And another thing…

It’s “an unique thing” ok? The indefinite article before a vowel sound or a soft aspirate becomes “an“. With an n. An hypothesis. An honourable mention. An indefinite article in fact. An apple and an apron. An historical and linguistic anomaly.

I don’t care if you say something is “almost unique”; that’s a valid use of a qualifier. I don’t care if you say it is “nearly unique” though I’d wince with other people’s referred pain at “very nearly unique”. But if you say something is “a unique thing” I will, without a doubt, loose it. Entirely.

It won’t be pleasant.


Thank you.

9 responses to “And another thing…

  1. Umm. Gonna disagree with you here. ‘An umbrella’ because ‘umbrella’ begins with ‘uh’ which is, of course, a vowel sound, but ‘a unique thing’ because ‘unique’ begins with ‘yoo’ and ‘y’ is a consonant sound.

    Likewise ‘an hour’ (begins ‘ow’) but ‘a hellish day’ (begins ‘he’).

    The English language isn’t keen on two vowel sounds together and tends to add a consonant sound – in this case it’s actually written in, in fact that, I’d imagine, is how ‘an’ came about: a written expression of the pronunciation.

    Unlike ‘blue eyes’ (adding ‘w’ between the two words) or ‘three eggs’ (adding ‘y’ again) where you just unconciously add it. Less predicable as a phrase, those, of course. Could be ‘green eyes or ‘five eggs’. But the same principle.

    But equally it doesn’t like too many consonant sounds together, so if you’d be pronouncing the ‘n’ in ‘an historical…’ you’d be dropping the ‘h’. Which is a bit aristocratic for me.

    You can tell I’m back at work, can’t you?

  2. I have to admit I’m with Sol on this one. Sorry, AB.

  3. Mmmmm. I suspect you are both right.


    But… I would argue that the indefinite article is usually pronounced “uh” rather than “ay””. There’s a term for that unempahised miscellanious vowel sound – Sol, what is it called?

    So you say “uh-napple” or “halfa-hundred weight”, but I don’t think you’d say “uh yeunique thing”. Or I wouldn’t. I’d say “ay yeunique thing”. (May, aye am poshe, aren’t aye?) But I wouldn’t say “ay yeunique thing” at all, because if I am going to change the indefinite article from “uh” (more or less) to “ay” (more or less) then I’d rather say “uhn”. “Uhn Younique thing”.

    I’ll admit that “an historic” comes out as “uhn istoric” and is an affectation, and – even worse – that it’s an affectation I affect. So I grant yew that wun.

    In fact, I think you are probably right, Sol, it being your profession and all. And as Reed has already shown, Librarians know EVERYthing, so I suspect you are right too, Mr Librarian.

    Ah well. It was nice while it lasted. Thanks for commenting, though.


  4. Possibly because of our convictal cockney roots, or perhaps it is the Irish in us, but us Aussies say “ay yeunique – – -” cos we is all unejumalcated and stuff. I shudder when I hear “almost unique” or “nearly unique”. A thing is either unique or it is not unique! I feel the earth quake as my grandmother rolls restlessly in her grave when that is mis-used. “Doris,” she would say to my mother, who was the dunce of a very bright family. “Pregnancy is unique. Are you almost pregnant? Nearly pregnant?”

    Needless to say, I am an “an before a vowel” person and a “To whom am I speaking” pretend posh person. Well, posh for an Aussie.

  5. ‘Schwa’ is the name for the unemphasized ‘uh’ sound. And you are right about it being the normal pron of ‘a’. But sounds do change because of what follow, so ‘ay unique thing’ is quite probable.

    It’ll be because ‘ay’ and ‘yoo’ are closer together in the mouth than ‘uh’ and ‘yoo’. So we say ‘tem pim bowling’ not ‘ten pin bowling’ really as it’s easier to get from ‘m’ to ‘p’ and ‘b’ than from ‘n’ to ‘p’ and ‘b’.

    Teachers are always right too, according to B. Unlike Librarians, the rest of this Russian saying runs ‘even when they are wrong’. I wish he would remember this more often himslef, of course.

    Librarians are just never wrong.

  6. In fact, I’d say it’s easier to get from ‘ay’ to ‘yoo’ than ‘an’ to ‘yoo’.

    I’ve just been practising that. Oh dear. Time to do the washing up, I feel.

  7. Oh, can you do mine while you are at it?



  8. Oh, librarians are wrong sometimes, but we generally manage to make sure that no-one ever finds out. Mwah-ha-ha! Our job, of course, is not to know all the answers, but to know how to help people find all the answers. Mainly by asking the right questions.

  9. Ive just recovered Archie’s post from akismet.

    >> “Pregnancy is unique. Are you almost pregnant? Nearly pregnant?”

    Interesting. Really interesting. You see, I would say that something which was almost unique would be one of a pair. Something that seemed to be unique would be the only one we knew of, but it was conceivable that we might find others. Something that was nearly unique might be one of a dwindling population.

    I do get the comparison with being pregnant though, and will have to think about what your grandmother said.


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