"A hereditary" or "an hereditary"

Pafra & Scott Catledge scplc at GS.VERIO.NET
Mon May 3 22:59:33 UTC 1999

Dear Grant--Would you also say "a herb? ;{)
-----Original Message-----
From: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at americandialect.org>
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 8:21 AM
Subject: "A hereditary" or "an hereditary"

>>From Slate's "International Papers" review,
>"Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Friday that the House of Lords split
>over a point of grammar in a bill to abolish its hereditary members. The
>issue is whether to say "a hereditary peer" or "an hereditary peer." The
>first version appears in the bill but was disputed in a debate by
>Conservative hereditary peer Earl Ferrers, who moved an amendment to change
"a" to
>"an." He pointed out that Fowler's Modern English Usage cites "an
>hereditary title" as a correct example. But a government spokesman
responded with a
>quotation from a second edition of the same reference book: " 'An' was
>formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with 'h' and is
>often seen and heard (an historian, an hereditary title). But now that
>the 'h' in such words is pronounced, the distinction has become anomalous
>and will no doubt disappear in time." Their lordships voted 63-31 against
>Earl Ferrers' amendment."
>Personally, when speaking, I never use "an" in front of hereditary,
>history, etc. It rings false to my ears, though I will use it in print in
>not to arouse prescriptivist instincts in editors and professors.
>Grant Barrett
>gbarrett at americandialect.org

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