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I was uncertain whether you should write "a hash" or "an hash".
Searching on the web I found 3.000 results with "an hash" and 300.000 with "a hash", so for sure most people say "a hash".

However "an hash" still sounds better to me, especially when "hash" is used alone (as opposed to "hash table", "hash function" etc.).
That's because I'm used to pronounce "hash" without stressing the h, so its initial sound is similar to that of "hour" (which I'm sure has to be used with "an").
I know that at least some people say it stressing the h, so for them it's for sure correct to use "a", however I wonder if there are different (official) pronunciations and thus both "a hash" and "an hash" are acceptable in written text.

I'm not a native english speaker and I never stayed for long in an english-speaking country, so it's entirely possible that I made up my pronunciation of "hash".

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You probably did hear hash with a "silent h" somewhere; there's precedent for an hash. It's not common, but it can be found. A 2015 book says:

In addition, a quantization scheme is also presented to show how the size of an hash can be reduced.

I don't generally hear it pronounced that way, but I believe you when you say you did. Judging by places where this wording is found, it seems to be rather common in computer science circles.

One good example of this phenomenon is the word herb. Americans tend to pronounce this with a silent h, so Americans will usually say, "Add an herb [pronounced urb] to the dish," while the British will usually say, "Add a herb to the dish," with the h clearly pronounced.

Behold the ngram. It's interesting to watch what happens when you change that Ngram to show the British corpus.

  • Thanks. There are a good number of books with "an hash", but exponentially more with "a hash". Given that Knuth and a couple of other reference books I checked only use "a hash", I gather I'd do well to stick to "a hash". However I see a slight growing trend for "an hash"; I wonder if it's just more foreigners writing in english, dropping editing quality, or really a thing being taken up by natives too. – user2118 Apr 20 '16 at 11:34
  • I used to work with a guy (native British English speaker) who pronounced "hash" as "ash" (but he didn't generally "drop" his initial 'h', as some British dialects do). To me (also a native British English speaker) it sounded very odd. I wish I'd asked him where he learnt to say it that way. – atkins Apr 20 '16 at 15:10
  • @user2118 - I don't really see a "growing trend" for an hash, just a growing trend for the word hash in general, with an hash growing along with it (though an hash is growing at a slower rate than a hash; have a look). – J.R. Apr 20 '16 at 15:47
  • @J.R.You're right, I hadn't thought about that. It's actually declining indeed, at least in books. – user2118 Apr 21 '16 at 17:26
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    I have a feeling that the commonness in computer science books of 'an hash' has something to do with the combination of "hash" being a very important concept in a number of computer science topics, and a high population of non-native English speakers writing papers and proceedings in English. Looking over (very unscientifically) some of the books where you found "an hash" there seems to be a skew toward Italian & Portuguese authors. I wonder if there is something about those languages that would make 'an hash' sound better. – ColleenV parted ways Apr 21 '16 at 21:28
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There are dialects of English (for example, many Londoners) where initial 'h' is regularly omitted in speech: people who speak such dialects may well say "an 'ash", just as they may say "an 'ouse" or "an 'orrible situation".

Pronunciations like that are not normally written (and if they are, eg in fiction, they are usually written as I have above, with an apostrophe). if I encountered "an hash" in writing, I would unhesitatingly take it as a mistake.

  • Thanks. What if you encountered it in a variable name? (I saw in your profile that you dabble in programming) I'd really prefer to use "IsAnHash" over "IsAHash"... :) If it's not horribly wrong I think most readers would prefer the case alternation over linguistic perfection – user2118 Apr 20 '16 at 11:21
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    "An hash" is wrong. As Colin says, if you see it in writing it looks like a mistake. The only reason you might ever see it is because (as Colin says) in some dialects they drop the H in pronunciation. Why would you prefer to use it? Every native English speaker seeing it will be baffled. – stangdon Apr 20 '16 at 15:01
  • @stangdon I'd to prefer to use it in a variable name because "IsAnHash" is a lot easier to read then "IsAHash" (in general you can't use spaces inside variable names and in my convention I don't use other separators either, there's just the case to tell apart the individual words) – user2118 Apr 21 '16 at 17:24
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    I'm not sure why you find it easier to read, but OK. It is your program, so you can name your variables whatever you want! It's just that if anyone else ever has to work on that program, you're putting an extra stumbling block in their way by using incorrect grammar. What about just using "IsHash"? It's common for variable names to omit articles. – stangdon Apr 21 '16 at 17:28
  • @stangdon Yes of course if a grammatical incorrectness ends up being a bigger hindrance than the lack of separation I'll settle for "IsAHash". "IsHash" would not be great because in this case I'm speaking of an hash symbol, "Hash" without an article would more likely be read as meaning an hash function output, I think. In the end though I'll probably just come up with a completely different name, just to avoid this problem. :-) Or maybe I'll just use the interminable italian "Cancelletto" (I work in an italian company) – user2118 Apr 21 '16 at 17:50
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It should be "a hash table". "an hash symbol" just sounds wrong. You just can't say that. Listen to the pronunciation please: http://forvo.com/word/make_a_hash_of/ The "h" is not silent there. If it was silent, the whole thing would be pronounced as "an ash". But that's definitely not the case. To say "an hash" is the same as saying "an dog".

  • I know about that pronunciation, but is that the only legit one? I don't have examples of the silent pronunciation at hand, but I think I did hear it. – user2118 Apr 20 '16 at 10:18
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    To my ears, it is the only one legit out there. As I said, saying "an hash" sounds the same as saying "an dog". – Michael Rybkin Apr 20 '16 at 10:23
  • @user2118: Some people drop the h, but they are people who do not make good use of the language. You should imitate those of the higher classes who pronounce the h. – zondo Apr 20 '16 at 10:33
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    @user2118: Most people who speak English pronounce the h. – zondo Apr 20 '16 at 10:41
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    @zondo: on what basis do you assert that "they are people who do not make good use of the language"? – Colin Fine Apr 20 '16 at 16:00

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