Let’s learn how to pronounce the H consonant in American English.
How to pronounce the H /h/ consonant
The H consonant is a voiceless consonant in American English, which means it is made with just airflow passing through the vocal cords and mouth. The vocal cords are turned off as you pronounce it.
There are two ways that native speakers make the H consonant. The first way is to make the H consonant in the throat as you lightly squeeze the vocal cords together. The tongue is relaxed. This is how I make the H consonant.
H, H, H.
However, some native speakers make the H consonant with the back of the tongue as they lightly squeeze the back of the tongue towards the soft palate.
H, H, H.
I don’t prefer this way of pronouncing the H consonant because if you squeeze the tongue too much, then the H will sound too heavy or constricted. H, H, H, and this is not how the H consonant is pronounced in American English.
It’s a light constriction of airflow, just barely shaping the air as it travels through the throat and mouth.
The air release for the H consonant is noisy, turbulent, and continuous.
The lips don’t participate in the pronunciation of the H consonant, so the lips can be relaxed and neutral when you say it.
Watch an animation of the H consonant sound. This animation was created from actual videos of a real person pronouncing the H sound. The animation shows the side view of the person's face, and I slowed it down to half speed. You won’t really see too much movement of the vocal cords in this animation, but you will see a slight narrowing of the throat as she pronounces the H sound.
Let’s take a closer look at the H consonant.
H /h/ consonant: Up close and in slow motion
Here is the H sound in isolation. Notice how the lips are neutral as I say this sound, and the tongue is relaxed.
Now the word hello.
The lips may pull back slightly during the pronunciation of the H consonant in preparation for the next sound, the EH vowel. I don’t pull my lips back that much while saying hello, but they do retract a little bit.
This is common for the H sound. Oftentimes, the lips will anticipate the next sound and will move into that position while pronouncing the H consonant.
Now the word behave. Again, you’ll see that the lips move into the AY diphthong position while I pronounce the H consonant.
In American English, the H consonant sound can occur at the beginning of a word or syllable, but it never occurs at the end of a word or syllable. However, you may see that the letter H does occur in the spelling of a word, like in the word high. Remember that this is the spelling of the word, not the pronunciation of the word.
H /h/ consonant practice
Let’s practice a few words together. Say the words with me.
High, H, high
Ahead, H, ahead
Have, H, have
Thanks so much for practicing the H consonant sound with me. I hope this video was helpful! But we don’t have to end the practice here - let’s keep working together! Check out the additional practice videos of the H consonant sound in English Pro, my comprehensive online accent training community. The details on how to enroll in English Pro are in the description below. Thanks, and have a great day!
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