What happens to H in English everyday speech.
If your goal is to understand native speakers when they speak in fast natural conversation, then the best way to improve your listening skills is to actively listen to examples of English spoken in a normal fast everyday way. You need to learn why you can not hear all the sounds and the words. You might think that your ears are missing hearing some of the sounds but often you can not hear the sounds because native speakers do not pronounce them!
In this lesson we are going to look at how the H sound disappears when native speakers talk.
Listen to this voicemail message. Write down what I am saying. This might sound fast – but it’s natural speed conversation. The words are linked up using connected speech.
Can you give a message to Julie and Peter? Can you tell her the party starts at 8. If you see Peter tell him to bring some beer and I’ll give him the money. Ok see you at the party, bye
Did you hear all the words in that sound file?
Leave me a comment and tell me which words you could and could not hear.
Did you hear me say the word him and the word her?
Did you recognise those words? What happens to those words in everyday conversational speech?
When I said
tell her tell him give him
I did not pronounce the h. This made these familiar words hard to hear.
Let’s look at why this happens.
Missing out a sound in pronunciation is called “Elision”. This dropping of the / h / sound is the most common elision in spoken English. If you understand when this / h / sound is not pronounced in everyday English it will help you to hear the words people are saying.
One of the most common situations, when we don’t pronounce the / h /, is in the pronouns he, him, his and her in the middle of a sentence.
Once the / h / is dropped the remaining sounds of the pronoun
he him his her
are linked with the previous word as connected speech.
This makes it difficult to hear these familiar words that you know and are expecting to hear and once the
e im is er
are connected with the consonant from the previous word they sound like a different word.
Let’s look at an example in detail.
What is happening here?
The d of told links with
her Told her now sounds like a new word tolder. The word to is weak and so sounds like t.
her to go. He tolder t-go
Notice also that the H at the beginning of the sentence in He may or may not be pronounced. If the He is being emphasised it will be pronounced as the word is stressed. However, you need to be aware that many regional accents do not pronounce the H at the beginning of all words.
Listen to this sound file.
The first time I am pronouncing the H in He at the beginning of the sentence. The second time I am not pronouncing the H in he. It sounds like “e tolder to go”.
Now we have examined what happens when we don’t pronounce the H in these pronouns let’s listen to a few more examples.
Listen to this sound file and write down what you hear.
Did you hear the word him ?
The h was dropped and the rest of the pronoun im blended with the d of told so it sounds like He toldim to go.
Let’s try another one.
He gave him a ticket.
But it sounds like:
He gav im a ticket
So it’s important to remember that the / h / sound is not pronounced in he him his and her when these words are in the middle of a sentence. The words are linked up with the previous word using connected speech.
You need to be able to recognise these words when they are linked up to the previous sounds. You don’t have to drop the h in your own speech but if you can start to do this when you are talking to friends it will make your speech sound more natural.
So after working through these exercises has this improved your listening skills? Can you recognise the words him and her when the h is not pronounced and the words are linked together?
Here is a longer voicemail, using my natural spoken English voice.
Oh Hi, Can you pass on a message to your mum, tell her I ‘ve got her ticket and I’ll give it to her tomorrow in work. If your dad wants a ticket – tell him to phone me, I’ve got two spares. Give him the message straight away…… tell him if he wants one he needs to be quick. They are selling out fast. ok bye, see you soon
Was this lesson useful? Let me know in the comments.
There are some more listening exercises with the missing H in him / her / his here
If you want to read more posts like this look here.
Any questions? Post a comment or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Those exercises are really useful for the students who want to improve their listenig skills. Assimilation and elusion play an important role in overcoming the barriers that make understanding difficult. when we solve the problem in assimilation and elusion, we will have no difficulties in listening skill.
I would like to have a lot of exercises which will enable me to understand better.
I am pleased you are finding these exercises useful. If you sign up to the mailing list you will get notified about new exercises every week.
Thank you Helen for sharing such a wonderful lesson. Greetings from Egypt. 🙂
I’ve already signed up on your mailing list , and since then , I’ve been able to try little but significant improvements in my ability to catch better what native speakers say during their normal speeches..
Many thanks, and please go on ahead in that way….
Marco – when you play the sound files write down the words you can hear, then listen again …write down what you think you hear – what does it sound like?
Then look at the transcript and compare with your notes.
Then contact me and tell me which words you did not hear. I will make some new exercises to help you.
Hi, this lesson is very useful to me. I have problems with hearing “a” and “the”. Do you have some tips, how to recognize the both?
Hi Agnieszka Yes, the words “a” and the word “the” often sound exactly the same when they are both reduced to their weak form and they both sound like the schwa sound ehh. But don’t worry too much about this…. These words are not the main content meaning words of the sentence. You might be able to work out if the word spoken was “a” or “the” from the context. eg 1 Do you want to go to the shop? 2 Do you want to go to a shop? In (1) the shop – the shop means the one we have been talking about previously. (2) a shop – any shop. Don’t worry about not hearing the difference between these two words… focus on hearing the main content words. There is no difference between the sound of a or the, and often native speakers too have to ask for clarification… eg “Do you want to go to …shop?
Yea ok, which shop do you mean?
Hi Helen. Thanks for your lessons. I know, I need more practice with listening. Could you give me some clues how to recognize can and can’t? This is very important and misunderstanding changes the whole sentence. I’ll be very grateful for your help.
VEry useful and informative. I need more practice so hopefully going to get more. I would love to improve my listening and speaking skills especially speaking with contractions could you please give me some tips to improve it l?? Hope to listen from you soon