An Historic vs. A Historic*


Why do some people say “an historic” but others say “a historic”? For a long time I thought it was because the “an” advocates were conspiring to annoy me. But it turns out there is, in fact, some logic to their choice.

But before we get to that, let’s get the big question out of the way first: Which one is right? Is “an historic” more proper than “a historic”? Is it the other way around?

Good news: The choice is up to you. The bad news: If you want to look professional or even reasonable, your choices narrow greatly.

People who prefer “an” before historic do so despite the rule that requires “a” before a consonant sound. They say that “an historic” is an exception to that rule because the emphasis in “historic” is on the second syllable. This, they say, causes a speaker to bulldoze right over the first syllable, so the N in “an” helps the first syllable of “historic” stand out.

That’s why these folks also put “an” before “heroic.” If you think the “an” sounds better or if you think it makes the following word easier on the ear, by all means go ahead and use “an.” But before you do, you should note who’s not on your side.

Authorities that prefer “a” include the Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press Stylebook, Bryan Garner, R.W. Burchfield, Bill Walsh, Theodore Bernstein, Eric Partridge and, perhaps best of all, Mark Twain.

That’s the company I want to keep.

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