H-dropping or aitch-dropping is the deletion of the voiceless glottal fricative or "H-sound", [h]. The phenomenon is common in many dialects of English, and is also found in certain other languages, either as a purely historical development or as a contemporary difference between dialects. Although common in most regions of England and in some other English-speaking countries, and linguistically speaking a neutral evolution in languages, H-dropping is often stigmatized as a sign of careless or uneducated speech.

The reverse phenomenon, H-insertion or H-adding, is found in certain situations, sometimes as an allophone or hypercorrection by H-dropping speakers, and sometimes as a spelling pronunciation or out of perceived etymological correctness. A particular example of this is the spread of 'haitch' for 'aitch'.

In EnglishEdit

Historical /h/-lossEdit

In Old English phonology, the sounds [h], [x], and [ç] (described respectively as glottal, velar and palatal voiceless fricatives) are taken to be allophones of a single phoneme /h/. The [h] sound appeared at the start of a syllable, either alone or in a cluster with another consonant. The other two sounds were used in the syllable coda ([x] after back vowels and [ç] after front vowels).

The instances of /h/ in coda position were lost during the Middle English and Early Modern English periods, although they are still reflected in the spelling of words such as taught (now pronounced like taut) and weight (now pronounced in most accents like wait). Most of the initial clusters involving /h/ also disappeared (see H-cluster reductions). As a result, in the standard varieties of Modern English, the only position in which /h/ can occur is at the start of a syllable, either alone (as in hat, house, behind, etc.), in the cluster /hj/ (as in huge), or (for a minority of speakers) in the cluster /hw/ (as in whine if pronounced differently from wine). The usual realizations of the latter two clusters are [ç] and [ʍ] (see English phonology).

Contemporary H-droppingEdit

The phenomenon of H-dropping considered as a feature of contemporary English is the omission, in certain accents and dialects, of this syllable-initial /h/, either alone or in the cluster /hj/. (For the cluster /hw/ and its reduction, see Pronunciation of English ⟨wh⟩.)


H-dropping, in certain accents and dialects of Modern English, causes words like harm, heat, home and behind to be pronounced arm, eat, ome and be-ind (though in some dialects an [h] may appear in behind to prevent hiatus – see below).

Cases of H-dropping occur in all English dialects in the weak forms of function words like he, him, her, his, had, and have. The pronoun it is a product of historical H-dropping – the older hit survives as an emphatic form in a few dialects such as Southern American English, and in the Scots language.[1] Because the /h/ of unstressed have is usually dropped, the word is usually pronounced /əv/ in phrases like should have, would have, and could have. These can be spelled out in informal writing as "should've", "would've", and "could've". Because /əv/ is also the weak form of the word of, these words are often misspelled as should of, would of and could of.[2]


There is evidence of h-dropping in texts from the 13th century and later. It may originally have arisen through contact with the Norman language, where h-dropping also occurred. Puns which rely on the possible omission of the /h/ sound can be found in works by William Shakespeare and in other Elizabethan era dramas. It is suggested that the phenomenon probably spread from the middle to the lower orders of society, first taking hold in urban centers. It started to become stigmatized, being seen as a sign of poor education, in the 16th or 17th century.[3][4]

Geographical distributionEdit

H-dropping in the English language in England (based on Upton and Widdowson, 2006). Dialects in the regions marked no /h/ feature (variable) H-dropping, while those in the regions marked /h/ generally do not, although there is some local variation within these regions.[5]

H-dropping occurs (variably) in most of the dialects of the English language in England and Welsh English, including Cockney, West Country English, West Midlands English (including Brummie), East Midlands English, most of northern England (including Yorkshire and Lancashire), and Cardiff English.[6] It is not generally found in Scottish English and Irish English. It is also typically absent in certain regions of England and Wales, including Northumberland, East Anglia and most of North Wales.[7]

H-dropping also occurs in some Jamaican English, and perhaps in other Caribbean English (including some of The Bahamas). It is not generally found in North American English, although it has been reported in Newfoundland (outside the Avalon Peninsula).[8] However, dropping of /h/ from the cluster /hj/ (so that human is pronounced /'juːmən/) is found in some American dialects, as well as in parts of Ireland – see reduction of /hj/.

Social distribution and stigmatizationEdit

H-dropping, in the countries and regions in which it is prevalent, occurs mainly in working-class accents. Studies have shown it to be significantly more frequent in lower than in higher social groups. It is not a feature of RP (the prestige accent of England), or even of "Near-RP", a variant of RP that includes some regional features.[9] This does not always apply, however, to the dropping of /h/ in weak forms of words like his and her.

