'A' vs 'An' (with perilously precedential parentheses) - Page 2

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Thread: 'A' vs 'An' (with perilously precedential parentheses)

  1. #11
    Ah, sandhi, my pet word, meaning a situation where a word affects the preceding word. In written English "an" is maybe the only example of this as a written phenomenon, which is more common in other languages.

    In my novel (Another pet remark of mine) I use the same term to describe a future event that affects an earlier event, i.e. reverse causality. As the novel is written text and the events are described with words this is a logical extension of the meaning into the world of fiction. The apparent science fiction in my story is actually a form of metafiction, so people can experience sandhi as a change to their recent past and they can also travel into the subjunctive, which has many odd consequences. In fact they also experiment with living in parentheses, so to speak, so I should be able to answer the original question about the coincidence of a sandhi with parentheses. Unfortunately the only explanation given in my novel is that this interaction is an example of a hysteresis paradox, but as this was only hearsay the character who mentioned it didn't actually know what that meant, so I never found out either. Quite possibly that explanation doesn't translate back through the metafictional boundary into an answer about text anyway. Just as people who live in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones, so people who only live in books shouldn't give advice on writing them. That's just too surreal. Is anyone still with me on this? No wonder few people have got to the end of my novel.

    Apart from that I agree that the choice depends purely on the sequence of words written ignoring the parentheses. If the reader chooses to read the sentence omitting the words in parentheses then they must implement the sandhi mentally as it is primarily related to the words as spoken, not written. This is a small demand compared to that placed on the Swiss in their everyday lives. Swiss is a purely spoken language and they usually write a form of German, not that the Germans regard it as German. The result is that what they write and what they say are different, even when they are ostensibly reading out something that is written down. Somehow they mentally translate the text as they speak, so changing "a" to "an" when required in English is trivial in comparison. In fact we could just as well drop the use of "an" altogether and rely on it being implicit in the language as a purely spoken sandhi. By the way, I believe that there has been a long term project to compile the first Swiss dictionary, which is extremely difficult as apart from being solely a spoken language there are many regional versions. I'm no expert on such things though, just someone who did a little research before taking a holiday there once.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  2. #12
    Latin managed perfectly well without "a" or "the" - context making the decision. They were pretty light on prepositions too I think - relying more on vowel endings.
    Still, I suppose that's nothing to do with this thread anyway

    EDIT: Not sure where my head is. The above should have read NOUN endings
    Last edited by Phil Istine; April 21st, 2015 at 08:38 PM.

  3. #13
    WF Veteran Bloggsworth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Istine View Post
    Latin managed perfectly well without "a" or "the" - context making the decision. They were pretty light on prepositions too I think - relying more on vowel endings.
    Still, I suppose that's nothing to do with this thread anyway
    Perhaps not, but it would be of interest to a Romanian...
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  4. #14
    The 'a' or 'an' question is actually quite simple. Use an 'a' before any word starting with a consonant sound (a cat, a doctor, a marvelous day, a historic event). 'An' is used when the subsequent word has a vowel sound (an egomaniac, an apple pie, an herb garden). Notice the examples using 'h' words. When the 'h' is silent, as in herb or hour, the word starts with a vowel sound, so 'an' is used. When the 'h' is pronounced, as in historic or hero, an 'a' is used.

    In the parenthetical example given in the OP, the word inside the parentheses has a consonant sound, so a would be correct regardless of what the parentheses are meant to indicate. The word is still there, and it is the next work in the sentence, so it determines the proper article.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
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    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


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  5. #15
    I think the silent "h" in herb must be dialect or cultural. The "h" is pronounced in the UK. I have heard cannabis weed referred to as 'erb - but that's more slangy.

  6. #16
    Creative Area Specialist (Fiction) Blade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Istine View Post
    I think the silent "h" in herb must be dialect or cultural. The "h" is pronounced in the UK. I have heard cannabis weed referred to as 'erb - but that's more slangy.
    I think you are right on that actually. I have never heard anyone pronounce the 'h' in herb but I realize that it must be done in some areas simply as a consequence of the spelling.

