Why do some people say “an hotel” or “an historic moment”?
Have you ever heard someone say this? They’re looking to book “an hotel”, or they consider an event to be “an historic moment”? (there’s an example at about 1.22 on the video in the article An ‘historic moment’ for the Green Party – James Shaw). What’s that about? H isn’t a vowel, so shouldn’t it be “a hotel”, and “a historic moment”?
It’s really about the way the word is said – often the “h” on words like historic, hotel, and horrific is dropped when you’re saying them. In this case, using “an” is correct, because effectively the word starts with the next letter, a vowel. If you say the “h” though, saying “a hotel” isn’t wrong.
What happens when you write it though?
So does this change when you’re writing the word? These words clearly have an “h” when they’re written, so should you say “a hotel”? Well, the answer is – it depends.
The Chicago Manual of Style goes with “a hotel”, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong if you choose to use “an” if your organisation says differently in their style guide, or if you’re writing for yourself.
If you’d naturally say “an hotel” yourself, you could absolutely write “an hotel”. If you’re writing in a business document, an editor might change what you’ve written to whatever house style is – if it’s covered!
The main thing here is to be consistent. Decide if you prefer “an hotel” or “a hotel”, and stick to the same usage throughout your document.