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English is my mother tongue and we often follow the British pronunciations.

However, something caught my attention recently. In my Oxford dictionary, I noticed that so many words that begin with 'wh' have a leading 'h' as part of the phonetics. Here are some of them:








and the list goes on...

I have heard many US accents but never encountered this. Perhaps I never noticed it.

Thus my question: Do Americans really use these words with a leading h or at least are they supposed to?


EDIT: I am not using the net as my source here. It's a printed book. So for those who are unsure, here it is:

enter image description here

BTW, the exact title of the dictionary is:

Oxford WordPower

English-Arabic dictionary

ISBN: 0-19-431485-5

NEWEST EDIT: Please do not consider this a duplicate of Hwat, hwere, and hwy?

That discusses the origins of words and various 'accents'. Yes, the examples are related, but my question is different and simple. I'm more keen on knowing if Americans (today) use the leading h pronunciation (at large)?

Ever since I started my study of languages (my mother tongue included), I've tried to stick to a standard pronunciation from the dictionary. Thus in a way I look at the dictionary's pronunciation as the right way to pronounce words, regardless of what people really do. So now after seeing the leading h pronunciation related to Americans, I'm curious to know if they really do so.

And after the kind of responses and links I've seen on this subject today, I don't even think that an average non-academic American really knows this exists. Perhaps I'm wrong.

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Sep 15 '13 at 5:11

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  • 4
    The original PIE interrogative/relative words had *kʷ-, still preserved in Latin QU-; qui, quae, quod, qualis, quantus, etc. PIE *kʷ- changed to in Germanic via Grimm's Law. In most Modern English dialects the distinction between /hʷ/ and /w/ has been lost. Mine, for instance (Midwestern USA, b 1942 DeKalb Co IL, right on the Northern/Midlands isogloss bundle). – John Lawler Sep 15 '13 at 4:20
  • 2
    I wonder if any accents do not aspirate the h in words like whore or who. Also, this article has some nice examples. – terdon Sep 15 '13 at 4:42
  • 1
    Your question is answered in the duplicate question: it's pronounced in "many parts of North America, especially but not only the south of the United States.". – Peter Shor Sep 15 '13 at 12:44
  • 1
    See also Wikipedia, which has a map of the region of the South where "wh" is still used by a majority of speakers. – Peter Shor Sep 15 '13 at 12:50

Some do! Some don't. I said these words to myself just now to see what I do, and wouldn't you know it, I do put a teensy tiny "h" in front of these. Kind of like "hWat?" It's barely discernable, even to me.

Amazing to learn after all these years that I pronounce some words in a way I would never have imagined. Wow! Or is that hWow?

I'm originally from Southern California, and probably had an original "O.C" accent, but since age 15 I've been all over: Toronto, Canada; Cheltenham, England; Germany for 3 years and Yes I speak it fairly fluently; Washington state, USA, for the past 30 years. My accent is probably so muddled up by now there's no way to tell what I sound like.


First of all, I wish to remind that the letter "H" is more acceptably pronounced "age" or "eij" not "heige"/"heij".

There, the pronunciation of "H" itself does not involve the sound of "H. I've been to parts of Asia and US where they pronounced it "heige" - somewhat coincident in places where they also pronounce "pronounciation" rather than "pronunciation".

The way I've been brought up, which may not agree with others

  • Elision of h to before w to emphasize the presence of an "h". Therefore we pronounce "hwen", "hwat",etc.

  • In the US, people pronounce "herb" as "erb", "homage" as "omage"/"ormarj". I think the Queen of England would not coincide with such pronunciation. Neither does the Oxford dict. I am more comfortable pronouncing them with the non-silent "H". I think US pronunciation standardization efforts are simply too zealous.

  • Regardless of dialect, the "H" mostly becomes silent when paired with a prior word that ends with a consonant:
    green herb = green'erb

  • However, if the prior word ends with "T", I would encourage people to pronounce "herb" rather than "erb". e.g, "fragrant herb" rather than "fragrant 'erb". Could be misheard as "fragrant turd".

  • Regardless of dialect, the elided "H" in "when", "where", etc, is not silent, even when paired with a prior word ending with a consonant. e.g.

    • he says hwen
    • tell him hwere
  • 1
    I beg to differ, I would never pronounce when or where with an audible H, irrespective of the previous word. I always pronounce them using the same sound as for wish. – terdon Sep 15 '13 at 5:48
  • So what you're saying is that although it's technically correct to use the leading h, it's a matter of choice despite the dictionary's rule of pronunciation. I like that :) – itsols Sep 15 '13 at 6:13
  • 3
    I am an American, and I pronounce whales and Wales, which and witch, when and win, exactly the same, independent of what (if any) consonant the prior word ends in. I don't have the faintest idea of what you mean by "the elided 'H' ... is not silent". It is for me. – Peter Shor Sep 15 '13 at 12:42

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