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
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    This is a good question for the Linguistics SE... :D
    – Alenanno
    Nov 30, 2011 at 9:17
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    see what Wikipedia has to say about it en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Spanish#Latin_f-_to_Spanish_h- Dec 1, 2011 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. Dec 2, 2011 at 16:25
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    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, 2011 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, 2012 at 22:28

2 Answers 2


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).


We know that there are examples of the F being used instead of the modern Spanish H in Miguel de Cervantes's El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, like when he was commanding the wind mills to stand and fight: «No fullais, cobardes y viles criaturas...» ("Don't run away, you coward and vile creatures").
Since Cervantes wrote Don Quijote in 1605, we can presume that the change occurred sometime after 1605.
No fullais ("Don't run away") would today be spelled and pronounced "No huyáis". It is a rarely used verb form, a very formal form, kind like the English form "Don't runneth away" (if that is the correct way to say it in English :)

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    Cervantes was imitating speech made in books written well before his time. Outside of Quijotes' dialogue, H is used. It was gone almost entirely by the early 1500s Apr 23, 2019 at 23:16
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    The exact quote, as I am transcribing it from the princeps edition of Don Quixote, is: "Non fuyades cobardes y viles criaturas". Both "non", the use of "f-" and the "-ades" conjugation were obsolete by 1605. In the Covarrubias dictionary from 1611 you can find "huir" but not "fuir" nor "fugir". As @guifa says, Cervantes was just imitating an old-style speech for Don Quixote's dialogues.
    – Charlie
    Apr 24, 2019 at 5:59
  • It is not accurate to state that the use of the 'f' "...was gone almost entirely by the early 1500s" when it is still in use today in some cases: fierros (irons) is still in use (as is hierros), fuga (escape) instead of huga, the verb fugar (to escape), etc. It appears that some of these words became synonyms, rather than to disappear completely. Apr 28, 2019 at 6:05
  • I should have added that the Covarrubias dictionary from 1611 on page 418 DOES contain the word "fugaz" (spelled with the obsolete v instead of u, fvgaz), and words "fugitivo" (still in use today). Fugaz is still in use today. Apr 28, 2019 at 6:40
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    The Covarrubias dictionary of 1611 shows alternative uses for "huir" as "fuir" and "fugir", so it is not accurate to state that 'you can find "huir" but not "fuir"'. Look at page 482. That proves that the 'f' was still in use in 1611. Apr 28, 2019 at 6:51

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