A/an: hypothesis? For American readers: AE [H]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by deb_haifa, Sep 2, 2008.

  1. deb_haifa New Member

    English - Hebrew
    Hi there, if someone can tell me if hypothesis is preceded by a or an, for an American readership, I would be very grateful. Thanks.
  2. kitenok Senior Member

    Hi Deb,
    A hypothesis, definitely, for this American.
  3. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    As far as I'm aware, the rule is the same in AE as in BE: If the word starts with a consonant sound it's preceded by "a". Hypothesis clearly starts with a consonant - "h".
    Those who write or say "an" before words like hotel, hospital and hypothesis are committing a heinous error in my opinion.
  4. Waylink Senior Member

    English (British)
    I think that deb haifa is alluding to the AE tendency to pronounce some words with a silent initial 'h' that BE speakers generally would not.

    For example, herb is correctly pronounced [ urb ] in AE and [ hurb ] in BE.

    So the OP is asking, I think, do AE speakers regard hypothesis as beginning with a consonant sound or a vowel sound?
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
  6. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    We've been down this road many times.

    It's not about whether the first sound is a vowel.
    An may be used before an unaccented syllable beginning with an h.

    a history, but
    historian or a historian

    a habit, but
    an habitual offender or a habitual offender

    I am old-fashioned in this regard, and say an hysterical, an hypothesis, &c.

  7. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Hi from Jerusalem, deb_haifa, and welcome to the forums. :)

    In American English (AE), the h in hypothesis is never silent, at least not in my experience. We would say a hypothesis.
  8. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Agreed, just as I would say a hypodermic needle, a hypothalamus gland, etc.
  9. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I have heard both used, with "a hypothesis" proably being more common, but both are considered correct.
  10. su_ Member

    If a group of people pronounce a word incorrectly, and teach this to their children , should this incorrect pronunciation be considered as correct? I don't like this postmodern attitude. In which grammatical reference book,
    'an hypothesis' is considered as correct? really, if there is a grammatical reference, I'd like to know.
  11. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm not quite sure why you're using words like "incorrect", su_, given the evidence of native speakers in this thread.

    I happen to say "a hypothesis", "a hotel" etc. But I respect Brioche's (and others') right to say "an hypothesis" etc.

    Perhaps I may re-phrase your question to read as follows: If a group of people pronounce a word in a particular way, and teach this to their children, should this pronunciation be considered as correct?
    My answer: yes, certainly, for that group of people.
  12. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    A hypothesis. The h is pronounced in this word in correct AE, so we have to say "a". Now I have heard a few Americans drop the h in this word (and a few others like human being, historical analysis etc.) and then they would say "an" in conversation but I don't think you should imitate this, and never in written AE. But this is just what I would do.
  13. su_ Member

    Dear loob,
    It is not a question of respect. we are talking about whether a usage is grammatically correct / used in standard english or not. If there are 6 billion people it means there are 6 billion usages. but it is not the topic being discussed. In my mother tongue some people say 'mutbak' instead of 'mutfak' (means kitchen). But it is never ever standard turkish. It is not even a dialect. Some people learnt it this way from their families and the mistake runs in the family. I hope I made my self clear.
  14. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I think the mistaken assumption behind your statement is that there is one English and one standard. English is a collection of variants spoken around the world. There is no single "standard" in English.

    For example, "colour" is the standard spelling in British English. "Color" is the standard spelling in American English. Although either variation is understood in either variant, a student would be "corrected" in American English if he wrote "colour" and I suspect the same would be true for a British English student who wrote "color". If you look the word up in an American English dictionary it is spelled "color"; in a British English dictionary it is spelled "colour". (Most likely, though, most dictionaries will list the other variant with a note saying something like "or colour (primarily Brit.)" and "or color (primarily Amer.)".

    "An hypothesis" and "a hypothesis" is an even more subtle difference. I have heard American English natives say "an hypothesis" (usually in an academic setting) and "a hypothesis". There is no one correct answer here. There are preferences, which panjandrum detailed beautifully in an earlier post.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2009
  15. su_ Member

    That's what I mean exactly. If we talk about preferences, there are hundreds of millions of English speaking people; and they have their preferences. If we accept each preference as grammaticly correct, then it is a chaos. Differences between American English and British English are well-established. There is no argument about it, and we are not discussing the differences between AE and BE. As I said before, of course, for god's sake, people will continue to speak as they wish and as they are taught. But when we come to the matter of 'grammatically accepted', I ask if "an hypothesis" is a grammatically accepted version, just cite it, make a reference to a grammar book, dictionary or a grammarian. And believe me, not everything you hear in a so-called academic circle is correct, being a part of it myself I have to confess this.
  16. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    There is no need to get carried away with the notion of 6 billion usages.
    Both "a hypothesis" and "an hypothesis" are correct and accepted in formal contexts.
    The OED, as an example, includes eight instances of <indefinite article> hypothesis.
    Five "an", three "a".
  17. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU

    I say "a hypothesis" and I am correct. I know people who say and write "an hypothesis" and they, too, are correct. Both I and they pronounce the letter h. "Correct AE" is a big tent. I suppose even unsupportable prescriptivism has a place under that tent, if only for the sake of argument (and mirth).

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