"An hash", always wrong?



I was uncertain whether you should write "a hash" or "an hash".
Searching on the web I found 3.000 results with "an hash" and 300.000 with "a hash", so for sure most people say "a hash".

However "an hash" still sounds better to me, especially when "hash" is used alone (as opposed to "hash table", "hash function" etc.).
That's because I'm used to pronounce "hash" without stressing the h, so its initial sound is similar to that of "hour" (which I'm sure has to be used with "an").
I know that at least some people say it stressing the h, so for them it's for sure correct to use "a", however I wonder if there are different (official) pronunciations and thus both "a hash" and "an hash" are acceptable in written text.

I'm not a native english speaker and I never stayed for long in an english-speaking country, so it's entirely possible that I made up my pronunciation of "hash".


Posted 2016-04-20T10:03:05.547

Reputation: 217



You probably did hear hash with a "silent h" somewhere; there's precedent for an hash. It's not common, but it can be found. A 2015 book says:

In addition, a quantization scheme is also presented to show how the size of an hash can be reduced.

I don't generally hear it pronounced that way, but I believe you when you say you did. Judging by places where this wording is found, it seems to be rather common in computer science circles.

One good example of this phenomenon is the word herb. Americans tend to pronounce this with a silent h, so Americans will usually say, "Add an herb [pronounced urb] to the dish," while the British will usually say, "Add a herb to the dish," with the h clearly pronounced.

Behold the ngram. It's interesting to watch what happens when you change that Ngram to show the British corpus.


Posted 2016-04-20T10:03:05.547

Reputation: 108 123

Thanks. There are a good number of books with "an hash", but exponentially more with "a hash". Given that Knuth and a couple of other reference books I checked only use "a hash", I gather I'd do well to stick to "a hash". However I see a slight growing trend for "an hash"; I wonder if it's just more foreigners writing in english, dropping editing quality, or really a thing being taken up by natives too. – user2118 – 2016-04-20T11:34:20.577

I used to work with a guy (native British English speaker) who pronounced "hash" as "ash" (but he didn't generally "drop" his initial 'h', as some British dialects do). To me (also a native British English speaker) it sounded very odd. I wish I'd asked him where he learnt to say it that way. – atkins – 2016-04-20T15:10:35.293

@user2118 - I don't really see a "growing trend" for an hash, just a growing trend for the word hash in general, with an hash growing along with it (though an hash is growing at a slower rate than a hash; have a look.

– J.R. – 2016-04-20T15:47:22.517

@J.R.You're right, I hadn't thought about that. It's actually declining indeed, at least in books. – user2118 – 2016-04-21T17:26:39.683

@J.R. I accepted your answer because it was the most useful one, even though the others had been helpful too (I also upvoted this and Colin's answer but the votes will only show up when/if I earn other 7 points of reputation) – user2118 – 2016-04-21T17:27:53.580

1I have a feeling that the commonness in computer science books of 'an hash' has something to do with the combination of "hash" being a very important concept in a number of computer science topics, and a high population of non-native English speakers writing papers and proceedings in English. Looking over (very unscientifically) some of the books where you found "an hash" there seems to be a skew toward Italian & Portuguese authors. I wonder if there is something about those languages that would make 'an hash' sound better. – ColleenV – 2016-04-21T21:28:17.037

@ColleenV - Great detective work, and interesting conjecture. – J.R. – 2016-04-21T21:45:03.483

@ColleenV It's possible, for me for sure it's quite fatiguing to say "a hash". The only expressions with "ha" in italian that I can think of are "harem", "ha ha ha" the laughter, "ha" the exclamation, and the A-ha's. Could there be a relation between the usage of "a hash" and the A-ha's popularity?? – user2118 – 2016-04-22T09:19:24.420

actually in harem the h is almost not pronounced, so that's not one of them – user2118 – 2016-04-22T09:34:08.553

"An H___" is my biggest pet hate in english today. I hate to admit it, but it's hard for me to take anyone seriously who uses it - it gives me the impression that they aren't mentally capable of pronouncing anything resembling the letter 'h', as ridiculous as that conclusion would be. – fabspro – 2016-08-16T13:08:53.267

@fabspro Analogously a lot of people find "a h___" ridicolous, especially the way English say it, and especially when coming from males. It's not just mental capability anyway, it's really a lot more fatiguing to say than "an h___", especially for people who don't like to speak. – user2118 – 2017-09-28T11:32:30.717

@user2118 I need to point out that it is less movement to say "a h___" than to say "an h___" because the "n" sound requires the tongue to be moved significantly, but "a h__" can be said with an almost completely stationary mouth. But yes, as with all linguistic things, it varies by region. In Australia at least, it always sounds ridiculous and almost child-like to say "an h___" in any context. Although, in the example of "an herb" it might be arguable that it is equal effort required... which might be a reason why this specific combination is becoming common while other words are not. – fabspro – 2017-10-03T01:38:09.590

@fabspro For me the stop and the exhalation needed to pronounce the h of "a h___" is more fatiguing; but I suspect we have in mind different pronunciations: when hypothetically saying "an h___" I would always use an almost silent h; I took it for granted, but maybe you didn't. Or maybe it's just that I'm not used to pronounce that sound, and after some practice I would see "a h___" the easier one as well. – user2118 – 2017-10-03T11:21:36.003

