Spanish Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Spanish language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Many (most? all?) Spanish words containing the letter h come from corresponding Latin words containing the letter f. Through what process did /f/ get softened to /h/? During what time period did this change occur?

A few examples include:

  • hablar from deponent Latin verb for, to speak, whose future and past are fābor and fābar. (Funny that it's famously regular in Spanish)
  • hacer from Latin facīo, facere, fēcī, factus, to make or do
  • herir from Latin ferīo, ferīre, ferīvī, ferītus, to strike, smite, slay
  • hierro from Latin ferrum, ferrī, iron
share|improve this question
This is a good question for the Linguistics SE... :D – Alenanno Nov 30 '11 at 9:17
see what Wikipedia has to say about it – Theta30 Dec 1 '11 at 8:48
@Alenanno: I agree but it didn't seem to be resolved there whether questions about a single language belonged there, especially when the language had its own site. – hippietrail Dec 2 '11 at 16:25
A side comment: Most, but not all apparences of H come from Latin, many come from Arabic, as Almohada (pillow), Albahaca (Basil), pretty much those beginning with the Arabic definite article al – Petruza Dec 31 '11 at 2:35
And of course there are other loan words with an h. An obvious example: hotcakes (often, but not always, pronounced as with an English 'h' sound) – Flimzy Feb 24 '12 at 22:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think that transformation only exists when the /h/ or /f/ is the first letter.

This transformation is related (in theory) to the pre-Romance languages; this case is attributed to euskara substrat that also influences de aspirated /h/ in the Gascon language.


Historia del español

Where we found: la desaparición de f- inicial en muchas palabras que en latín llevaban este sonido, y, supuestamente, el llamado betacismo, debidos, probablemente, a la influencia del vascuence o del íbero (nótese que la aspiración de /h/ también se da en idioma gascón que habría tenido igualmente un substrato vasco).

The disappearance of initial f in many words that in Latin have this sound, and, presumably, the so-called betacism, is probably caused by the influence of Basque or Iberian (note that the aspiration of /h/ is also found in the Gascon dialect that would have had the same Basque substrate).

Lenguas romances

WHere we found: Igualmente algunos estudiosos consideran que un idioma que sirvió de sustrato para las lenguas ibero-romanas fue el vasco, que posiblemente aportó al cambio /f/ al /h/ al inicio de las palabras en español (el latín farina se convirtió en “harina”), y palabras como “izquierda” (vasco ezkerra).

Some scholars believe that one language that served as a substrate for Ibero-Romance language was Basque, which possibly contributed to the change from /f/ to /h/ at the beginning of words in Spanish (Latin farina became "harina"), and words like "izquierda" (Basque ezkerra).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.