"A" vs. "an" before chemical terms such as "N-N bond"
Thread poster: Alan Frankel

Alan Frankel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:06
German to English
Jan 27, 2010

The basic rule in English regarding the use of the indefinite article is that "an" is used before a word that begins with a vowel SOUND, and "a" is used before all other words. Spelling is ignored: if a word starts with a vowel in its ORTHOGRAPHY but it is pronounced like a consonant, "a" is used ("a one-step solution"), while if a word's initial letter is a consonant but it is pronounced like a vowel, "an" is used (e.g., "an MRI", pronounced "an em ar eye"). So far, so good.

The question is whether in a chemical textbook, I should write (1) "an N-N bond" (assuming that the writer would silently read it as "an en en bond") or (2) "a N-N bond" (assuming that it would be read silently as "a nitrogen-nitrogen bond").

I personally would go with (1), but I am curious to hear what other people familiar with chemistry (and English) have to say.


 

Walter Landesman  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 00:06
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
an N Jan 27, 2010

Hi Alan,

I would say option (1) too.

Walter

[Edited at 2010-01-27 17:10 GMT]


 

Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 06:06
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
I would use AN Jan 27, 2010

like in "an history"
(as an extreme example, where H almost disappears and the word stars with a breath)
icon_smile.gif

[Редактировалось 2010-01-27 17:11 GMT]


 

Sabine Akabayov, PhD
Israel
Local time: 06:06
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
AN Jan 27, 2010

I, as a Chemist myself, say AN N-N bond. Anyway, we, the chemists, do not silently think of N-N bond as nitrogen-nitrogen bond. We speak in abbreviations all the time and do not silently "translate" them.

 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:06
French to English
+ ...
"a history" Jan 27, 2010

Sergei: the word "history" begins with a consonant (h) and the article that people naturally use is "a".

Occasionally, you find cases where people use "an" before a word beginning with a (pronounced) "h"-- sometimes because they've seen e.g. "an historic...", "an hotel" etc in earlier documents from a time when it was more common not to pronounce the "h". But this is really just a hypercorrection caused by people getting confused. The natural pronunciation nowadays is "a history".

P.S. I agree with "an N-N bond".


 

Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 06:06
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
I know. Jan 27, 2010

So I mentioned it as an _extreme_ example.icon_smile.gif
With "N" we hear clear "en", so... #1.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 05:06
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
You have a point... Jan 27, 2010

Sergei Leshchinsky wrote:

like in "an history"
(as an extreme example, where H almost disappears and the word stars with a breath)
icon_smile.gif



I think many people nowadays would say ´a history´ unless they were trying to be very formal. But when I was at school, there were still people who firmly wrote and said ´an (h)otel´.
My mother would aspirate the ´h´ distinctly to show she was not a Cockney, but many others would simply lose it and pronounce the ´otel more or less as in French!

I would certainly go for an N-N bond.

icon_smile.gif


 

Sumit1970  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 08:36
English to Bengali
+ ...
For chemists it may not be such a big issue Jan 27, 2010

Hi Alan,

I agree that I shall prefer an N-N, but it may not be very big an issue altogether. Such minute grammatical details are generally ignored by those professionals who need such science related translations to be done i.e., the chemists. They even ignore spelling mistakes if the word sounds almost the same e.g. sulfur sulfar etc.


 

Dr. Andrew Frankland  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:06
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
As a (former) editor of a chemistry journal... Jan 27, 2010

... I'd say it's really not that important. If I was put on the spot, I'd say "an N-N bond", but I most likely wouldn't be too worried if the author had put "a N-N bond" as it would certainly be understood. I would never, however, ignore "sulfar"(even though it apparently sounds the same), nor would I allow "wolfram" instead of "tungsten" (that's a private joke so I hope my wife's boss isn't reading this; and if he is "YOU'RE a COMPLETE ********").

Andy


 

Alan Frankel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:06
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, and I'm glad to hear a basic consensus. Jan 28, 2010

Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. I'm glad to hear that most people agree with my inclination, which is to use "a" before "N-N bond".

I suspect that Andy is correct in saying that readers might well not care about whether "a" or "an" appears before "N-N bond", since an argument could be made for doing it either way (though I will continue to use "an" consistently in such instances). But I can tell you that if I encountered "sulfar" rather than "sulfur" on the label of a bottle, I wouldn't want to open it!


 

Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:06
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
An Jan 28, 2010

I'd definitely put "an."

As for "an history," every American or British style guide I have rejects that usage. It's "a history."


 

Grayson Morr (X)  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:06
Dutch to English
Can't please everyone Jan 28, 2010

(But you obviously already know that, since you're asking the question.)

Whatever you choose, you impose a pronunciation on the reader, an interpretation of how to read "N-N." If that matches the reader's own preference, they won't notice, but if it clashes, they will, and some will even complain to the publisher / author about this "mistake."


 

Alan Frankel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:06
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
"Eta" or "hapto"? Jan 28, 2010

Okay, here's a related question: Do people generally say, e.g., "eta 2" or "hapto 2" when talking about a doubly coordinated residue? (I won't drop in the symbol, since I don't think it will be displayed correctly here, but it's the lowercase Greek letter eta, which looks like this: [img]http://www.fileformat.info/info/unicode/char/03b7/index.htm[/img] except that a "curlier" version is usually used in text.) Since both "eta" and "hapto" have two syllables, I imagine that they'd say "hapto", but I'd like to know for sure. Since one starts with a vowel and one does not, this affects whether I would precede it with "a" or "an". Thanks again.

Note that you may need to right-click on that image and choose "View Image" in order to see it. You can also try looking here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eta

[Edited at 2010-01-28 19:54 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-01-28 23:14 GMT]


 

Sabine Akabayov, PhD
Israel
Local time: 06:06
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
Hapto Jan 28, 2010

I would say "hapto" since it refers to the hapticity and the Greek letter eta is just the symbol for that.

 


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"A" vs. "an" before chemical terms such as "N-N bond"

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