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In the past, I used to say "Herbs", then I was corrected and told that the "H" is muted and one should say "Erbs". Watching some video, the instructor keeps saying "Herbs". What is the right pronunciation?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's pronounced both ways. NOAD gives this:

herb |(h)ərb|

The parenthetical h indicates that it may be aspirated or omitted.

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Thanks! –  ysap May 15 '11 at 2:11
    
Somehow people believe statistics, but popularity doesn't necessarily mean it's right –  Thursagen May 15 '11 at 5:48
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@Third Idiot: the established pronunciations in both the U.S. and the U.K. (these are different) are prevalent enough that most people would insist that the other pronunciation is incorrect. So no /h/ is correct in the U.S. and with /h/ is correct in England. –  Peter Shor May 15 '11 at 15:55
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No /h/ is definitely the way to do it in Jamaica. :) –  boehj May 15 '11 at 19:57
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The comedian Eddie Izzard has something to say about this; I believe that's become one of his more iconic lines. –  J.R. May 22 '12 at 10:14

The American pronuncation is usually /ərb/ without the h, while the British pronunciation is usually /hɜː(r)b/ with the h, but maybe without the r. It was formerly pronounced without the h in the U.K; the British author E. Nesbit used "an herb" in her book The Wonderful Garden (1911), probably indicating that she pronounced it without the h.

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The American pronunciation of herb- in combining forms varies. From Google Ngrams, the American Heritage Dictionary, and my gut feeling, I would say that you should not pronounce the 'h' in herbage and herbal, but that it's usually pronounced in herbarium, herbicide, herbivore, and herbaceous. –  Peter Shor Jun 4 '11 at 14:37
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Shor, I would pronounce the h in none of your example words, and generally would be surprised to hear any American English speaker say those words with an h, American dictionaries’ pronunciation guides notwithstanding. –  nohat Jan 31 '12 at 7:37
    
@nohat: Compare the frequencies of "a herbal tea", "an herbal tea", "a herbicide" and "an herbicide" in this Ngram for American English. Certainly "an herbicide" is not uncommon enough to be called incorrect, but "a herbicide" is more frequent. –  Peter Shor Jan 31 '12 at 10:29
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It does for one-syllable words. –  Peter Shor Jan 27 '13 at 14:12
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All this time and nobody has suggested "oibz". I'm proud of you guys. –  Mr Lister Jan 23 at 17:50

What is the right pronunciation?

That depends on which English, you speak. It is one of the many differences American English has from British forms of English. The h is not pronounced by Americans. It is pronounced by English (and other British) people. This page http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/herb?q=herb , demonstrates it.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 27 '13 at 16:15

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