I would like to know and to get some information about the pronunciation of the word "honest".

Some people told me that it's pronounced without the first letter "h" (as if: onest) but some told me that it's pronounced with the "h" as a full form pronunciation (honest). Who's right? or does it depend on the country?

  • 1
    Where were they from? That might give you a clue.
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 2:45
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    Did the person actually say "honest", or did this person simply mention that it should be "honest"?
    – Em.
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 2:50
  • 1
    @awj The spelling of a/an historian depends on how one pronounces it, there is no "grammatical" rule that defines that it should be an historian. It simply depends on the local pronunciation.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 9:18
  • 1
    @awj this Q/A on ELU disagrees with your assumption. I'm not saying there are no people who spell a(n) historian at odds with their pronunciation, but that is surely not because of some grammatical rule.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 9:33
  • 1
    There was no committee which decided which words would have h added and which wouldn't. It has been suggested that it might depend on the location origin of the word (from French of from German). As another example, consider the way that Americans don't aspirate the h at the start of 'herb' - this was true in the British Isles a couple of hundred years ago but the pronunciation then mutated in one part of the English world and not in another. However, British English doesn't require 'an' preceding 'herb'. No reason why, but that's English for ya.
    – awj
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 18:08

8 Answers 8


These sources

  1. dictionary.com
  2. merriam-webster.com
  3. dictionary.cambridge.org
  4. thefreedictionary.com
  5. oxforddictionaries.com

say that the pronunciation is without the "h". I've never personally heard it with the "h". It's possible that some people do pronounce it with the "h", but I feel that they are the minuscule minority. So, I would say you are safest saying "onest", without the "h".

  • 12
    I have only heard one non-native speaker in my life pronounce it with /h/. Never heard a single native pronounce the H in honest. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 2:47
  • Yeah I was thinking maybe someone from like some random part of the American south might say this. Maybe, so I don't rule it out. Also, yeah, I can imagine a non-native speaker say this.
    – Em.
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 2:59
  • I'm actually finding it quite hard to pronounce with an "h" though it sounds to the inner ear significantly different to the Italian "honetto". I guess that's the aspiration. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 10:50
  • 2
    @CharlieClark .. I think you meant "onesto". And it doesn't have an "h".
    – Marin N.
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 13:15
  • Thanks for the correction. I'm probably imagining the "h" as being vestigial. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 13:16

I've known it with a silent "h", so "an honest man" as opposed to "a helpful man".

The silent "h" occurs in some words of French origin:


but not in others.

whereas a hard "h" will occur in words of Germanic origin


In terms of accents:

The French, when speaking English, will often drop the "h"s since it is not pronounced in French, e.g. Les Halles is pronounced "lay al". On the other hand, I have been asked in Paris by an American "Do you know where Les Halles (les hal-les) is? Had to think for a moment what they meant.

In BrE, an East London, South London, or Cockney accent also drops "h"s, because, well, that's what they do. So they may say "elpful" for helpful.

  • 1
    Your list of French origins should also include hotel which still can be aspirated. Unlike the more Germanic word so the same thing: hostel (the French form dropped the s at some point). Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 10:52
  • 1
    @CharlieClark I believe (but could be wrong) that one of the meanings of the circumflex in the French -- hôtel -- is indicative of the lost s.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 15:35
  • Yes, French has for a long time kept such vestigial markers, also the g in doigt (from digit). But this is now optional. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 19:53
  • Circular. If the h weren't silent in an honest man, the article would have to be a not an. The choice between a and an depends on the leading sound of the following word. Likewise if the h in helpful disappeared, it would be an helpful man.
    – Kaz
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 13:58

There are words with initial "h" where the pronunciation of that "h" varies by region and dialect, but the word "honest" is not one of them. Even in regions (such as mine) in which initial "h" is scrupulously not dropped, "h" is never pronounced in "honest".

Necessary concomitant: we say "a historian" (where I gather Brits write "an historian"), but we say "an honest man".

  • What's your region? Just curious. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 4:16
  • 1
    Boston, Massachusetts, which is in New England, in the Northeast USA. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 4:19
  • 12
    @Azor-Ahai Boston is a small town in Linconshire, England.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 9:08
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    Total side note: not all Brits write "an historian" and drop the h - my dialect doesn't - but I've never encountered an English speaker from anywhere who didn't drop the h in "honest". Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 9:45
  • 1
    @Azor-Ahai Even more confusingly for our ex-colonial friends across the Atlantic, Boston, England is only about 10 miles from New York, England - and New York only has a population of about 100. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York,_Lincolnshire
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 20:50

There are three root words I know of that are spelt beginning with a H but are pronounced without any initial aspiration in those accents that have H-aspiration:

  • Hour
  • Honour (Honest, Honesty)
  • Heir

These could be ancient imports from French (where the aspiration is not pronounced) who's pronunciation became standardised before other H-words were Anglicised.

Accents like Cockney that say "Eez at iz ouse" for "He's at his house" drop the H from all words AFAIK.

As others have alluded to, use of a/an before a H-word depends on pronunciation:

"A historian received an honour."


It does not depend on the country or region. The H is silent.


This video on You-tube is also talking about it:

"Mispronouncing words that they have silent aitches in English, is a very common mistake"

That's why I think that those who told me to pronounce it with h (honest), are wrong. So-far I didn't even one source that supports or gives evidence for correct pronunciation of honest with h.

  • This appears to be providing context for your question ... or perhaps acts as a response to another comment or to a query in an answer. It doesn't seem like an answer (is "one person did it on youtube" really an answer to your question?). If it is additional context it should be an edit to the question, if it's a response to others here it should probably be a comment in the relevant place. If this is intended as an answer I think you'd need to explain why a single anecdote would indicate something other than an error.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 1:49
  • It's added answer with more information and different attitude. It says in other words, that those who pronounce with aitch they are making mistake rather than represent a correct way of pronunciation. Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 2:27

Check this video on Youtube "Banshee Review - Commodore Amiga + CD32 - Kim Justice (Kimblitz #4) ". The narrator, a British native speaker, clearly pronunces "honestly" with the H.

  • Hi Johnny, Welcome to ELL. Thank you for your answer. Please make It easier for readers by creating a link to reference materials, rather than explaining where to find them. You can create a link using the Hyperlink icon (two interlocking links of a chain) above the editing panel.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 11:16
  • Hi! sorry, I will try to paste the link. This is the one when you can hear "honestly" pronunced with H at minute 3:19. Here is another video by the same guy where "honesty" is also pronunced with the initial H at minute 12:15).
    – Johnny
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 0:34

The Oxford Advanced learner's dictionary has two pronunciations for the word Honest. The British one is without H and the American one is with H. It looks like the place matters!

  • 3
    Really? Can you please cite exactly what you found in the dictionary? I can't imagine they'd make that mistake in the transcription of the American pronunciation. The online version has the pronunciation I would expect without an /h/: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/…
    – sumelic
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 5:03
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    I have the dictionary installed in a tablet. If you listen to the pronunciation the British version is without H and the American version has the H clearly pronounced. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 7:41
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    I am American, 64 years old, and I have never in my life heard anyone pronounce "honest" with an audible "h". No dictionary in my house, British or American, including the 1889 American "Century Dictionary", lists any pronunciation but "onest". I am certain that your tablet dictionary is simply mistaken. Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 16:55
  • Have you listened to the pronunciations they have online? Do you hear an "h" there?
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 18:00

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