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"an highly" vs "a highly"

Asked by [ Admin ]

Which one is right in the following sentence and what is the general rule for a/an before "h"?

It's an highly iterative process.

vs

It's a highly iterative process.

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3 answers

6

donald remero [ Moderator ]

General rules about this are based on whether the sound of the word as it is spoken is a consonant or a soft vowel.

Complications with any such rules arise in two main areas: 1) whether the vowel sounds are 'hard' or 'soft' or unstressed or weakly stressed, and 2) the fact that there is clear divergence between accepted written habits and spoken habits, even within a/an homogenous group, such that, for example "a historic" is more common in writing, but "an historic" is more common in speech.

Even later editions of the Chicago style guide are ultimately inconsistent.

It is clear, however, in explanations by Merriam-Webster, Chicago, and other authorities as well that instances of "an historical study" and "an highly iterative process" are being increasingly seen as pretentious. "An" is on the way out to such a degree that the general rule should be to err on the side of "a."

Additional examples of "consonant sounds represented by a vowel letter" include "a one," "a union," "a unique thing," and "a euphonious word." But "soft" vowel sounds represented by a consonant such as with "honor" and "heir" still get the "an" treatment.

NN comments
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2

erikbrandstadmoen

I would argue that the prounciation /'aily/ is to be considered colloquial, and I would therefore definitely vote for "a highly", as the H in the beginning is pronounced in official English pronunciation standards.

NN comments
donald remero
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Agreed. Though more generally I’d be careful about the term “official English pronunciation standards.” There actually is no such thing like that as there is commonly understood to be for French.

bill
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: Of course there is! It’s however I say it. :)

donald remero
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Ah! Your Excellency! Please forgive! I had no idea you were in the room! =)

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2

jb_44 [ Editor ]

Barring style attempts, my memory of the rule is:

  • 'a' if the next word starts with a consonnant
  • 'an' if the next word starts with a vowel

'h' is spoken in English, so it's a highly iterative process.

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