The phoneme /h/ isn’t difficult to do, but it doesn’t exist in Spanish. The main problem for Spanish speakers is that, whenever they find an h, they tend to produce the same sound they use in Spanish words like joven or gente (which is symbolized as /x/ in phonetics). The English /h/, however, is much, much softer, like the sound you make when you’re breathing hard in order to warm your hands.



(glottal, fricative, voiceless). /h/ is the only fricative sound which doesn’t have a voiced counterpart.

Spelling: h (horse, her, here), wh (who, whole)


Let’s compare the English /h/ with Spanish g and j to see the difference.

sound_loud_speaker ham              sound_loud_speaker jamón

sound_loud_speaker hen               sound_loud_speaker gen

sound_loud_speaker heal              sound_loud_speaker gil

sound_loud_speaker horse           sound_loud_speaker José

sound_loud_speaker who              sound_loud_speaker jueves


Now, here are some native speakers saying words which include the /h/.


sound_loud_speaker Then, when it happened, really was like having an acid flashback to going back to school (Rupert Everett, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker And made it into a hauntingly beautiful film (Kirsty Lang, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker He was not helpful at all on that (Jeremy Irons, BBC4).

sound_loud_speaker Who were the first punctuators? Who did it? (Michael Rosen, BBC4)

sound_loud_speaker A seal’s flippers resemble our hands (A.S. Byatt, on BBC4).



When the h is dropped or silent.

The letter h is normally said as /h/, but in some cases it is not pronounced. Let’s see two different situations.

1. Some function words, especially pronouns, lose the /h/ when they are unaccented (which occurs very often). This phenomenon is called elision. Have a look at these examples.

sound_loud_speaker Does he know the answer? ǀ dʌz i ˈnəʊ ði ˈɑːnsə ǀ

sound_loud_speaker Please, let him go. ǀ ˈpliːz ǀ ˈlet ɪm ˈgəʊ ǀ

sound_loud_speaker I missed her a lot. ǀ aɪ ˈmɪst ər ə ˈlɒtǀ 

This doesn’t happen when the word is at the beginning of a sentence. Notice the difference between the first and the second he.

sound_loud_speaker He doesn’t know, does he? ǀ ˈhi ˈdʌzn ˈnəʊ ǀ  ˈdʌz ǀ 

2. The letter h is silent in a handful of words. Here are the most important ones.

sound_loud_speaker hour      sound_loud_speaker honest      sound_loud_speaker honour      sound_loud_speaker heir      sound_loud_speaker shepherd      sound_loud_speaker vehicle      sound_loud_speaker annihilate

It is also silent in the name Graham sound_loud_speaker The name of the famous British writer Graham Greene, therefore, is /ˌgreɪəm ˈgriːn/ sound_loud_speaker, very different from what we usually say in Spanish. This stresses the importance of being aware of the pronunciation of proper names.


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