“A Historic” or “An Historic” Event?

By Maeve Maddox

A Google search will show more uses of a historic than an historic, but in speech, “an historic event” is the more idiomatic.

To repeat something I wrote in a comment,

“An historic” is idiomatic when the words are run together and the stress falls on the second syllable of historic. The use of “an” becomes self-conscious and unidiomatic when the speaker pauses after the “an” and then puts the stress on the first syllable of historic.

Some speakers tend to use historic and historical interchangeably, but a useful difference exists.

The word historic has the sense of uniqueness. An historic event is one that stands out as having had a significant, history-changing impact. The Battle of Waterloo was an historic event. It stopped Napoleon’s wars of conquest. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was an historic event. It mobilized the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

The word historical, on the other hand, may be applied to any event that occurred in the past. The Battle of Waterloo was both historical and historic.

On the other hand, if you wish to say that something is not historical, you can use either ahistoric. or ahistorical to mean the same thing: “not concerned with or related to history.”

For example, a political leader who repeats the mistakes of his predecessors may be said to have an ahistoric attitude towards governing. A novel based on an historical person or event may nevertheless be ahistorical if it interprets the character or event in a way to contradict the known facts.

Another, useful, if unlovely, “history” word is historicity. Ex. Some people deny the historicity of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews and Gypsies.

Recommended for you: « »



39 Responses to ““A Historic” or “An Historic” Event?”

  • Luc

    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/a-historic-event-or-an-historic-event

    Please do not say “an historic”. It just sounds really, really bad. I hate hearing that on the news all the time from people trying way too hard to sound smart.

  • robert fox

    Count me as being among the members of team “a” (as in “a historic”)! Would any one of the “trendy” Americans to use “an historic” even THINK of saying “an HOTEL”?! I think NOT! This, to me, makes such irregular (and, frankly, willy-nilly) usage of the AN article before CERTAIN “h” words to have a firmer basis in European pronunciation! I was always taught if the word in question has a vowel or vowel sound WHEN PRONOUNCED BY ITSELF, “an” is indeed the correct article; if not, it’s straight-up “a” all the way, baby! I am at a loss as to why pseudo-intellectual, American linguistic “posers” insist on making things more complicated than they should be! For Europeans, it’s a matter of how a letter is or isn’t pronounced! For certain Americans, it’s all about self-consciously pompous affectation!

  • Poliwhirl

    Wow, I can’t believe people are defending “an historic” as correct.

    One thing is dropping your aitches in relaxed or informal speech, another is pretending that it’s correct and even adapting other words to fit your mistakes.

    I’ve also heard “an human” (pronounced something like “a newman”), which sounds even sillier, if that’s possible.

  • Billy Sheridan

    I was educated in an Irish National school and in our English speaking classes we were taught to use “an historic”, an horrific and “an hotel” both orally and in written text: I’m not posh or snooty, it’s just the way I was educated

  • Christine

    It had nothing to do with the vowel sound behind ‘an’ or not, it has everything to do with the fact there is a word-an adjective ‘ahistoric’ which means ‘without concern for history.’ Therefore for practicality and clarity reasons most public speakers will use “an historic” event in order not be misunderstood or quoted out of context verbally! Historic events are always historical (part of history-as in the past). Not all historical events, however, are historic (a special occasion/moment in history)!

  • R Pound

    A fascinating discussion on many levels. I am 63 and attended many schools and colleges, a result of my father being in the forces. I therefore qualify as a reasonably well educated. old fart. I accept the lingering historical reasons as some justification for “an historical” but, now that we pronounce the H, the “an” sounds quaint and a little odd. I was always taught to say “a” before an aspirated H, period. Only when the H is silent should “an” be used. Also, as a Brit, I find it strange that many outsiders think we generally drop aitches. Accents will twist the language and may add colour in films and local broadcasts, but standard English speakers are still common and the aitch is thus healthy in Britain, even in herbs. Strangely, the “haitch” is making a comeback in the younger generation, presumably harking back to the old French….. Oh well, call it evolution or making up the rules as you go along, I won’t lose too much sleep over it.

  • Helen

    Right on Maeve!

    As a 59 year old Englishwoman I was taught to say “an hotel” and “an historic event” at my excellent Primary and Grammar schools.

    Usage may have changed over the years – that does not make me uneducated, Ben!

  • Maeve

    Ben,
    “I was taught the language and speak it as it should be.”

    You’re making a joke, right?

    Even “standard” English exists in more than one dialect in the “English speaking world.” Every medieval French borrowing that begins with the letter was pronounced without the aspirate when it came into the language. Although the French themselves spelled the words with (a lingering loyalty of French scribes to the spelling conventions of classical Latin), they did not pronounce them with an aspirate. Words like horrible and horrendous are now pronounced with the aspirate in English because people learned to read. The /h/ sounds in these words are spelling pronunciations, like the /t/ that many speakers now pronounce in often. Previous pronunciations linger longer in some dialects than in others. When a speaker or a writer puts an before hotel or historic, what you are observing is not ignorance or stupidity or bloody-mindedness. It’s a survival of an earlier pronunciation.

  • Ben

    Edit, I also recognise that that past presidents and current presidents of America use the wrong phrasing, that’s just bad education and mis-information! And that’s “AN HORRIBLE SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!”

Leave a comment: