Why Americans Don’t Pronounce the ‘H’ in Herbs

Food vlogger Adam Ragusea ponders why people in the United States don’t pronounce the “h” in the word “herbs” while people who speak British English do. He explains that the English word came from the French “herbe”, a language that is not particularly fond of pronouncing that letter.

You Brits….may  be wondering, “Hey, why do you Yanks not pronounce the H in herbs?” Well, I suppose we could ask  you, do you pronounce the H in honest, honor,  hour, heir? Well then why do  you pronounce the H in herb?   These are all loanwords from French,  and the French basically never pronounce Hs when it comes in the beginning  position of a word, or at the end,  or in various other places.

While the history is a bit more complicated, Ragusea also states that the British didn’t adopt the pronunciation of the first letter of the word until the 19th century.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you Brits said  herb with a silent H right up until some time in the 19th century. Only then did you start to adapt  this loanword into your own pronunciation habits. For whatever reason, we Americans just simply  haven’t gotten around to anglicizing herb yet.  

In other words, neither is right nor wrong.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.