THE SILENT H

Firstly, it’s important to know that the French letter H is silent when in French words (heure, histoire, homme, etc.) except when next to the letter “c” like this “ch”. The “ch” letter combination makes either a “sh” sound like in the word “sheep” (‘un chat’) or a “k” sound like in the word “kite” (‘le chaos’).

H MUET VS. H ASPIRE

The letter H can appear in the French Language in two different ways: the h at the beginning of a word can be called an h muet (mute h) or an h aspiré (aspirated h). Unfortunately, you can’t tell them apart by looking at them and there seems to be some debate among experts as to why the two forms exist and where they originated from.

L'ELISION ET LA LIAISON

As a French learner, you probably are aware that words that begin with vowels are treated differently than words that begin with consonants and the process known as elision, which is the contraction formed by many common words, such as je => j’, le => l’, que => qu’, ce => c’, de => d’... when they come before words that begin with a vowel. You also know that when the first word has a final and silent consonant and the second word has a starting vowel, the final consonant is voiced and is linked to the word starting with the vowel like in "vous avez".

So, do we treat words that begin with h as we do words that begin with a vowel?

 

Well, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t...The vast majority of French words that start with h are treated as if they start with a vowel even though, technically, the French consider h a consonant.

The H called the h muet follows both liaison and elision rules as in “j’habite” or forms a liaison as in “les hommes” (the s in “les” becomes a z sound).

The H called the h aspiré do not follow the liaison and elision rules as in “Le homard” not “l’homard” and “les haricots” (the s in “les” doesn’t become a z sound).

So, it could be very handy to have a list of them when you need it (see below) ;)

 

H Aspiré word   English Translation

La hache              The axe

hacher                 to mince (meat)

la haie                  the sports hurdle

les haillons          the rags

haine                    hatred

hair                       to detest or hate

hâlé                      tanned, sunburnt

haleter                 to pant

le hall                   the hall

la halle                 (covered) markets

la halte                the break

le hamac             the hammock

le hamburger     the hamburger

le hameau           the hamlet

le hamster          the hamster

la hanche            the hip

le hand-ball        the hand-ball

handicapé           handicapped

le hanger             the hanger

le hanneton        the cockchafer

haunter               to haunt

la hauntise          the obsessive fear

harceler               to harass

hardi                    bold, daring

le hareng             the herring

la hargne             the aggressiveness

le haricot             the bean

la harpe               the harp

le hazard             the chance, fate

la hâte                 the haste

la hausse             the increase, rise

haut                      tall

hautain                haughty

le hautbois          the oboe

la hauteur           the height

le haut-parleurthe loud speaker

La Haye               The Hague

hein                      eh (expression)

Hélas                    alas

la hélice               the propeller

hennir                  neigh, whinny

le hérisson          the hedgehog

la hernie              the hernia

le héron               the heron

le héro                 the hero

le hêtre                the beech

le heurt                the collision

heurter                to strike

Le hibou              the owl

hideux                  hideous

la hiérarchie       the hierarchy

hisser                   to hoist, haul up

le hit-parade      the music charts

le hobby              the hobby

hocher                 to nod

le hockey            the hockey

le hold-up           the hold-up

Hollanais             Dutch

le homard           the lobster

La Hollande        Holland

Honk-Kong         Hong-Kong

Hongrie               Hungary

la honte               the shame

le hoquet            the hiccups

hormis                 save

hors                      out of

le houblon          the hop (beer hops)

La houille            the coal

la houle               the swell

hourra                 hurrah (expression)

la housse             the cover

le houxthe holly

le hublot              the porthole

la huche              the (bread) bin

huer                     to boo

huit                       eight

humer                  to inhale

huppé                  posh

le hurlement      the howling

hurler                   to howl

la hutte                the hut

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