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I recently referenced the following article in my manuscript.

S. Toida, Properties of a Euler graph, J. Franklin Inst. 295 (1973) 343–34.

However, my grammar checker flagged “a Euler graph” as a grammatical error, stating that it should be "an Euler graph." I am confused as to whether both forms are acceptable and whether it is appropriate to respect the original intention when encountering potential errors in titles when citing.

Edit: I noticed some conflicting opinions in comments. I'm uncertain about which suggestion is the best. John Bentin 's answer seems to be the most convincing.

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    $\begingroup$ If that's what the title really was, then don't change it when you're citing it. If you want to point out the error, you could maybe write “Properties of a [sic] Euler graph”. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ When you say this was flagged by your "editor," are you referring to the editor of the journal you applied to (a person)? Or are you referring to the software you're using to write the article? I would be surprised if a professional journal editor (a person) asked you to deliberately mis-report the official title of a published article. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ @psmears. I agree with you completely. Although that doesn't seem to be the case here since there was no "may be" in the original post: my editor flagged “a Euler graph” as a grammatical error, stating that it should be "an Euler graph. But that is why I asked the question. That seems like the kind of absolute comment that a grammar checker might make. A human, especially one experienced enough to be an editor, would probably have known the error could be in the original article, and asked the author to check for a transcription error in the references. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ @SyntaxJunkie Sorry. I just noticed this ambiguity. In fact, it was my text editor that detected this issue, not a professional editor (a person). The manuscript has not been submitted to any journal yet. I will honestly respond if any edits are pointed out after the submission. Thanks every body. Thank you for your detailed response (along with others). $\endgroup$
    – licheng
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't a math question, it's a question about English grammar $\endgroup$
    – David Lui
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 8:14

5 Answers 5

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There are two questions here. The first is easily answered: Is “a Euler graph” correct? No. It should be “an Euler graph”.

The other question is more tricky: If the source of a cited piece of text contains an error in the grammar or spelling, or some other obvious error, should I correct it? First, you should try to reference the original source; it may be that the error was introduced in the secondary source that you first used. If so, quote the original source. If the original source has the error, then it is arguably appropriate to quote it verbatim but with “[sic]” appended. That is what I would do. However, there are different ideas about this. One is that peppering quoted text with “[sic]” is a slippery slope; just copy it as it stands. The other is simply to correct obvious mistakes without comment. That makes reading easier but offends the principle of historical precision. In the end, the decision is yours or the editor's, depending on who holds sway here.

(Added in edit) In this case, the original source (thanks to Gonçalo) is a reputable edited journal and bears the error. So some explanation is called for. My guess is that the author and/or editor thought that Euler was pronounced “yooler”, in analogy to eulogy, for which of course the form a eulogy is correct.

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    $\begingroup$ Re: "That makes reading easier but offends the principle of historical precision": In the specific case of a reference, it also makes it harder for readers to find the referenced work. $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ If someone uses the pronunciation "yooler" in English, then it is "a Euler graph". But if you use a pronunciation "oiler" (which is closer to the native (German)), then it is "an Euler graph". The pronunciation of foreign proper names is not trivial. For example, is it "an Hermitian operator" because Hermite's name starts with a vowel sound in French? And if something is named for an Arab called ʿAlī, does that start with a consonant (glottal stop) or a vowel (A)? I believe there is no other rule in English than to write it according to the pronunciation the writer prefers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ I have not yet heard anyone pronounce Euler with any pronunciation apart from one like ''oiler''. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom - evidently you are younger than some of us. When I first encountered the name as a teenager in the late 1970s, "Yooler" was the pronunciation I learned. However, in my undergraduate years in college, it was quickly corrected. And "Yooler" has not completely died out in English mathematics, for example, you will hear it in some Numberphile videos. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie : You can listen to the pronunciation here. Wikipedia does not offer an alternative to /ˈɔɪlər/ (or OY-lər in English pronunciation respelling). What is your source for “You-ler”? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 20:30
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An is used before words that start with a vowel sound, and Euler is pronounced /ˈɔɪlər/, so there is no choice to be made.

When referencing something, though, you have to use the exact title.

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    $\begingroup$ Almost all English words starting eu-, apart from names, would take a rather than an, so this may be a spell-check pattern recognition issue. Examples include: eucharistic, eugenics, eulogy, euphemism, euphony, european and euthanasia. $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Henry but OP's grammar checker is suggesting "an" rather than "a", so it is either more sophisticated or less sophisticated than you suggest. (Indeed, Word prefers "a eulogy" but "an Euler graph", so is more sophisticated.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ "An is used", "there is no choice to be made", "use the exact title". Those three statements do not go together. $\endgroup$
    – Teepeemm
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Teepeemm In context, they absolutely do. "An" is the correct choice among "a" and "an"; there is no choice among the correct options (since there is only one), and while the paper title contains a mistake, any citation must include that same mistake. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ @preferred_anon But this means that there is a choice: do you use the "correct choice", or do you include the citation's mistake. There's arguments for either (hence this question and its five answers and 6 votes among three options). I agree with including the mistake, but saying there is a "correct choice" that should not be taken requires more than a sentence of explanation. $\endgroup$
    – Teepeemm
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 12:19
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I'd use "an Euler graph". This is because the pronunciation of "Euler" begins with a vowel sound ("oi"), so "an" is preferred. Besides, Wikipedia and most other articles uses "an" too, so using "an" will be better for consistency. However, I don't think it really matters, as long as your readers can understand.

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    $\begingroup$ Note: "Euler" is sometimes pronounced as "Yooler" in English, which would lead to dropping the n. However, as this a reference, the title should be reproduced as it was in the original. $\endgroup$
    – Chieron
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan "Oiler" is (close to) the original German pronunciation of the name, so that would make it the "more-correct" option. $\endgroup$
    – Oliphaunt
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan Interesting - this does appear to be a US/UK difference. The German "oiler" pronunciation is absolutely the standard in the US, with "yewler" not even regarded as an acceptable alternative. I was surprised to learn that the latter was the default in the UK. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ I'm British, and it didn't dawn on me that some people said "yooler"before coming across the original title here (which, incidentally, was published in a Canadian journal). I don't agree that "yooler" is accepted standard British English. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 6:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm in the UK and only ever hear "Oiler". $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 14:03
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Based on the comments, I think there is a strong case to quote it exactly, with no "[sic]". There appears to be a UK/US difference here. Normally you would not convert "colour" to "color" when citing a title, for instance (or vice versa). So, in the same way, this should be retained as a normal national language variation.

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If you pronounce Euler as "You-ler", the answer is "A euler."

(Exactly as, for example, a yule log, or any other of the zillion Yi- words in English.)

If you pronounce Euler as "oo-ler", the answer is "An oo-ler."

The English language rule has nothing to do with starting with a vowel, it's about starting with a vowel sound.

Some points,

  1. I have never ever ever heard You-ler prounced "oo-ler" "because of the German". Note for example that the word "volkswagen" is never, ever, ever pronounced "German -like" in English.

  2. The a -> an transition in English has nothing to do with grammar, it's not a "grammar rule". It's a phonology issue: sandhi.

  3. As everyone has pointed out, you don't "fix" regional spellings (but that's probably not an issue here, as it is "a yooler" everywhere).

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    $\begingroup$ While I've heard YOO-ler since primary school in Chicagoland, I often hear OY-ler among university folks. OO-ler? I have never heard that. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Euler +1 on the obvious rationale. $\endgroup$
    – J D
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ It is possible someone pronounces it "pumpernickel" but they would simply be wrong. "Euler" is pronounced [ˈɔɪləɹ] (oiler). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 20:45

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