Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Indefinite Article, A Definite Problem

Ok. So I crack open Black Widow and the Marvel Girls trade paperback looking for some all-ages fun to read before passing it along to the kiddo, and on the first page of first issue collected, I’m greeted by this:

Now, I’m a freelance writer and editor. It’s sometimes distracting to see the written word through my eyes, because I see the errors where others might breeze past them. And this “an”/“a” one stopped me dead in my tracks. How does something like this slip through? Did the editor get confused by the “near-” being appended on the front of “ageless”? Or maybe think that the indefinite article is referring directly to the “Asgardian”?

I looked at those words so long that I actually started to doubt myself! Then I did some quick searches online to see if I was losing my mind and called my long-time editor John. According to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, Grammar Girl, and Compass Rose Horizons (the first three sites that came up in my Google search for "grammar rules an vs. a") and John, I can find no exceptions to the indefinite article rules to make me think what’s printed on that page of the comic is correct.

From Purdue OWL:

The choice of article is actually based upon the phonetic (sound) quality of the first letter in a word, not on the orthographic (written) representation of the letter. If the first letter makes a vowel-type sound, you use "an"; if the first letter would make a consonant-type sound, you use "a." So, if you consider the rule from a phonetic perspective, there aren't any exceptions.
I’m not infallible. I make grammatical errors all the time (there are probably some in this very blog entry), but I also don’t run everything I write by an editor and the writing I’m doing here is for fun. The writing in my book that has passed through my editor’s hands or in anything I have edited, however, should be grammatically sound. I can understand small errors here and there in a publication like this comic, but to be in large font on the first page of the book was surprising.

Regardless, I did enjoy the collection of four one-shot Black Widow team-ups (along with a bonus reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #86 and the debut of the Widow's modern costume). And that typo on page one is nothing that a black Sharpie won't fix.

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