Geeking out about grammar March 3rd, 2011

Ok, so this is totally random.  In some documentation, I wrote the following sentence:

Response objects mirror an html5 location object with some additional attributes.

Then I realized that wasn’t entirely accurate and changed it to:

Response objects mirror a w3c location object with some additional attributes.

You don’t need to know what that means.  All you need to know is that “html5″ and “w3c” are non-words and are pronounced “h-t-m-l-5″ and “w-3-c”.  As always, when changing the words, I instinctively changed the articles to match (changed “an html5″ to “a w3c”).  It’s been too many years since high school grammar to even know if this is correct, but changing the article sounds right to my ear.

This is bugging me because I can’t figure out why.

I always knew that some words go with some articles and some don’t but how do you assign the correct article to a random sequence of letters and numbers?  Our brains do it, but I can’t figure out the logic of why.  I finally narrowed it down to the first sound of the following word being the primary deciding factor but that’s where I’m going to stop and go get a drink.

This type of thing must really suck for non-native English speakers!

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 at 8:19 pm and is filed under geeky. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses

March 22nd, 2011 at 10:03 pm
Laurie Says:

Heh you want geeky… let me attempt an answer ;-)

Technically and formally, the article is based on the first letter of the following work; specifically, ‘an’ is correct proceeding a vowel, ‘a’ proceeding a consonant. In older formal written English that’s what you will see, and in the case the sentence would be written ‘…a html5…’. Colloquially, in less formal writing, and increasingly in more formal writing too, we use the convention you did… why?

The answer lies in pronunciation. ‘h’ in ‘html5′ is *pronounced* as a phoneme that has a *vowel* sound, even though the letter is a consonant. We tend to select the article based on the vowel/consonant rule as applied to the pronunciation of the following word — which is why you sometimes come across quite jarring, incorrect sounding articles in English written by someone who speaks with a broad regional accent; it just doesn’t sound incorrect to their ear! The same thing leads to different article selection for a given acronym depending on whether the writer tends to pronounce it as a series of letters or as (possibly contrived) phonetic corruption/interpretation.

There, now we really have the geek factor flying high ;-)

(PS, if you enjoy this particular brand of geekery, I highly recommend giving “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” a read…)

March 22nd, 2011 at 11:23 pm
stella Says:

Thanks, Laurie. That actually makes a lot of sense!

I honestly didn’t expect anyone to read that post, much less respond, but it warms my heart to know that there are other people with repositories of random information willing to take the time to write such things!

Thanks for the book recommendation. I think I’ll check it out.

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