2011) p. 42-43