Italian-English Dictionary - The Letter H

How the Italian Language Uses the Letter H

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The letter “H” -- the eighth letter of the Italian language -- is called “acca” but makes no sound.

This silent consonant is used as the initial letter only in four forms of the verb avere (to have): ho (I have), pronounced “oh”; hai (you have), pronounced “aye”; ha (he or she has), pronounced “ah”; and hanno (they have), pronounced “ahn-no”.

In some cases, words with an "H" are pronounced the same way as a word without an "H." For example, hanno (they have) and anno (year) are pronounced exactly the same.

Because it is silent, some will argue about the importance of the letter "H." But the fact is, the Italian “H” appears after the consonants “c” and “g” before the vowels “e” and “i” to harden their sounds. Whether or not there is an "H" changes not only the pronunciation but the meaning of the word as well.

Ci (with multiple meanings, including here, there and us) is pronounced “chee,” while chi (who) sounds like “key.”

Other uses for "H": 

  • le chiese (the churches), without an Hcrollano (collapse).
  • i chioschi (the kiosks), become so light that they volano (fly) through the air scattering giornali (newspapers) everywhere.
  • i cherubini (the cherubim), for whom taking away the Acca was like taking away their wings, cadono (fall) from the sky.
  • le chiavi (the keys) cannot aprire le porte (open the doors) so people must sleep outdoors.
  • le chitarre (the guitars) lose tutte le corde (all their chords) and cannot make music.
  • il Chianti, without the Acca, takes on un sapore disgustoso (disgusting taste), and i bicchieri (the glasses), becoming "biccieri," shatter into mille pezzi (thousands of pieces).
  • Not a single rooster (gallo) can fare chicchirichi (go cockle-doodle-do) in the morning.

Words and Expressions

The unpronounced “H” makes appearances in many everyday expressions, including:

   Ahi! -- oh dear!

    Ahimè! Ohimè! – alas!

    Eh! – ah! well!

    Oh! -- oh! ah!

    Ohibò! – for shame!

Italian Words that Start with "H"

Many “H” words have migrated untouched into Italian, including harem, hamster, happening, hardware, helium, and homeland. Others take on Italian embellishments, as in hollywoodiano,

Then there's the Italian asino (donkey), who brays “hi ho!” rather than "hee-haw."

As mentioned above, other Italian words that start with "H":

Ha -- He/she has

Hanno -- They have

Ho -- I have

Italian-English Dictionary

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Filippo, Michael San. "Italian-English Dictionary - The Letter H." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Filippo, Michael San. (2023, April 5). Italian-English Dictionary - The Letter H. Retrieved from Filippo, Michael San. "Italian-English Dictionary - The Letter H." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).