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H, h [Generally called ‘AITCH’, and sometimes ‘haitch’ in IrE and AusE]. The 8th LETTER of the Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It derives from the Phoenician consonant heth, ancestor of the Greek letter eta (H). The Romans adopted eta to represent the ASPIRATE sound /h/.

Sound Value

In English, h represents a voiceless glottal fricative at the beginning of syllables before a vowel: hat, behind, abhor, mishap.

Silent H

(1) In syllable-final position, in exclamations such as ah, eh, oh and in such loans (usually Hebrew and West or South Asian) as chutzpah, Jehovah, Messiah, Sara(h), howdah, veranda(h). (2) In words of Greek origin, after r: catarrh, h(a)emorrhage, rhapsody, rhinoceros, rhododendron. Rhyme (also rime) is so spelt by analogy with rhythm. (3) In Thames, thyme, and sometimes Anthony. (4) By elision after a stressed syllable (annihilate, shepherd, Chatham), and after ex- even at the onset of a stressed syllable (exhaust, exhibit, exhort). (5) In speech, commonly elided in he, him, his, her in unstressed positions, especially following a consonant: What did 'e do; Tell us 'er name. This elision affected the spelling and pronunciation of the Middle English pronoun hit, resulting in Modern English it. (6) After c in words of Greek and Italian origin, but indicating that the c is pronounced /k/: archangel, archive, chemist, monarch, stomach, technical, chiaroscuro, scherzo: and by analogy ache, modern spelling for earlier ake. (7) In words of Celtic origin, ch is generally pronounced /k/ (clarsach, loch), but in ScoE and often in IrE is a velar fricative /x/. English in England may have silent h in Irish names such as Callaghan, though in IrE and ScoE the g is generally silent. See C.

French H

Words derived from French vary in their use of h. Sometimes h has never been established in English: for example, able from Latin habilis, French habile. Sometimes h reached English, but has never been pronounced: heir, honest, honour, hour. Sometimes as silent French h has come to be pronounced in standard English: horrible, hospital, host, hotel, human, humour, humble. In some words h was introduced in English as in hermit, hostage (compare French ermite, otage), eventually coming to be pronounced. The h of herb is pronounced in standard BrE, but not in standard AmE.

Initial H

The uncertainty of initial h is shown in the controversy over the use of an before some words of French origin: an heroic attempt and an historic occasion as opposed to a heroic attempt and a historic occasion. Although it is now generally conventional to say a hotel, the form an hotel was once widespread and still occurs in England. In such cases, the h may or may not be pronounced in BrE (an heroic attempt or an 'eroic attempt) and is pronounced in AmE. This use of an before h is widely regarded as pretentious (especially when the h is pronounced), and has always been limited to words in which the first syllable is unstressed: no *an hopeless case or *an hot day.


Also aitch-dropping. In England and Wales there are several h-less accents, such as Cockney and Brummie, where the pronunciations an 'orrible 'appening and an 'opeless case are normal. In written dialogue associated with such accents, unpronounced h is represented, as here, by an apostrophe.


(1) H following some consonants may represent special joint values, as in the digraphs ch, gh, ph, sh, th, wh. See C, G, P, S, T, W. (2) This use of h was first established in Latin, which used ch, ph, and th for the Greek letters chi, phi, and theta. The digraphs ch, sh developed in English after the Norman Conquest. Wh arose analogically by reversing Old English hw. Gh was introduced to represent the Old English palatal or velar fricative previously often spelt 3 (YOGH), itself going back to an old English h-form (old English liht becoming liʒt then light), and th was substituted for the Old English letters ð (ETH) and þ (THORN). (3) H can be used in such digraphs because its usual value does not normally occur after consonants, except across syllable boundaries (see below).

Other features

(1) In some circumstances, ambiguity can arise regarding what may or may not be a digraph. Syllable boundaries may be unclear, so that the separate values of sh in mishap may be read together as in bishop. Uncertainty over syllable boundaries has influenced the spelling in threshold (contrast withhold). (2) The element -ham in place-names in England is often ambiguous in terms of pronunciation, the h being sometimes assimilated into a digraph (as in Grantham), sometimes not (as in Clapham). The spelling provides no guidance in such words. (3) In some languages, h can indicate aspiration of a preceding consonant (bhakti, jodhpur, khaki), but this use usually appears unmotivated to monolingual English speakers, who ignore it, especially in Indian usage (bharat natyam, dharma, Jhabvala, Madhukar) and often take aspirated t to be the conventional th digraph (hatha yoga, Marathi).

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H1 / āch/ (also h) • n. (pl. Hs or H's / ˈāchiz/ ) 1. the eighth letter of the alphabet. ∎  denoting the next after G in a set of items, categories, etc. ∎  (h) Chess denoting the file on the right-hand edge of the board, as viewed from White's side. 2. (H) a shape like that of a capital H. 3. (H) Mus. (in the German system) the note B natural. H2 • abbr. ∎  hard (used in describing grades of pencil lead): a 2H pencil. ∎  height (in giving the dimensions of an object). ∎  Physics henry(s). ∎ inf. heroin. • symb. ∎  Chem. enthalpy. ∎  the chemical element hydrogen. ∎  Physics magnetic field strength.

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h / āch/ • abbr. ∎  (in measuring the height of horses) hand(s). ∎  [in comb.] (in units of measurement) hecto-: wine production reached 624,000 hl last year. ∎  horse. ∎  (esp. with reference to water) hot: nine rooms, all with h & c. ∎  hour(s): breakfast at 0700 h. • symb. ∎  Physics Planck's constant.

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H Eighth letter of the roman-based w European alphabet, usually representing an aspirate, or glottal fricative consonant.It is derived from the Semitic letter cheth, which was pronounced like the ch sound in loch, but with a more “throaty” articulation. It was taken into the Greek alphabet as eta at first as an aspirate then becoming a vowel (pronounced as a long e). In its earlier form it passed into the Roman alphabet. In English an initial h may be silent (as in hour and heir). It is used with other letters to stand for sounds that may be hard to symbolise with just one letter, e.g. ch, gh, ph, sh and th. It also serves to mark long vowel sounds in such words as bah and mah-jong. It is silent, especially in British English south of Scotland, after w (as in what, where and which).

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h (ital.) Physics, symbol for heat transfer coefficient
• symbol for hecto- (prefix indicating 100, as in hm, hectometre)
• (ital.) symbol for height
• symbol for hour
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for Planck constant
• (ital.) Thermodynamics, symbol for specific enthalpy
• (ital.) Maths., indicating a small increment
• indicating the eighth vertical row of squares from the left on a chessboard

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H ★★ 1990

Two junkies try to kick their heroin addiction and face the difficult withdrawal period. Includes glimpses into their past that shed light on the reasons they turned to drugs. Contains explicit footage. 93m/C VHS . CA Martin Neufeld, Pascale Montpet-it; D: Darrell Wasyk. Genie ‘91: Actress (Montpetit); Toronto-City ‘90: Canadian Feature Film.

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H the eighth letter of the modern English alphabet and of the ancient Roman one, representing a Semitic letter adopted by Greek as Η, originally the eighth and later, after the omission of ϝ, the seventh letter of the alphabet.

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H The horizontal component of the geomagnetic field.

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H (Ger.). B♮, H dur being key of B major and H moll key of B minor.

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H symbol for hydrogen.