Tips for using a and an before words that start with h or u.

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Tips for using a and an before words that start with h or u.


This is a small thing, but it makes your writing so much more credible. It’s all in the details!

Use a before words that start with the enunciated letter h:

  • History. A history class about famous churches.
  • Hazard. Going without sleep is a hazard to your health.
  • Home. She bought a home in the hills.

with words with the phonic sound yew:

  • University. She attended a university in Rome.
  • European. France is a European nation.
  • URL. You need a URL for your website.

Use an before

words that start with silent letter h:

  • Hour. It took an hour to drive to the mountains),
  • Herb. Use an herb to flavor your cooking),
  • Heirloom. The silver brush is an heirloom from my grandmother.

words that start with a short u:

  • Uncle. He is an uncle of mine.
  • Underdeveloped. An underdeveloped bee has no wings.
  • Urgent. They put out an urgent call for supplies.

and acronyms that start with with a vowel sound:

  • M(em)CPS—Montgomery County Public Schools. An MCPS student.
  • L(el)GBTQ—Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. An LGBTQ study circle.
  • N(en)PR—National Public Radio. I work at an NPR station.

Inspired by Woe Is I, by Patricia T. O’Connor. Copyright 1996.

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My Take on Using Themself as a Gender-neutral Pronoun

Normally, a singular antecedent requires a singular pronoun. But, because he is no longer universally accepted as a generic pronoun, referring to a person of unspecified gender, people commonly (in speech and in informal writing) substitute the third-person-plural pronouns they, them, their, and themselves (or the nonstandard singular themself), Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, p. 241.

So, I like that themself is acceptable as a singular pronoun in general writing, as in the following:

At least take your phone with you. A person should be careful when walking alone; they could find themself facing great danger.

Although themselves may be used as a singular gender-neutral pronoun, it just does not have any of the trappings of a singular word—referring to just one person. Themself is not such an alien word. It enjoyed popular usage in centuries past. I agree with the adage that what falls out of favor in one century can crawl back into acceptable usage later on. There is nothing new under the sun. Now we accept they as a singular gender-neutral pronoun; so, now it’s time to welcome themself to the table.

There are other candidates for singular gender-neutral pronouns floating around out there, for example, the strange-sounding xeself. However, they are not yet popular and none have stuck the landing, so to speak. Here are five of them, taken from the Free Dictionary.

Once you know your audience and feel confident about the best way to get their attention, the golden rule is to be consistent in your usage of that word you choose throughout your document or manuscript.

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Simple Habits of Good Reading Make Good Writers

Before you read As you read After you read
Set a goal to read
one book a year, a month, every
six months—what-
ever is easy for

Pick a book on a
topic that interests you.

Set a time to read

Select a
comfortable space
to read.  
Make connections with your own

Look up the
meaning of words
you do not know
and write them

Reread sections if
you need to
understand the
context of the
Share some or all
the story with
someone else.

Try to use the
words and
definitions you
wrote down in
your own

You finished the
book. Claim your
bragging rights!  
Repeat these
activities to
a better writer
and speaker.  

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To Be a Smooth Writer, Use Transitional Words and Phrases

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Different ways to acknowledge sources in your work

All stylebooks suggest the same information regarding citing and acknowledging sources; however, the order of that information varies based on how different academic fields prioritize different elements of a source of works cited or list of references. 

The Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA) is designed for teachers of English and other languages. MLA includes (in the text) the author’s name and the page where the original information lives.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) style is designed to promote information that the social scientist is most interested in— the year when the source information was documented.

The University of Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) is used in humanities and historical research and favors using footnotes, instead of in-text citation. Footnotes give publication details at the bottom of the page, without clouding the information being presented, analyzed, and compared. Using footnotes instead of inserting parenthetical information allows the reader to focus on the evidence without being distracted by the publication information about that evidence. Include only the footnote number in the text, and put the author and page number at the bottom of the page.

Associated Press (AP) style is designed for journalistic writing, including newspapers and magazines. AP style directs writers to cite resources in the text, in the same way they cite a quotation from a source in the story (i.e., “A is the first letter,” said Joan Murry, the Maplewood County librarian.).

These source styles are the three main ones used in citing information used in all types of documents. Most other custom style guides are patterned from one of these, along with specific additions and required usage connected to the particular audience.

So, as you gather information for your writing, decide on the genre, audience, and purpose based on one of these styles. Create your own style sheet modified with any special usage rules as necessary to appeal to your audience; and refer to your style sheet as you write. This makes things easier for both you and your editor to put your best word forward and increase the integrity of your hard work.

Speaking of integrity, it is crucial to acknowledge the work of others who have done the research and shared their life experiences that helped you produce your own work.

Official Sites

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Using quotation marks in your document? Keep commas and periods inside

In American English, place commas and periods inside the closing quotation mark (unlike British English).

This practice came from a time when type was set by hand. The delicate period and comma outside of quotation marks at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of place, bruised, or broken; so, printers ended up placed them inside the quotation marks to solve this problem. The practice has not changed, even though broken type is no longer an issue in print.

So, take note: 
     Period—The students gathered in the field to “observe the lay of the land.” 
     Comma—“The baby fell asleep,” the nurse whispered.

Set quotation marks before semicolons and colons 
       At first, Madge said she was “afraid to jump”;  by the end of the class she                    had changed her mind. 
      “Inertia is defined as follows”: … Madge wrote, before she heard screams                     coming from the other room.

Set quotation marks before exclamation points and question marks that are not part of the quotation. 
     “Stop complaining!” she shouted.
     “Is he going to complain again?” Madge whispered.

Use single quotation marks for a quote within a quote (the opposite is done in British English). 
     “Stop complaining” said Madge. “Remember that ‘the early bird catches the         
    worm’ and be glad you have to wake up at dawn.”

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