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Using “a” or “an” before a word that starts with an “h” sound

Learners of English sometimes come up with different interesting questions that might put in difficulty a teacher. Most of the questions I have been asked are grammar related and two of them, related to the English articles "a", "an", and "the", are always in my mind.

The first question is: "Before words starting with the letter 'h' should I use the article 'a' or the article 'an'?"

One of my Vietnamese friends asked me yesterday this question and he also gave me two examples that he came across while reading some news. First example is “an hour ago ...” and the second example is “a historic event ...” He asked me why in the first example the article "an" is used and in the second example the article "a" is used.

Well, the answer is: use the article "an" before a noun that starts with the letter "h" and the /h/ sound is not pronounced and use the article "a" before a noun that starts with the letter "h" and the /h/ sound is pronounced.

The second question is: "Why the article 'the', that is part of many company names, is sometimes capitalized and sometimes it is not?"

To be honest, I have never thought about that and as I know the definite article "the" should be always lowercased (except when it starts a sentence, of course). The problem came after my friend printed some advertising materials for a client. The client rejected the products because the name of its organization wasn’t all capitalized (the Big G vs. The Big G). They said that the word "the" is part of their branding and must be capitalized despite the rules of English language.


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