A question about using articles before a single letter in the alphabet



I want to brush up my English and I just started to read some Grammar books. When I read the section about how to use an article before a single letter, it says that we have to use "a" or "an" depending on the pronunciation of the letter. My teachers in school have never told me about that and in fact I am not sure what is the correct article that should be placed in front of a single letter.

Here I tried to list all the 26 letters with articles. Please let me know if I am correct or not and be kind to point out my mistakes.

  1. an "A"
  2. a "B"
  3. a "C"
  4. a "D"
  5. an "E"
  6. an "F"
  7. a "G"
  8. a "H"
  9. an "I"
  10. a "J"
  11. a "K"
  12. an "L"
  13. an "M"
  14. an "N"
  15. an ""O"
  16. a "P"
  17. an "R"
  18. a "Q"
  19. an S"
  20. a "T"
  21. a "U"
  22. a "V"
  23. a "W"
  24. an "X"
  25. a "Y"
  26. a "Z".


Posted 2017-09-09T20:19:50.233

Reputation: 21

Question was closed 2017-09-11T05:19:13.800



Your list is correct, except that we would normally say and write an H, because the name of the letter H is usually "aitch", and most dictionaries (whether British or American) give that as the only way to pronounce it.

That said, "haitch" is common in Ireland and increasingly common in Britain, so "a H" is defensible as well, although learners would be better advised to stick with the more traditional form.

Note, the rule about "a"/"an" in your grammar book doesn't apply only to the names of the letters of the alphabet, but also to words in general. For example, we would say "a unique book" (because "unique" is pronounced with a leading consonant), "a UN meeting" (because "UN" is pronounced as two initials), but "an MBA" (because "MBA" is also usually pronounced as its initials, and the M starts with a vowel sound).


Posted 2017-09-09T20:19:50.233

Reputation: 8 564

Regarding haitch, I just read that BBC article, which you included, and I don't think it is saying that the letter H is increasingly being pronounced haitch, but just that some words, at one time pronounced with a silent H, such as hospital, hotel, herb, etc are now pronounced with an h sound at the beginning. (Actually the only one of those three where I believe the h sound was ever omitted was hotel - and there was much else in the article which I read with scepticism - though I am usually a big fan of the BBC). – WS2 – 2017-09-10T00:05:09.833

You are mistaken, @WS2. The article does indeed say that those words are now pronounced with an 'h' sound at the beginning, but it also says that the letter 'h' is increasingly being called haitch. "The sound of says, ate, mischievous, harass, garage, schedule and aitch is shifting." It also says: "Haytch is a standard pronunciation in Irish English and is increasingly being used by native English-speaking people all across the country, irrespective of geographical provenance or social standing. Polls have shown that the uptake of haytch by younger native speakers is on the rise." – rjpond – 2017-09-10T00:08:57.393

For "herb", the OED says "the h was mute until the 19th cent., and is still so treated by many". – rjpond – 2017-09-10T00:11:11.227

Sorry, I didn't read the side panels. Haytch has been, and still is very common in the north of England too. But I remain quite sceptical of much that is in that report. It doesn't correspond in several respects with what I am hearing. One thing you must bear in mind with journalists, is that they get paid for writing things. A blank sheet of paper earns them nothing. Life is a good deal less remarkable than the media would have us believe. – WS2 – 2017-09-10T00:13:37.193

I don't know why the BBC uses the spelling haytch for the 'h'-prefixed pronunciation. I use haitch because it differs from the standard pronunciation only by its initial 'h', and the spelling of aitch is well established. Oh well. Prof John Wells carried out a survey a decade ago, and only 16% of Brits said they called it haitch. However, the proportion was around 5% among older speakers and around 25% among younger respondents. See http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/ha-ha.html

– rjpond – 2017-09-10T00:19:56.413

@rjpond I always defer to Eddie Izzard's opinion on the pronunciation of herbs.

– Andrew – 2017-09-10T00:50:12.813