When is 'h' silent and when is it not? For example, we pronounce Thailand as Tailand. Also, Lufthansa is pronounced Luft/Hansa. In both cases th is not pronounced as it usually is.

Can anyone give me a generalization of when an h is silent, and when we need to separate th and only pronounce t?

  • 2
    Also "Lufthansa" is not an example of the "th" sound, as its derived from "luft" and "hansa". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lufthansa where both "t" and "h" are vocalized. Also its not English so shouldn't be expected to follow the same rules.
    – user485
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 4:55
  • 2
    Lufthansa, despite being a German word, does follow the same rule as English here: "th" is pronounced /t.h/ rather than /θ/ or /ð/ when it occurs across a morpheme boundary, as in "foothill" or "lighthouse".
    – dan04
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 5:09

3 Answers 3


In general, there is no rule in English to tell you when to pronounce the 'h', but it is rarely silent. That seems to answer the superficial reading of your question. So you have to learn the exceptions as they come along. Usually they turn out to borrowings from French, like 'honest'

But your examples seem to be about 'th'. In general, in English, 'th' is almost always pronounced as a single sound, the lisping tongue-between-the-teeth hiss. So you have to learn the exceptions as they come along. For your two examples, they are both borrowings from foreign languages and spellings are decided on arbitrarily, sometimes based on the original spelling (as in the case of German) or by accepted correspondence between the writing of the original language and English (or sometimes someone just makes it up and it sticks).

Since the 'th' sound is rare in all the languages of the world, and English is one of the few with that sound, the rule of thumb for you would be, if reading English, if you see a 'th' spelling, if it looks non-English, it's probably pronounced like 't', but if it looks native English, it's probably the lisping sound.

  • 4
    If we're focusing on <th>, it might help to list some common exceptions: Esther, Thomas, Thames, Thailand, thyme, lighthouse, and optionally Neanderthal.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 15:51

I can think of only one rule for th not being pronounced as [θ] or [ð]. If t and h are part of separate syllables, then they are pronounced separately, e.g. lighthouse. The h may or may not be silent in such cases.

If both t and h are in the same syllable, they are pronounced as [θ] or [ð] except in a few cases. These are rare exceptions that you will have to learn individually, as there is no rule for them.

Additionally, there is no rule to determine whether h is silent; these are exceptions that you will have to learn individually as well. However, in words similar to or derived from a word with a silent h, the h in the similar or derived word is usually also silent, e.g. honor, honorable, honorary, etc.


There are few rules to identify a word with silent H.

  • Often, words beginning with W. Few examples are why, white, what, when, where. Etc.
  • Sometimes in words with C, G, R, Ex before the H.
    • C - school, chorus, echo, chemistry.
    • G - ghee.
    • R- rhinoceros, rhyme
    • Ex - exhibit, exhausted.

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