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As you know the "h"s in the words "him", "his", "he", "her" and "hers", if there is a consonant before them, can be dropped. For example the "h" in the sentence "Why does he like you so much?" can be dropped. You can say /dʌzi/ instead of /dʌzhi/.

I wonder if the native speakers can do the same thing in the phrases I gave in the title by dropping both "h"s. For example let's say I am asking a question about a person I don't know the gender of: "Does that person really hate his or her own kid?" Can native speakers ever drop the "h"s of both "his" and "her" here. Can they say /heɪtɪzɔrɜroʊn/ by linking the words(=hate-is-or-err-own)? Can they easily understand me if I pronounce this way? (Americans would flap the "t" of "hate" here btw.)

Some other examples: "If somebody did that to me, I wouldn't forgive him or her", "I wouldn't care about the complaints of his or hers". Can native speakers drop both of the "h"s in this kind of sentences?

The main reason I am asking this is I am scared that what I say might not be understood if I drop both of the "h"s in those phrases. Especially in the first sentence I gave which is in the second paragraph, when I drop both "h"s, it sounds like too fast to me and I am scared that people may not understand what I say since I dropped a letter not only from one word but two words. (I don't care if people who are not native English speakers understand me or not. I care about being understood by native speakers, especially Americans.) So I'd like to know if you native speakers are used to hearing those phrases I gave in the title as neither of the "h"s pronounced and if you would understand what I say if I drop both "h"s.

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My gut instinct says no. The "or" in or and the "er" and her don't blend together nearly so naturally as the "uz" sound in does and the "he" of he.

One could argue that "duzzy" is easier to pronounce fast than "does he", which is why "does he" often gets pronounced as you say. But "orer" does not slide out of the mouth so easily.

By the way, I don't think most native speakers consciously "drop" the h-sound in "does he" (when we say "duzzy"), or the t-sound in "want to" (when we say "wanna"). It's more a natural result of encountering a pair of sounds that are tricky to say back-to-back.

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Seattle area native here.

Dropping the h sounds on his and hers can make it sound like very old, peasant talk: Something you would see when an author is trying to convey an accent that is coming from someone that is not well educated.

eh?? 'e's a commin' from where now?

or

"that be 'er donkey alright."

So this is something to keep in mind.


For your first example sentence, I am pronouncing the h sounds.

For your seconds examples, I would be using "them" instead of his or her.

If someone did that to me, I would never forgive them.

and your third sentence sounds odd to me and with his or hers at the end of the sentence (though I do pronounce the h in each word when I read it.) Instead, I would use "their".

I wouldn't care (too much) about their complaints...

His or her is just generally a rather awkward construction that I try to avoid.

Now we do morph the h sound into the previous sound, and perhaps even do so often:

What do you think of her? What do you think of him?

becomes

whadya thin kav er? whadya thin kav vim?

Where the 'v' sound just takes over the 'h'.

Trailing 't's also replace 'h' sounds on occasion (hate him - hay 'tim), but that replacement feels "low class" to me and I try to avoid it, even when talking quickly.

Back to your question. Just pronounce the h sounds. You will be understood just fine and it won't sound strange, at least to me.

  • Why is "his or her" weird for you? I know that native speakers use it and it is not wrong. And also in my third sentence I am talking about one single person so I can't say "their" instead. – Fire and Ice Dec 21 '17 at 13:52
  • Ah, but you can. I've subtly changed the sentence such that my topic is ambiguous. Am I talking about multiple people, multiple complaints, or both? I can tell you that I use 'their' and 'them' when gender is unknown as a work around for not having a gender neutral pronoun in situations such as above. We could also say "that person's complaints", but this feels a little rude. Him or her is an option, but it just feels awkward to use too often. Putting it in the trailing position of the sentence though sounds wrong. I wouldn't even use "I wouldn't care about his or her complaints" – Michael Dorgan Dec 21 '17 at 18:16
  • Because again, it feels awkward because of the gender issue and because his or her also feels like it could be multiple people (choosing between 2 people: 1 male, 1 female.) English has a few weaknesses and I think this is one of them. So, I've been trained to avoid those spots where ambiguity is possible. – Michael Dorgan Dec 21 '17 at 18:19
  • By the way according to BBC and many other teachers, dropping the "h" in the words I gave has nothing to do with education. You should watch this video: youtube.com/watch?v=x6wLCnaHsJU – Fire and Ice Dec 21 '17 at 19:33
  • Good watch. Thanks. Always fun to go in-depth into your own language and learn a few new things. 'murk'n English yet again is proven to be barbaric :) – Michael Dorgan Dec 21 '17 at 20:02
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In answering this question it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the way different sounds are made. There are two opposing forces acting here: the reduction of energy expenditure, and the necessity of comprehensibility. Certain sound combinations require more energy or more effort to pronounce correctly in terms of moving the tongue around the mouth, tensing and relaxing the vocal chords, and many other factors, leading to an attempt to reduce the energy required, which ends up changing the actual sounds being made. This reduction is limited by comprehensibility. If the sounds change so much that what is being said is no longer understood, more effort is required to make the sounds clearer.

