The silent letter h is often causing trouble to French learners.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the “h” mute and aspirated sounds, explore their differences, and provide tips to help you improve your French pronunciation.
Silent H in French
French is known to have many letters that are simply not pronounced. We call them silent letters. Perhaps one of the first lessons on French pronunciation you learn, is that the letter h is silent.
In French, the letter “h” is considered a consonant but it is not pronounced, rendering it silent. This means that words beginning with “h” such as “honneur”, “hiver”, and “hier” are pronounced without any sound for “h”. As the name suggests, h mute or muet in French has no sound, and it’s the general rule.
However, there are some exceptions, particularly with words borrowed from other languages, where the “h” may be pronounced. Additionally, the letter “h” can also become aspirated in certain cases, which changes its pronunciation and distinguishes it from the “h muet.”
The “h” mute is a silent letter that is not pronounced, and it is found at the beginning of some French words, such as:
These words are pronounced as if they begin with the vowel sound that follows the “h”. For example, “homme” is pronounced like “om”, and “heure” is pronounced like “eur”.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule such as when “h” is combined with “c” or “p” to create the sound “ch” as in the word:
- or with “ph” as in the word:
We represented all French words with IPA transcription in the slash brackets.
Difference Between the “h” mute and the “h” aspiré
In French pronunciation, the letter “h” can be divided into two categories:
- the “h” mute
- the “h” aspiré
On the other hand, the “h” aspiré is a pronounced letter that has a distinct sound, similar to the “h” sound in English. Words with the “h” aspiré are pronounced with the “h” sound at the beginning of the word. Examples of words with the “h” aspiré include:
- “hache”: /aʃ/
- “hélicoptère”: /elikɔptɛʁ/
- “honnête”: /ɔnɛt/
It is important to note that not all words with the letter “h” are pronounced the same way in French. Some words with the “h” mute in French may have the “h” aspiré in English, and vice versa. It is also important to note that some words may have a variable pronunciation depending on the region or dialect.
Learn more about French Silent Letters.
French Pronunciation: H Mute
Examples of words with the “h” muet:
- homme: /ɔm/ – man
- heure: /œʁ/ – hour
- hôtel: /otɛl/ – hotel
- hasard: /azaʁ/ – chance
- hiver: /ivɛʁ/ – winter
- habiter: /abitɛ/ – to live
- honte: /ɔ̃t/ – shame
- habitude: /abityd/ – habit
- hachoir: /aʃwaʁ/ – chopper
- héroïque: /eʁɔik/ – heroic
French Pronunciation: H Aspiré
Despite its name, the French h aspiré is not pronounced aspirated. It differs from h muet in that elisions or liaisons are not permitted – the h functions like a consonant.
Since “haïr” starts with an aspirated H, it does not elide with “je”. If it were an H muet, it would have to be written as “j’hais”.
Similarly, “les haricots” is pronounced as /le a.ʁi.ko/., instead of /lez a.ʁi.ko/ as it would be if “haricots” started with an H muet. Another example of an H aspiré word is “hanche” (hip), while an example of an H muet word is “homme” (man).
Examples of words with the “h” aspiré:
- hache: /aʃ/chopped
- hélicoptère: /elikɔptɛʁ/helicoptere
- honnête: /ɔnɛt/honest
- la hache: /la aʃ/ – axe
- hacher: /aʃe/ – to chop
- le hachisch: /lə aʃiʃ/ – hashish
- la haie: /la ɛ/ – hedge
- le haïku: /lə aiku/ – haiku
- le haillon: /lə ajɔ̃/ – rag
- la haine: /la ɛn/ – hatred
- haïr: /ɛʁ/ – to hate
- le hamac: /lə amak/ – hammock
- le hamburger: /lə ambuʁɡe/ – hamburger
- le hammam: /lə amam/ – hammam
- le hamster: /lə ɑ̃stɛʁ/ – hamster
- la hanche: /la ɑ̃ʃ/ – hip
- le hand-ball: /lə ɑ̃dbɔl/ – handball
- le handicap: /lə ɑ̃dikap/ – handicap
- harasser: /aʁase/ – to exhaust
- harceler: /aʁsəle/ – to harass
- le haricot: /lə aʁiko/ – bean
French Accent is Important
French silent letter h can be quite a challenge to grasp, especially with its variations h mute and h aspired.
It is essential to understand the differences between them and understand that h is never pronounced in French. H aspired can sometimes pose a challenge in written French, because of the elision or liaison.
With the tips and examples provided in this blog, we hope you feel more confident in your understanding of French pronunciation and can apply it to your studies or travels.
Once you have mastered the silent h, you can learn more about other Silent Letters in French.