Monday, February 23, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: "An" and "A", "Oh" and "O"

Confusing such simple words like “an” for “a” is easy to do. What sounds just find in spoken speech can be read completely different in text, so understanding the rules before editing your work is key.

With the indefinite article, deciding between “a” versus “an” depends on the sound of the word preceding it. Use “a” before any word beginning with a consonant sound and “an” before vowel sounds. This of course leads to some issues, like with words beginning with “h”: a hotel, a history, an honor, or an heir. It all depends on whether or not the “h” is pronounced or not, so be sure to read your work carefully.

Using the interjection “oh” is meant to take the place of certain exclamations of emotion, such as “Ow!” for pain, “Ugh!” for distaste, or “No way!” for surprise. “Oh” can be capitalized if at the beginning of a sentence, and usually followed by a comma, like in “Oh, why do you do this to me?” or “The day was amazing, but, oh, I can’t describe it!”. The vocative “O” is always capitalized, never really punctuated, and more commonly seen in poetry or classical literature, “Save us, O Lord…”

For more tips and information, check out the Chicago Manuel of Style online at

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