Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, I’ve posted in the past about the difficulty of choosing “a” versus “an”. Generally, it’s not very difficult to decide. You use “an” before a word beginning with a vowel sound (“an enemy”, “an alley”) and “a” if the next word starts with a consonant sound (“a university”, “a shark”). However, this time, I’m stumped.

I was making a post today about Apple’s iPhone on a forum, and wanted to express my wish that they might install a hard drive in it to raise the capacity. However, it’s a fairly computer literate forum, so I was using the abbreviation for Hard drive (“HD”). So, I ended up with this sentence:

I hope that they’ll offer a version of it with __ HD next year.

The reason I’ve left the blank there is because I was stumped as to which article to use. If I expanded it to “Hard Drive”, I would use “a”, because “Hard” starts with a consonant. However, “HD” starts with a spoken vowel when said aloud (“aitch dee”) (loosely transcribed as /eit∫ di/), which would require “an”.

So, as a spoken abbreviation, it’s obviously “an”, but if the reader substitutes the full word, it uses “a”. This could happen elsewhere (“a(n) SQL server”, “an FAA regulation”), but seldom are the acronym and the real word as interchangable.

I’m stumped. I ended up cheating (“a larger HD”), but I’m curious what you all would do in this situation, if given the option to pick one or the other. This is an F’ing frustrating question. Wait… would that be “a F’ing”? I give up. :p

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