H-dropping in English is widely stigmatized, being perceived as a sign of poor or uneducated speech, and discouraged by schoolteachers. John Wells writes that it seems to be "the single most powerful pronunciation shibboleth in England."[10]

Use and status of the H-sound in H-dropping dialectsEdit

In fully H-dropping dialects, that is, in dialects without a phonemic /h/, the sound [h] may still occur but with uses other than distinguishing words. An epenthetic [h] may be used to avoid hiatus, so that for example the egg is pronounced the hegg. It may also be used when any vowel-initial word is emphasized, so that horse /ˈɔːs/ (assuming the dialect is also non-rhotic) and ass /ˈæs/ may be pronounced [ˈˈhɔːs] and [ˈˈhæs] in emphatic utterances. That is, [h] has become an allophone of the zero onset in these dialects.

For many H-dropping speakers, however, a phonological /h/ appears to be present, even if it is not usually realized – that is, they know which words "should" have an /h/, and have a greater tendency to pronounce an [h] in those words than in other words beginning with a vowel. Insertion of [h] may occur as a means of emphasis, as noted above, and also as a response to the formality of a situation.[11] Sandhi phenomena may also indicate a speaker's awareness of the presence of an /h/ – for example, some speakers might say "a edge" (rather than "an edge") for a hedge, and might omit the linking R before an initial vowel resulting from a dropped H.

It is likely that the phonemic system of children in H-dropping areas lacks an /h/ entirely, but that social and educational pressures lead to the incorporation of an (inconsistently realized) /h/ into the system by the time of adulthood.[12]


The opposite of H-dropping, called H-insertion or H-adding, sometimes occurs as a hypercorrection in typically H-dropping accents of English. It is commonly noted in literature from late Victorian times to the early 20th century that some lower-class people consistently drop h in words that should have it, while adding h to words that should not have it. An example from the musical My Fair Lady is, "In 'Artford, 'Ereford, and 'Ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen". Another is in C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew: "Three cheers for the Hempress of Colney 'Atch". In practice, however, it would appear that h-adding is more of a stylistic prosodic effect, being found on some words receiving particular emphasis, regardless of whether those words are h-initial or vowel-initial in the standard language.

Some English words borrowed from French may begin with the letter ⟨h⟩ but not with the sound /h/. Examples include heir, and, in many regional pronunciations, hour, hono(u)r and honest. In some cases, spelling pronunciation has introduced the sound /h/ into such words, as in humble, hotel and (for most speakers) historic. Spelling pronunciation has also added /h/ to the British English pronunciation of herb, /hɜːb/, while American English retains the older pronunciation /ɜrb/. Etymology may also serve as a motivation for H-addition, as in the words horrible, habit and harmony; these were borrowed into Middle English from French without an /h/ (orrible, abit, armonie), but all three derive from Latin words with an /h/ and would later acquire an /h/ in English as an etymological "correction".[13] The name of the letter H itself, "aitch", is subject to H-insertion in some dialects, where it is pronounced "haitch". (In Hiberno-English, "haitch" has come to be considered standard, consistent with its not-an-H-dropping dialects).[14]

List of homophones resulting from H-droppingEdit

The following is a list of some pairs of English words which may become homophones when H-dropping occurs. (To view the list, click "show".) See also the list of H-dropping homophones in Wiktionary.

