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How and when to pronounce “H” in English

For nearly all words that start with the letter “h,” we must pronounce a clear [h] sound.  The vocal folds (vocal cords) are open from the very beginning of the word for this sound.  Air passes between the open vocal folds, but the folds do not vibrate.  

Here are examples of typical words starting with the letter “h.”  There must be a clear [h] sound at the beginning of these words.    Hat, here, hint, hot, host, humble, half, hair, husband, he, his, her, how.   

Here are four exceptions.  In these words, the [h] sound is never pronounced.  Hour, heir, honor, honest.

The word herb is interesting. Traditionally, the “h” was not pronounced.  In the United States, about 90% of Americans still do not pronounce the “h”. The same is true for about 50% of Canadians.  However, in much of the rest of the English-speaking world, the word is indeed pronounced with an [h] sound.  

The name of the letter itself is interesting.  For the vast majority of English speakers everywhere, it is pronounced without an [h] sound. But in Ireland, the name of the letter is usually pronounced with an [h] sound at the beginning.

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