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H (letter)

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H, h is a letter of the Latin alphabet. It is the eighth letter of most variants, being placed after G and before I, as is the case for instance in the English alphabet. Its English name is pronounced [ˈeɪtʃ], aitch, as in 'he drops his aitches', referring to the habit of some speakers, notably cockneys, not to sound initial aspirated h in words like house and head.

Use in English

Use in English
Alphabetical word list
Retroalphabetical list  
Common misspellings  

h between vowels, and usually initially, is a breath outwards, an aspirate. But it also combines with a number of consonants to form other consonants, and in many words is silent.

The aspirated h is much more common initially than medially (and final h is never aspirated): hòuse, héad, hêed, háppy, hôme, hélp, hínder, húrry, hurrây, hêave, héavy, héaven, héll, hŷpe.

  • The accents show stress and pronunciation (see English spellings): A: sát, mâde, pàrk, cāst (cást/càst), åll, ãir; E: ére, êar, vèin, fërn; I: sít, mîne, skì, bïrd; O: sóng, môde, lòve, wörd, ŏr; OO: moôn, foòt; U: sún, mûse, fùll, pürr; W: neŵ, ẁant; Y: gým, mŷ, keỳ, mÿrrh.

When not initial, aspirated h sometimes looks misleadingly like a combination with another consonant, as in adhêre, inhérit and dishàrmony, but this is accidental and the h is sounded separately from the preceding consonant; h is also normally sounded between vowels, as in rehëarse, mahógany, ahŏy, ahéad and ahém; and in some names, like Mahôney (but silent in MacMàhon).

Silent h occurs initially in hónest, hónour, hóur time (= our we), héir fortune (= ãir breathe) and in their derivatives: hónourable, hòurly &c; and in nìhilist (or nîhilist), exhåust and silhouétte; in the suffix -ham (in British English) in names of towns or surnames: Béckenham, Péckham, Twíckenham, Tóttenham; and in Jóhn (= the less common Jón; compare the German Johánnes, where the h is pronounced, *Yohánness, and Kôhn, ôh, ôhm, where silent h affects the pronunciation).

A silent h is also used to lengthen vowels, usually in interjections: àh! ôh! èh? or words from German: Kôhl, Kûhn, àùtobàhn (*òutobàn) and unstressed in Méndelssohn (*Méndəlsən). It is unstressed finally in Sãrah, parîah and verándah—all pronouncing ah as schwa (as with a in Sàra, Marìa and Miránda).

In vêhicle, silent h separates the i from the preceding ê, making the í a syllable: *vê-í-kle – or as a schwa: *vêəkle, *víəkle. And in names like Mêehan and Côhen the h is not pronounced as such: *Mêeyən and *Côwən (cf. Còwan, where the w is written).

In Bahrâin, Tehràn and Tàhrìr Squãre, the h preceding the r is normally silent, sounding it being a spelling pronunciation used by some journalists, though some people called Àhmed may prefer to have its h pronounced. The h in Délhi is always silent.

h combining with preceding letters

h is silent after vowels and before consonants (it is rare before consonants) and thus does not normally begin clusters (though see the final paragraph in the section above); instead, it shows great versatility in combining with preceding letters:

àh, with silent h, shows the long à sound, and is used in interjections: àh! bàh! blàh blàh blàh! pàh! yàh bôo!, in German words: Màhler, Stàhl, Bràhms, àùtobàhn (òwt-), and also in Bahrâin, though here some people pronounce the h separately, as it represents an Arabic aspirate sound.

bh occurs in various words from Indic languages, such as bháng, Bhutàn; in the originals this represents a sort of aspiration, which is ignored by most English speakers.

ch as in choôse, bêach, chéck verify = BrE chéque money, chàr, cóckroach, chát, chêek, chín, côach.

