Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

When do we pronounce the “H” in English and when is it silent?

Today we answer a listener questions about this tricky pronunciation.

We’ll share the most common words for each category.

Listen in to boost IELTS Speaking scores!

Why does pronunciation matter?

Your IELTS Speaking exam is graded on 4 categories.

  • Pronunciation
  • Fluency/Coherence
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar

A lot is considered for your Pronunciation score.

The Examiner is listening for word stress, syllable stress, phonemes, and intonation.

Pronunciation of phonemes, which are individual sounds, can be tricky in English.

“H” is a good example, as it is sometimes pronounced and sometimes silent.

Today’s question

The listener question we answer today was posted in a YouTube comment.

Remember that all our episodes are also videos on YouTube!

Hi Aubrey and Jess!

I wonder why “herb” has a silent H and “hero” and “hello” don’t 🤔


Voiceless glottal fricatives

The “H-sound” is a voiceless glottal fricative.

Sometimes it is silent and sometimes air is pushed out making a sound.

Whether you hear this sound or not depends on the origin of the word.

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Silent “H”

If the word was originally borrowed from French, we do not pronounce the “H” sound.

  • herb
  • hour
  • honest
  • honor
  • heir

However, there are exceptions!

Some words borrowed from the French language have evolved and we do now pronounce the “H.”

  • hotel
  • historic

You’ll hear these words without the “H” pronounced in a lot of French-accented English.

Pronounced “H”

Words that do not originate from French usually have a pronounced “H” sound.

  • hear
  • heard
  • herd
  • happy
  • hover
  • hallucinate

For each of these words, and many more, air is forced from the back of the throat.

Variations around the world

In some English speaking countries, an “H” will be pronounced differently.

A good example is the word “herb.”

In the U.S., this word is pronounced with a silent “H”.

However, in the UK the “H” is pronounced.

This may be the same in other English-speaking countries as well.

In a case such as this, both pronunciations are acceptable and considered correct on IELTS.

Germanic origins

Many Germanic include a silent “H” in the middle of words.

  • exhausted
  • vehicle
  • ghost
  • aghast

Regional dialects might affect this pronunciation.

In the episode, Jessica and Aubrey realize they pronounce “vehicle” differently.


Often with pronunciation, there are variations.

When this happens, all variations are accepted on IELTS.

However, for many words, there is a standard pronunciation around the world.

In these cases, you must pronounce the word correctly according to this standard.

Correct pronunciation will boost your IELTS Speaking scores!

For all the strategies you need on IELTS, sign up for our online course, 3 Keys IELTS!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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