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The pronouns it, him, her had an initial h in the older forms of English which has been retained in her, him, but lost in it (formerly hit).

Etymology of it (Wikitionary):

From Middle English it, hit ( > dialectal English hit (“it”)), from Old English hit (“it”), from Proto-Germanic *hit

The word it had an initial h in both spelling & pronunciation but was then lost in Middle English onwards. Other pronouns such as him, her had also an initial h in Middle & Old English but has been retained.

Was this an irregular change or is there any explanation for the loss of initial h in that particular word?

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  • The full OED says The early attestation and eventual prevalence of loss of initial h- is due to low stress; similar forms are found for other pronouns of the third person, as 'em. Mar 31, 2021 at 11:58
  • She has also had an initial <h>, if in fact it was a regular change (conceivably palatalized before a high vowel, former hio if I remember correctly). But! It is otherwise idiosyncratic to say that she had an <h> if for a correct formalism we have to consider them separate words, whether related or not. So, what you mean is that the pronouns hit, him, here, etc. have an initial h, clearly?
    – vectory
    Jul 18, 2021 at 8:39

1 Answer 1

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According to the following source, the h was lost because of its unemphasized position:

The h- was lost due to being in an unemphasized position, as in modern speech the h- in "give it to him," "ask her," is heard only "in the careful speech of the partially educated" [Weekley, Ernest, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English]

(Etymonline)

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    "in the careful speech of the partially educated" - I like that! Mar 31, 2021 at 12:01
  • I guess related to this, "him" and "her" commonly occur at the start of sentences/as subjects of verbs and will get more emphasis, while "it" starts sentences less often and occurs later in the sentence (except in forms like "it is raining" where as a purely conventional word it's unlikely to be stressed).
    – Stuart F
    Mar 31, 2021 at 13:07
  • You have a typo "unenphasized" --> "unemphasized"
    – cigien
    Mar 31, 2021 at 14:30

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