@user2118 I agree, we are not thinking of the same thing. There is no stop required between a and "h_" unless you insert one or if your accent requires you to exaggerate stops like that. I consider silent h to be a bit of a prominent error no different to dropping any other consonant sound used to identify the start of a word, which is why I find it amusing when people say it. Anyway, like anything lingual i'm sure there are cases where it does sound better or more correct and I just haven't thought of them while writing this. Fun times. Where are you from? – fabspro – 2017-10-05T12:07:43.620

@fabspro As to the stop, you're right, you can say it without stopping; personally it takes me a lot of effort to make the exhalation of the "h", so it's difficult for me to do it without a (very little) stop, but probably it's just me. – user2118 – 2017-10-06T14:25:09.200

@fabspro I'm from Italy. We have no "h" sound. Tuscans use it all the time, though (and they're very funny to hear - in a good way). – user2118 – 2017-10-06T14:25:18.763

@user2118 ahh interesting, lots of fun. I'm from australia so we probably just have different speech methods. When I'm net in Tuscany I will have to listen out for it! – fabspro – 2017-10-07T03:23:32.400

K. I thought you could also find it easily on youtube but turns out it's not so. Tuscany is more worth a visit than youtube anyway. I hope we managed to settle this. Otherwise, see you next year, I guess :D . Bye – user2118 – 2017-10-09T17:47:12.213


There are dialects of English (for example, many Londoners) where initial 'h' is regularly omitted in speech: people who speak such dialects may well say "an 'ash", just as they may say "an 'ouse" or "an 'orrible situation".

Pronunciations like that are not normally written (and if they are, eg in fiction, they are usually written as I have above, with an apostrophe). if I encountered "an hash" in writing, I would unhesitatingly take it as a mistake.

Colin Fine

Posted 2016-04-20T10:03:05.547

Reputation: 47 277

Thanks. What if you encountered it in a variable name? (I saw in your profile that you dabble in programming) I'd really prefer to use "IsAnHash" over "IsAHash"... :) If it's not horribly wrong I think most readers would prefer the case alternation over linguistic perfection – user2118 – 2016-04-20T11:21:30.810

2"An hash" is wrong. As Colin says, if you see it in writing it looks like a mistake. The only reason you might ever see it is because (as Colin says) in some dialects they drop the H in pronunciation. Why would you prefer to use it? Every native English speaker seeing it will be baffled. – stangdon – 2016-04-20T15:01:58.610

@stangdon I'd to prefer to use it in a variable name because "IsAnHash" is a lot easier to read then "IsAHash" (in general you can't use spaces inside variable names and in my convention I don't use other separators either, there's just the case to tell apart the individual words) – user2118 – 2016-04-21T17:24:40.347


I'm not sure why you find it easier to read, but OK. It is your program, so you can name your variables whatever you want! It's just that if anyone else ever has to work on that program, you're putting an extra stumbling block in their way by using incorrect grammar. What about just using "IsHash"? It's common for variable names to omit articles.

– stangdon – 2016-04-21T17:28:10.673

@stangdon Yes of course if a grammatical incorrectness ends up being a bigger hindrance than the lack of separation I'll settle for "IsAHash". "IsHash" would not be great because in this case I'm speaking of an hash symbol, "Hash" without an article would more likely be read as meaning an hash function output, I think. In the end though I'll probably just come up with a completely different name, just to avoid this problem. :-) Or maybe I'll just use the interminable italian "Cancelletto" (I work in an italian company) – user2118 – 2016-04-21T17:50:28.497


It should be "a hash table". "an hash symbol" just sounds wrong. You just can't say that. Listen to the pronunciation please: http://forvo.com/word/make_a_hash_of/ The "h" is not silent there. If it was silent, the whole thing would be pronounced as "an ash". But that's definitely not the case. To say "an hash" is the same as saying "an dog".

Michael Rybkin

Posted 2016-04-20T10:03:05.547

Reputation: 37 124

I know about that pronunciation, but is that the only legit one? I don't have examples of the silent pronunciation at hand, but I think I did hear it. – user2118 – 2016-04-20T10:18:35.593

1To my ears, it is the only one legit out there. As I said, saying "an hash" sounds the same as saying "an dog". – Michael Rybkin – 2016-04-20T10:23:23.023

@user2118: Some people drop the h, but they are people who do not make good use of the language. You should imitate those of the higher classes who pronounce the h. – zondo – 2016-04-20T10:33:45.923

@CookieMonster Thanks, I'll wait for some more opinions before accepting the answer. I see you are from Moscow though, can you tell me what experience you have with spoken english? Have you lived in some english country? – user2118 – 2016-04-20T10:34:22.223

@zondo I know I shouldn't but I really dislike the "higher" english (of people from England) pronunciation, I'm fine with speaking as most americans (or irish, or scottish, but not english please.. :) ) – user2118 – 2016-04-20T10:39:10.037

2@user2118: Most people who speak English pronounce the h. – zondo – 2016-04-20T10:41:44.667

2@zondo: on what basis do you assert that "they are people who do not make good use of the language"? – Colin Fine – 2016-04-20T16:00:11.180