I've been working with a student who asked this question: why do we have <a> and <an>? Why not use just one?
I thought this was a good question andf once again I had to admit that I had no idea. I did some digging on etymonline and found this:
- a (1)
- indefinite article, mid-12c., a variation of Old English an (see an) in which the -n- began to disappear before consonants, a process mostly complete by mid-14c. The -n- also was retained before words beginning with a sounded -h- until c.1600; it still is retained by many writers before unaccented syllables in h- or (e)u-, but is now no longer normally spoken as such. The -n-also lingered (especially in southern England dialect) before -w- and -y- through 15c.
- I'm hoping that somebody can help me see the truth behind this!