Homophonous pairs
/h/ /∅/ IPA Notes
habit abbot ˈæbət With weak vowel merger.
hacked act ˈækt
hacks axe; ax ˈæks
had ad ˈæd
had add ˈæd
hail ail ˈeɪl
hail ale ˈeɪl With pane-pain merger.
Haim aim ˈeɪm
hair air ˈɛə(r), ˈeɪr
hair ere ˈɛə(r) With pane-pain merger.
hair heir ˈɛə(r), ˈeɪr
haired erred ˈɛə(r)d With pane-pain merger.
Hal Al ˈæl
hale ail ˈeɪl With pane-pain merger.
hale ale ˈeɪl, ˈeːl
hall all ˈɔːl
halter alter ˈɔːltə(r)
ham am ˈæm
hand and ˈænd
hanker anchor ˈæŋkə(r)
hap app ˈæp
hare air ˈɛə(r) With pane-pain merger.
hare ere ˈɛə(r), ˈeːr
hare heir ˈɛə(r) With pane-pain merger.
hark arc ˈɑː(r)k
hark ark ˈɑː(r)k
harm arm ˈɑː(r)m
hart art; Art ˈɑː(r)t
has as ˈæz
hash ash ˈæʃ
haste aced ˈeɪst, ˈeːst
hat at ˈæt
hate ate ˈeɪt
hate eight ˈeɪt With pane-pain merger and wait-weight merger.
haul all ˈɔːl
haunt aunt ˈɑːnt With trap-bath split and father-bother merger.
hawk auk ˈɔːk
hawk orc ˈɔːk In non-rhotic accents.
hay A ˈeɪ
hay eh ˈeɪ
he E ˈiː
head Ed ˈɛd
heady Eddie ˈɛdi
heady eddy ˈɛdi
heal eel ˈiːl With fleece merger or meet-meat merger.
hear ear ˈɪə(r), ˈiːr
heard erred ˈɜː(r)d, ˈɛrd
hearing earing ˈɪərɪŋ, ˈiːrɪŋ
hearing earring ˈɪərɪŋ
heart art; Art ˈɑː(r)t
heat eat ˈiːt
heathen even ˈiːvən With th-fronting.
heather ever ˈɛvə(r) With th-fronting.
heave eve; Eve ˈiːv
heave eave ˈiːv
heaven Evan ˈɛvən
heaving even ˈiːvən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
hedge edge ˈɛdʒ
heel eel ˈiːl
heinous anus ˈeɪnəs With pane-pain merger.
heist iced ˈaɪst
Helen Ellen ˈɛlən
Helena Eleanor ˈɛlənə In non-rhotic accents.
Helena Elena ˈɛlənə
hell L; el; ell ˈɛl
he'll eel ˈiːl
helm elm ˈɛlm
hem M; em ˈɛm
hen N; en ˈɛn
herd erred ˈɜː(r)d, ˈɛrd
here ear ˈɪə(r), ˈiːr
here's ears ˈɪəz, ˈiːrz
heron Erin ˈɛrən With weak vowel merger.
herring Erin ˈɛrən With weak vowel merger and G-dropping.
he's E's ˈiːz
Heuston Euston ˈjuːstən
hew ewe ˈjuː, ˈ(j)ɪu
hew yew ˈjuː, ˈjɪu
hew you ˈjuː
hews ewes ˈjuːz, ˈ(j)ɪuz
hews use ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
hews yews ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
hex ex ˈɛks
hex X; ex ˈɛks
hey A ˈeɪ
hey eh ˈeɪ
hi aye; ay ˈaɪ
hi eye ˈaɪ
hi I ˈaɪ
hid id ˈɪd
hide I'd ˈaɪd
high aye; ay ˈaɪ
high eye ˈaɪ
high I ˈaɪ
higher ire ˈaɪə(r)
hike Ike ˈaɪk
hill ill ˈɪl
hinky inky ˈɪŋki
hire ire ˈaɪə(r), ˈaɪr
his is ˈɪz
hit it ˈɪt
hitch itch ˈɪtʃ
hive I've ˈaɪv
hoard awed ˈɔːd In non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger.
hoard oared ˈɔː(r)d, ˈoə(r)d, ˈoːrd
hoarder order ˈɔː(r)də(r) With horse-hoarse merger.
hocks ox ˈɒks
hoe O ˈoʊ, ˈoː
hoe oh ˈoʊ, ˈoː
hoe owe ˈoʊ With toe-tow merger.
hoes O's ˈoʊz, ˈoːz
hoister oyster ˈɔɪstə(r)
hold old ˈoʊld
holed old ˈoʊld With toe-tow merger.
holly Olly ˈɒli
hone own ˈoʊn With toe-tow merger.
hop op ˈɒp
hopped opped ˈɒpt
hopped opt ˈɒpt
horde awed ˈɔːd In non-rhotic accents.
horde oared ˈɔː(r)d, ˈoə(r)d, ˈoːrd
horn awn ˈɔːn In non-rhotic accents.
horn on ˈɔːn In non-rhotic accents with lot-cloth split.
hotter otter ˈɒtə(r)
how ow ˈaʊ
howl owl ˈaʊl
how're hour ˈaʊə(r), ˈaʊr
how're our ˈaʊə(r), ˈaʊr
Houston Euston ˈjuːstən
Hoyle oil ˈɔɪl
hue ewe ˈjuː, ˈ(j)ɪuː
hue U ˈjuː, ˈ(j)ɪuː
hue yew ˈjuː, ˈjɪuː
hue you ˈjuː
hues ewes ˈjuːz, ˈ(j)ɪuz
hues U's ˈjuːz, ˈ(j)ɪuz
hues use ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
hues yews ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
Hugh ewe ˈjuː, ˈ(j)ɪuː
Hugh U ˈjuː, ˈ(j)ɪuː
Hugh yew ˈjuː, ˈjɪuː
Hugh you ˈjuː
Hughes ewes ˈjuːz, ˈ(j)ɪuz
Hughes U's ˈjuːz, ˈ(j)ɪuz
Hughes use ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
Hughes yews ˈjuːz, ˈjɪuz
hurl earl ˈɜː(r)l With fern-fir-fur merger.
Huston Euston ˈjuːstən
Hyde I'd ˈaɪd
whore awe ˈɔː In non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger and pour-poor merger.
whore oar ˈɔː(r), ˈoə(r), ˈoːr With pour-poor merger.
whore or ˈɔː(r) With horse-hoarse merger and pour-poor merger.
whore ore ˈɔː(r), ˈoə(r), ˈoːr With pour-poor merger.
whored awed ˈɔːd In non-rhotic accents with horse-hoarse merger and pour-poor merger.
whored oared ˈɔː(r)d, ˈoə(r)d, ˈoːrd With pour-poor merger.
who's ooze ˈuːz
who's Ouse ˈuːz
whose ooze ˈuːz
whose Ouse ˈuːz