    Although the 'sounds right' model is imperfect I use it because it looks as I would say it. For the rather rare situation where it might seem inaccurate it is a good a guideline as any.
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  7. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    ... When the 'h' is silent, as in herb or hour, the word starts with a vowel sound, so 'an' is used. When the 'h' is pronounced, as in historic or hero, an 'a' is used.
    It's already been mentioned that the 'h' in herb is pronounced in the UK, so far as I know everywhere, but the word hour is more interesting. Being a Londoner I'm no expert on pronouncing any 'h's whatsoever but for them what speak proper I suspect that there is a subtle difference between 'our' and 'hour' although it may not be a full 'h'. However, the sequence of 'a' followed by a partial 'h' demands some vocal gymnastics and the result is that the partial 'h' vanishes entirely and the 'n' replaces it. I think that partial 'h' is very subtle and not everyone uses it, but diction is often short of perfect in the UK. I have seen the phrase 'an historic occasion' written but that seems to be more an affectation than standard English. I personally would speak of 'n 'istoric occasion but I doubt that any writer would try to write the way that I often speak as all those apostrophes make such a mess. For some it might seem 'n 'orrible way 'v torkin' b' ... well you see what I mean. Certainly it proves that what we write is not phonetic anyway and may give no indication of what might actually be spoken by any particular individual. Hence written English is only a stylised form which follows its own conventions regardless.

    On reflection perhaps a better example of the problem is the word 'honest'. Am I an honest man or a honest man? Honestly it's difficult to say how much the 'h' is spoken and if so when. Is there a difference in emphasis between the 'h's in the words 'hour and 'honest' and 'hectic'? I'm the last person to answer that. All I know is that I'm 'n 'onest man 'n 'appy to be so.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  8. #18
    Note to self: Never try writing any Geordie dialogue (and I don't mean Star Trek).

  9. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    It's already been mentioned that the 'h' in herb is pronounced in the UK, so far as I know everywhere, but the word hour is more interesting. Being a Londoner I'm no expert on pronouncing any 'h's whatsoever but for them what speak proper I suspect that there is a subtle difference between 'our' and 'hour' although it may not be a full 'h'. However, the sequence of 'a' followed by a partial 'h' demands some vocal gymnastics and the result is that the partial 'h' vanishes entirely and the 'n' replaces it. I think that partial 'h' is very subtle and not everyone uses it, but diction is often short of perfect in the UK. I have seen the phrase 'an historic occasion' written but that seems to be more an affectation than standard English. I personally would speak of 'n 'istoric occasion but I doubt that any writer would try to write the way that I often speak as all those apostrophes make such a mess. For some it might seem 'n 'orrible way 'v torkin' b' ... well you see what I mean. Certainly it proves that what we write is not phonetic anyway and may give no indication of what might actually be spoken by any particular individual. Hence written English is only a stylised form which follows its own conventions regardless.

    On reflection perhaps a better example of the problem is the word 'honest'. Am I an honest man or a honest man? Honestly it's difficult to say how much the 'h' is spoken and if so when. Is there a difference in emphasis between the 'h's in the words 'hour and 'honest' and 'hectic'? I'm the last person to answer that. All I know is that I'm 'n 'onest man 'n 'appy to be so.
    It's not about how it is spoken. Accents and dialects would make that an impossible task, as you clearly show. It is about how the word is supposed to sound based on its spelling. 'Honest' begins with a vowel sound so it gets an 'an'. There's no question about it. Nor is there a question about 'hour' or 'hectic' (an and a respectively). This is really one of the easiest grammar questions to deal with.

    http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/edu...us-an?page=all
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

    Visit Amazon and the Kindle Store to check out Reflections in a Black Mirror, and Chase

    Hidden Content






  10. #20
    Creative Area Specialist (Fiction) Blade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    Certainly it proves that what we write is not phonetic anyway and may give no indication of what might actually be spoken by any particular individual. Hence written English is only a stylised form which follows its own conventions regardless.
    True enough and the local convention will vary widely due to the number of possible options available. Where I live the words "hour', 'honour' and 'herb' are pronounced with no 'h' sound whereas with 'horse', 'hero' and 'house' the 'h' is pronounced. You can see that the so called convention is somewhat arbitrary although the 'an' is used before words that sound like they begin with a vowel.
    I was fighting with temptation but I didn't want to win.
    A man like me don't like to see temptation caving in.
    Leonard Cohen

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