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  1. Lucky Serb

    Confusion around indefinite articles

    Hello there,

    I hope you may be able to shed some light on the following debate: couple of days ago I went out with a group of friends and ended up arguing with two close friends over the use of apostrophe in certain phrases as well as the use of indefinite article preceding the word 'hotel'. The argument took place at my friends' house early in the morning, when all three of us were very, very drunk.

    I told them I found it annoying that the film title "Two Weeks Notice" did not include an apostrophe after the 's' in 'Weeks'. My friend Hayley thought I was wrong, and that there was no reason to write "two weeks' notice" or "five days' journey", since notice or journey did not belong to weeks or days, respectively.

    I challenged this rigid interpretation of belonging, pointing at grammatical relation of notice to week, i.e. a notice of two weeks or a journey of five days.

    Both Hayley and Jeremy disagreed, and I was happy to leave it at that, since I was pretty sure I was right. Then Hayley told me this interesting fact: apparently the correct usage in English for the word 'hotel' is 'an hotel'. I told her that, in my opinion, that may have been the case a long time ago, but now the standard and what I considered the only accepted usage would be 'a hotel'. For example: a hotel car park; We went to a hotel that night. Hayley was having none of it; she wasn't sure why, but she remained adamant that an hotel was always an hotel. Jeremy, her boyfriend, informed us that we were both in the wrong since the correct use was 'an (h)otel', without ever pronouncing the 'h'.

    Surely this type of pronunciation would be correct in France, but not in modern English? Since then I've mentioned this to some of my work colleagues. One of them vehemently confirmed Jeremy's version of 'an hotel (with a silent h)' as being the correct form. I don't think I have ever come across this particular article + noun combination in any magazine, newspaper or book - nor have I heard it pronounced in such a way by newsreaders or radio/TV presenters. Perhaps I haven't been paying attention?

    I would greatly appreciate feedback on this confusing issue.

    Lucky Serb

  2. Editor,
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
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      • UK
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    • Join Date: Nov 2002
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    Re: Confusion around indefinite articles

    You are right- ask your friends if they say 'one week notice' or 'one week's notice'. Using 'an hotel' is very old fashioned- they used to us 'an'vefore wordsa of French origin beginning with 'h'. Some still say 'an historical day'and you might hear 'an horredous accident', but 'an hotel'sounds wrong now. It was upper class thing and you might find the odd aristocrat who still uses it. Those that did did not pronounce the 'h', unlike journalists who, rather irritatingly use 'an historical', but aspirate the 'h'.

  3. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
    • Posts: 12,970

    Re: Confusion around indefinite articles

    Re: the film title "Two Weeks Notice"

    An apostrophe is required, and not because 'Notice' belongs to 'Two Weeks'--it doesn't. The apostrophe is required because 'Two Weeks' is a genitive of measure. That is, 'Two Weeks' answers the question, "What's the measure of notice?"; e.g., three years' work experience (What's the measure of experience?), two hours' time (What's the measure of time?), etc. When in doubt, change it into a periphrastic construct:

    EX: two weeks' notice => notice of two weeks

    There are sources online, Click here, that use the film title 'Two Weeks Notice' as an example of ungrammaticality. There should be an apostrophe, but don't blame the speaker if it's left out.

    The problem is not with the speaker per se, it's with genitives of measure: the apostrophe is not audible after [s] or [z], so if you don't hear it, how are you suppose to know you should write it in?

    years' [ji:rz]
    weeks' [wiks]

    Re: an hotel
    I agree with tdol. It's not the correct usage anymore. In addition, traditionally the rules, as they were taught in school--way back when--were as follows:

    <h> is aspirated (i.e., fully audible) when it occurs in an accented syllable, so in that environment it's preceded by <a>:

    EX: a hot day, a hearing dog, a 'How're you doing?' phrase, a hurtful grin, a hateful letter, a holiday package.

    <h> is unaspirated (i.e., barely audible) when it occurs in an unaccented syllable, so in that environment it's preceded by <an>:

    EX: an historian's dream, an historical reference, an hysterical man, an heredity code, an habitual liar.

    But, today, and with regards to the words above like, hotel and historical, for example, the unaccented syllables (ho- and his-) carry the exact same stress as accented syllables hoe and his, respectively. So you see, stress being relative, a hotel actually follows the traditional rule, albiet in a modified form.

    In short, if you pronounce hotel as [o]tel, without [h], then use "an", whereas if you pronounce hotel as [ho]tel, with [h], then use "a". That's the traditional rule, right?


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