Chapter 1 of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' starts with:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Any other place anyone can point me to that uses 'an' heroine?

EDIT: The question is not about use of aspirate that some answers have pointed out. I am looking for another book example (preferably non-Jane Austen) where the same usage (an heroine) was made.


1 Answer 1


This is a difference of dialect. People say “a” before a breathy H but “an” before a silent H. Jane Austen spoke a dialect where the H in heroine was silent. I personally would say, “a heroine,” but “an herb,” or “a house” but “an hour.”

That said, “a heroine” is much more common today, and “an hero” would make me think of an offensive meme, rather than the older British writers who used it.

  • Any other written (meaning book) example of such dialect that said 'an heroine'?
    – sm535
    Jul 6, 2021 at 1:09
  • 1
    @sm535 This 1763 translation of Jerusalem Delivered: An Heroic Poem is one early example, but I still run into “an heroic” occasionally in modern times.
    – Davislor
    Jul 6, 2021 at 1:21
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    Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” is a work that tries to represent the dialect of the narrator by replacing all silent H’s with apostrophes. So that gives you a good idea of which H’s were silent: generally unstressed initial syllables, explaining “an heROic” but “a HEro.”
    – Davislor
    Jul 6, 2021 at 1:23
  • Kipling's representations of soldiers' speech (uneducated men who drop their h's) is not relevant. I'm sure Jane Austen didn't speak like that! Certain English words have preserved the unaspirated 'h' ('herb' in American English but not in British); 'heroine' must have been one of those in Austen's time. Jul 6, 2021 at 7:52
  • @KateBunting Certainly, Kipling was representing an accent different from his own, or Jane Austen’s, who was from a different social class and time period than either. It’s a rare example of someone consistently marking which H’s were silent and which ones weren’t.
    – Davislor
    Jul 6, 2021 at 14:05

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