3.5 The Ghost Consonant “H” or “hache”
In this chapter you will:
- Review the fact that the “h” is silent.
- Learn the etymological (historical) and spelling reasons for the use of this letter.
- Practice the non-pronunciation of the “h” through a hand gesture.
In this chapter we introduce the letter “h,” which is silent except when preceded by a “c.” It should come as no surprise to English speakers that there should be a silent letter in Spanish, given that there are many in English like in “lamb,” “plumber, “knee,” etc. In Spanish, however, silent letters are few and far between. The pronunciation, or lack thereof, of this letter should be easy, right? WRONG. The reason we dedicate a whole chapter to this letter, is that many speakers of English struggle greatly to omit this sound, given the conditioning created by its pronunciation in their native language. This is in spite of the fact that there exist many words in English where the “h” is also silent as in “honor,” “hour,” “honest,” etc. If you have no problems whatsoever omitting the “h” when you speak Spanish, feel free to skip this chapter.
So if the “h” is silent, why do we write it? Well… for several reasons. First, it represents an “f” that existed in Latin and was lost as Spanish evolved: filius>hijo; facere>hacer; formica>hormiga. Second, it was inherited from Latin where it was apparently pronounced: hora>hora; historia>historia. Third, to indicate that two vowels are to be pronounced like two syllables, not one. For example, the word “buho” (owl), if written as “buo” would be pronounced as one syllable, as “quo” in “quota.” Besides adding an “h,” an accent is also used to stress this point even further: “búho.”
It is important that you understand what you have learned in this section. Please take this quiz before continuing with this chapter.
Let’s practice. First listen to these words.
Now, watch this video, where the speaker says the same words covering his mouth every time there is an “h.” Please note that there are no breaks in the sound within words.
Finally, watch the video again and repeat after the speaker. Please use your hand. This physical gesture will help you avoid pronouncing the “h.”
Let’s practice some more. Please repeat after the speaker.
• Ahora los ahuehuetes de la Huasteca / huelen bien.
• Héctor ahorra su dinero / en un hueco que hay / en el hospital de Atahualpa.
• El director prohibió la mención /de la hazaña del hombre de la Habana / y no halagó / al hablador de la huelga.
Self Analysis Activity
Listen to your recording and answer the following questions. Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds.