Saturday, November 13, 2010

"A" and "An" Are Not Interchangeable

I'm not a grammar or spelling Nazi, goodness knows I make plenty of mistakes on a daily basis, but I do get worked up when people continue to make obvious language errors.  I try to avoid correcting people because I have found that it isn't appreciated and it makes me look like a total douche.  However, I'm free to rail against poor grammar all I want in this venue as this is my blog. 

What verbal screw-ups get under my skin?  The following are like nails on chalkboard:

~ Double negatives absolutely make me mental.  I have to grit my teeth to avoid correcting this all too common grammatical error.
~ Saying "axe" instead of "ask."
~ Using "how come" when "why" is correct and saves a word.
~ "Expecially" is not a word.  It never has been, it never will be and I'm assuming the word meant by the user is "especially."
~ The "lay" and "lie" confusion that is so widespread, I can't help but wonder if any English teacher has ever been able to educate their students on the correct usage.  My MIL is the notable exception and her sons definitely learned that lesson. . .yes, my husband had to explain it to me because I kept screwing it up too.
~ The gross language abuse that is found in music.  I'm almost on the fence about this because I understand that sometimes proper grammar doesn't lend itself to a catchy chorus.  Ultimately, I roll my eyes and sing along while hoping my son doesn't pick up poor language habits.
~ Children's toys and shows that use incorrect grammar.  Is it really necessary to expose children to worse grammatical skills than they might be exposed to at home or on the playground?  There are several culprits in my son's toy boxes that would have been in the garbage a long time ago if my son didn't love those cuddly toys.

I've railed about a particular pet peeve a time or two and, by far, my biggest gripe lately is hearing newscasters and politicians using "an" when they really should be using "a."  I have heard this many times in the last several years a la "an historic election."  AN HISTORIC ELECTION?!

Are you freaking kidding me?!  I'm a college drop out and even I know that is wrong!  Who is programming the teleprompter for these, ahem, educated people?  Sometimes I feel like it's an epic prank being played and I'm the only one getting the joke.

In the event that any readers find themselves writing speeches for candidates, let me give a quick explanation of this rule.

Use "a" when the following word begins with a consonant sound.  A hotel, a university, etc.
Use "an" when the following word begins with a vowel sound.  An hourly employee, an umbrella, etc.

An historic election is absolutely wrong because the "h" is pronounced!  Why do I get my panties in a bunch over this sort of crap?  I don't know!  But I do and it drives me totally cuckoo.

Note that I do not use correct grammar throughout this blog.  My reason is that I want my posts to sound breezy and chatty.  I write as though I'm having a conversation with my readership.  That's why I frequently begin sentences with "but" or "and."  I'm also very generous in my use of ellipses (. . .) because they indicate a pause.  I'm aware that this is incorrect usage, but it does mirror common conversation. 


  1. This bugs me too, but technically it is correct to say "an historic election." I think it's because the h in historic wasn't always pronounced so heavily, and language hasn't evolved to catch up with the fact that we more heavily pronounce the H yet. But while it is correct, I still think it sounds funny.

  2. Is that correct? I had never heard that the "h" wasn't pronounced. . .well, unless it's a cockney accent. I learned something new today, but "an historic" will still get on my nerves - haha!