In other languagesEdit

Processes of H-dropping have occurred in various languages at certain times, and in some cases, they remain as distinguishing features between dialects, as in English. Some Dutch dialects, especially the southern ones, feature H-dropping. The dialects of Zeeland, West and East Flanders, most of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant, and the west of North Brabant have lost /h/ as a phonemic consonant but use [h] to avoid hiatus and to signal emphasis, much as in the H-dropping dialects of English.[15] H-dropping is also found in some North Germanic languages, for instance Elfdalian and the dialect of Roslagen, where it is found already in Old East Norse. Also the Low Saxon speaking area around Zwolle, Kampen and Meppel have h-dropping.

The phoneme /h/ in Ancient Greek, occurring only at the beginnings of words and originally written with the letter H and later as a rough breathing, was lost in the Ionic dialect. It is also not pronounced in Modern Greek.

The phoneme /h/ was lost in Late Latin, the ancestor of the modern Romance languages. Both French and Spanish acquired new initial /h/ in medieval times, but they were later lost in both languages in a "second round" of H-dropping. Some dialects of Spanish have yet again acquired [h] from /x/, which as of now is stable.

It is hypothesized in the laryngeal theory that the loss of [h] or similar sounds played a role in the early development of the Indo-European languages.

In Maltese, /h/ existed as a phoneme until the 19th century. It was then lost in most positions, sometimes lengthening the adjacent vowel. Chiefly word-finally it was merged with /ħ/. The latter phoneme, in turn, may now be pronounced [h] by some speakers, chiefly in the syllable onset.

Many dialects of Persian, primarily dialects spoken in Afghanistan, do not pronounce the phoneme /h/. If a short vowel and a long vowel are both paired to the phoneme, the long vowel replaces both the phoneme /h/ and the short vowel attached to it.

The modern Javanese language typically does not have initial and intervocalic /h/ in its native words, except between the same vowels. For instance, in modern Javanese, the word for "rain" is udan, from Old Javanese hudan, which ultimately comes from Proto-Austronesian *quzaN. The letter "ꦲ" in traditional Javanese script, which had the value /ha/ in Old Javanese is now used in most cases to represent /a/ and /ɔ/ in its base form. In modern Javanese, initial and intervocalic /h/ appears only in loanwords from Indonesian and English. Since the Javanese people have been exposed to Dutch for far longer than they are with Indonesian or standard literary Malay (which only started somewhere after 1900 and amplified after 1945, excluding Surinamese Javanese), many of the words borrowed from Dutch have also lost the phoneme, such as andhuk /aɳˈɖ̥(ʰ)ʊʔ/ "towel" from Dutch handdoek.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ David D. Murison, The Guid Scots Tongue, Blackwodd 1977, p. 39.
  2. ^ van Ostade, I.T.B. (2019). Describing Prescriptivism: Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-429-55814-6. Retrieved 2020-02-23.
  3. ^ Milroy, J., "On the Sociolinguistic History of H-dropping in English", in Current topics in English historical linguistics, Odense UP, 1983.
  4. ^ Milroy, L., Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English, Routledge 2002, p. 17.
  5. ^ Upton, C., Widdowson, J.D.A., An Atlas of English Dialects, Routledge 2006, pp. 58–59.
  6. ^ Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (2002). The Phonetics of Dutch and English (5 ed.). Leiden/Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 290–302.
  7. ^ Approaches to the Study of Sound Structure and Speech: Interdisciplinary Work in Honour of Katarzyna Dziubalska-Kołaczyk. Magdalena Wrembel, Agnieszka Kiełkiewicz-Janowiak and Piotr Gąsiorowski. 21 October 2019. pp. 1–398. ISBN 9780429321757.
  8. ^ Wells, J.C., Accents of English, CUP 1982, pp. 564, 568–69, 589, 594, 622.
  9. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 254, 300.
  10. ^ Wells (1982), p. 254
  11. ^ Wells (1982), p. 322.
  12. ^ Wells (1982), p. 254.
  13. ^ "World of words - Oxford Dictionaries Online". Askoxford.com. Retrieved 2013-08-01.[dead link]
  14. ^ "'Haitch' or 'aitch'? How do you pronounce 'H'?". BBC. Retrieved 2017-06-19.
  15. ^ "h". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)