What's the function of the letter h in Spanish? Even though it's not pronounced there must be a reason of its existence.

I mean the case when the letter h it's not accompanied by the c (ch).


4 Answers 4


The silent, leading h exists for etymological reasons. As Vulgar Latin developed into Castilian, many (but not all) *f*s at the beginnings of words began to be pronounced as, and spelled with, h. Eventually, the sound represented by h was lost, but it remained in the spelling of words.

There are many examples of words in Spanish that start with h whose cognates in other languages start with f. For example, with English we have the pair halcón and falcon; with Latin, hacer and facere; with French, hierro and fer; with Portuguese, hablar and falar.

Also interesting: the names Hernán and Fernando are cognate (if two words in the same language can be thus described). Indeed, some contemporary sources refer to a chap named Fernando Cortés.

  • 1
    Was h ever used to represent a glottal stop? I ask because it apparently is used to represent a glottal stop in Seri, a random indigenous language in Mexico: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glottal_stop
    – Andy
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 16:43
  • @Andy interesting question. Not as far as I'm aware. And if wikipedia is to believed, Seri's writing system was developed in the middle of last century by an American linguist/missionary couple. It wasn't created in an attempt to adapt an unrelated language's alphabet to Seri (with all sorts of assumptions that simply do not hold (which is basically what happened with other indigenous languages in what is today Mexico)). Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 22:44
  • ah fair enough, I mistakenly assumed that Seri orthography was related to Spanish without reading further into it.
    – Andy
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 2:29

In the Middle Age, the letter u represented both the u and the v sounds. But then the diphthong ue was created to replace the letter o in some cases, and words like ovo were rendered into uevo.

This word could be read as uevo or vevo, so to mark that the initial u should be readed as u and not as v, it was prefixed with the h, and thus words like huevo, hueso and so on were created.

It is worth noting that some related words still have the original o, like óseo (from hueso), or ovíparo (from huevo).


'H' keeps because of etymology of words, or the diphthongization of the vowel or when it receives the accent.

In times is pronounced, ie: chacha is not the same as caca

  • 1
    Note that until the last decade, "h" was not considered a letter of the Spanish alphabet in such cases because "ch" was a letter. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 18:33
  • Another example: "has" (verb haber) is not the same than "as" (ace)
    – dusan
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 0:42

H does have a sound when forms part of the digraph ch, for example:

  1. Chicharrón
  2. Muchacho/a
  3. Chantaje

Wikipedia lists one exception to the above rule: Hámster (which comes from the German). More examples are: Hall (pronounced Jol in Spanish), Hardware, Hobby, etc.

On these cases H is pronounced as you would pronounce an H in English or a J in Spanish.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Se corresponde con la letra H del alfabeto romano, procedente de la eta griega, que proviene de la het fenicia. Su nombre en español, hache, viene probablemente del latín rústico *haca, a través del francés hache.


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