Very often it is preceded by a redundant t: ẁatch, wrétch, cátch, bátch, kétchup, ítching, wítch (for many speakers = whích).
But in some words taken from French, it is pronounced like sh: chìc, machìne, AmE moústáche, BrE moustàche.
Elsewhere, the h is redundant, and ch is pronounced k: Bucharést (Bùka-), chŏrd, psychólogy, schoôner - while in chémist, àrchive, schême it prevents the following e or i from making the c sound like an s.
The optional sound of IPA χ occurs in words from Scottish Gaelic (as also in German Bàch): lóch, Sássenach - optional because these are usually, by non-Scots, pronounced with a final k sound.
The name Stráchan (-kən or ch as in lóch) is sometimes pronounced *Stråw(a)n.
ch is silent in yacht, though it affects the quality of the preceding vowel: *yót.
chsi in fûchsia is pronounced sh: *fyûshə.

dh represents the voiced th sound in Rìyadh; in words from Indic languages, such as Bùddha, Dháka, the h represents a sort of aspiration in the original, which is ignored by most English speakers; the combination also occurs accidentally in compounds such as mádhouse.

èh has a silent h, and occurs in the interjection èh?, showing vowel length, in Tehràn (which can also be Té-), and in names from German, like Lèhmann (although compare Lêhman Brothers).

gh: see GH.

hh occurs accidentally in withhôld, withhéld and hítchhîke, where in each case the second h is aspirated as if beginning a new word; witch-hunt, too, may appear without a hyphen. A non-accidental use is in Arabic Wahhàb, Wahhàbi.

ih occurs in nìhilist (or nîhilist) where the h is silent or has the consonantal y sound, *nêeyilist (or *nŷilist).

kh appears in words from Arabic, Persian, Russian, Urdu and so on. The pronunciation is the same as that of ch in lóch (a rasping in the back of the throat, IPA χ) - and thus many speakers do not distinguish it from k alone: Khàlid, Khàn, shèikh. Khrùshchev (*Krùshchóff, either stressed) has three combining hs. In Khmér, the h represents an aspirate in the original language: since this is not a natural place for an h sound in English, it is in effect silent, or even, in slower speech, a schwa, *K(ə)mãir.

ôh! (*ô), oôh! (*û), poôh! (*pû) are interjections; also Wínnìe the Poôh and, from German, ôhm = Cockney pronunciation of hôme, with silent h.

ph = f as in fâce: Phílip (= fíllip), phôto, nýmph, phrâse, phâse, Dáphnê, phoênix, grāph (but Stêphen = Stêven). But in Phnóm Pénh, *P(ə)nóm Pén, the h represents an aspirate, as with Khmér, above.

rh = r: Rhôdes, rhôdium, rhododéndron, rhêsus, rhêtoric.

sh is the normal way of showing the very common sound spelt ch in machìne: shoòt, frésh, cásh, shêet, fâstish, Bangladésh, ásh, pólish, Pôlish, áshen, díshwasher, shùsh! sssssh!

th represents two sounds, one the voiced version of the other.

Voiced th is used in certain functional, and therefore in many cases very common, words: thís, thát, thére, thén, thôugh, althôugh, thús, thérefore, thòu, the/thê article = thêe you, and in òther, mòther, fàther, bròther, rāther, lāther.
Unvoiced th is not uncommon either, especially at the beginning and end of words: thínk, thŏught, throûgh, thòrough (AmE thúrrôw, BrE *thúrrə), thrôw, móth, bôth, ẁrath (-ó-), fífth (*fíth - though some pronounce the second f), fílthy. But the h is redundant in Thaîland (*Tŷland).

úh (h silent after ú or ə [schwa]) is used as in húh? úh? with the same interrogative meaning as èh?, and (mostly AmE) úh-húh yes, and in other improvised interjections; otherwise it appears in German names as ûh: Kûhn.

wh = w in standard British English but is pronounced hw in American, Scottish, some northern English and other varieties: what, whére, why, whén, whéther (cf. wéather), sòmewhat, sòmewhere, anywhere (én-), nôwhere, whísky, whîte, Whítsun, wháck, whám.

xh occurs in Albanian names such as Énver Hóxha, where it represents the English j sound (*Hójja, beginning like Hódges), and in the African language Xhôsa, where it represents a click sound, which English speakers tend to replace with a k or h sound.

zh has the sound of -si- in vision or -su- in pléasure, which are the usual spellings for the sound. As zh it occurs only in words from Arabic, Russian and other languages, as in Brézhnev.

Scientific uses

  • H: henry, unit of electromagnetic inductance
  • h: Planck's constant
  • h: generic symbol for height