I've taken the following chart of English consonants from Wikipedia:

                    Labial  Dental  Alveolar    Post-alveolar   Palatal     Velar   Glottal
Nasal               m               n                                       ŋ       
Plosive/    fortis  p               t           tʃ                          k       
affricate   lenis   b               d           dʒ                          ɡ       
Fricative   fortis  f       θ       s           ʃ                           x       h
            lenis   v       ð       z           ʒ                                   h
Approximant                         l           r               j           w       

Note that the final sound of "or" is /r/ (or more accurately /ɹ/). American accents tend to be rhotic, although some are non-rhotic. Very simply, rhotic accents pronounce the "r" at the end of syllables, and non-rhotic accents don't. Non-rhotic accents are more commonly found in the UK, and the accents of Australia and New Zealand are entirely non-rhotic.

Note also that /r/ is in the row labelled "Approximant". The approximants /l/ ("let"), /r/ ("red"), /j/ ("yet"), /w/ ("wet"), are all treated as consonants at the start of a syllable, but can sound like a vowel, or "colour" the vowel sound at the end of a syllable:

  • toll (US: /toʊɫ/, /tɔl/; UK: /təʊl/, /tɒl/; Canada: /toʊl/, /tɑl/ - /ɫ/ is "dark l", a "w"-like "l" found at the end of syllables for some speakers. Note how many of the pronunciations include /ʊ/, a "w"-like vowel, see "tow" below)
  • tore (rhotic: /tɔɹ/, /to(ː)ɹ/; non-rhotic: /tɔː/, /toə/)
  • toy (/tɔɪ/ - /ɪ/ not /j/)
  • tow (/toʊ/, /təʊ/ - /ʊ/ not /w/)

For the word "tore", in the non-rhotic accents either the vowel is lengthened, or it is changed from a monophthong (single vowel sound) to a diphthong (two different consecutive vowel sounds).

The /h/ sound is easier to say immediately after a vowel than a consonant because the mouth, tongue, etc. are already closer to the correct positions to pronounce /h/, requiring less effort. In careful speech for someone who doesn't use h-dropping, the /h/ will always be pronounced, e.g. in "be his friend" and "want her money". As speech becomes more rapid and less careful, the /h/ will start to be dropped after certain sounds roughly in this order:

  • the plosives (/p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /tʃ/ ("ch" as in "chat"), /dʒ/ ("j" as in "jet"), /k/, /ɡ/)
  • the fricatives (/f/, /v/, /θ/ ("th" as in "thing"), /ð/ ("th" as in "this"), /s/, /z/, /ʃ/ ("sh" as in "shed"), /ʒ/ (as in "measure"))
  • the nasals (/m/, /n/, /ŋ/ ("ng" as in "sing"))
  • the approximants (/l/, /ɹ/ ("r" as in "red", /j/ ("y" as in "yet"), /w/)
  • finally the vowels

This analysis is approximate only, actual speech may vary.

That is, in the fastest, least careful speech, the /h/ will be dropped after an "r" (rhotic) or an r-coloured vowel (non-rhotic). The /h/ can also take on various strengths, being strongly, weakly, or not pronounced as speech goes from most careful to least careful. This is not something that happens consciously, and should not be deliberately imitated in regular speech by a non-native speaker. As a non-native speaker, your mouth has been trained to make the correct sounds in your native language, which are different from the sounds in English. You need to put in more effort to overcome this difference anyway, so trying to reduce your effort by imitating "h"-dropping is not a good idea. As your English improves with practice, you will pick up these nuances automatically and subconsciously.

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