The Spanish H vs. F in other Romance Languages

F to H


There are dozens of examples of words in Spanish that are spelled with a (silent) H, for which you can find at least one cognate in another language that is spelled with F. Most languages followed the original Latin spelling. I don’t like this, haha, why do we have to be different to the rest of the languages? Who in the old Spain came up with this great idea? Obviously, we are the ones who are “wrong”. As you can see, sometimes this is true even when comparing English words. Here is my research.

Spanish English Other languages
French FR, Italian IT, Portuguese PT, Romanian RO
haba broad bean fève FR, fava IT, fava PT, fasole RO
hablar to speak falar PT
hacer to do, to make faire FR, fare IT, a face RO, fazer PT
halcón falcon faucon FR, falcão PT, falcone IT, falcón in less modern Spanish
hacienda ranch, IRS fazenda, Ministério de Fazenda PT. In Italian, they simply got rid of the H or F, azienda. Hacienda uppercase if like the IRS.
hada fairy fée FR, fata IT, Fee German, fada PT
hambre hunger fame IT, faim FR, fome PT, foame RO
harina flour farine FR, farina IT, farinha PT, făină RO
hecha, fecha done/made, date fecha (date) comes from the old Spanish word writen on a letter, meaning made or done, indicating the date when the document was made. In Italian it would be fatta, for example.
hecho fact fatto IT, fait FR, fapt RO, fato PT
helecho fern fougère FR, felce IT, ferigă RO
herir to hurt ferir PT, ferire IT
hermoso, hermosa beautiful frumos, frumoasă RO (sometimes Spanish and Romanian are more similar than the rest of the Romance languages)
hermano brother frère FR, fratello IT, frate RO (Spanish rendered this word almost unrecognizable, and in this case Portuguese even more, irmão, but it looks a little like Spanish). We still have the word fraternal, and English has fraternity
hervir to boil ferver PT, a fierbe RO (Spanish 3rd person singular is hierve)
hierro, fierro iron fer FR, fier RO, ferro PT, ferro IT. we have fierro in less modern Spanish.
hígado liver foie FR, fegato IT, fígado PT, ficat RO
higo fig fico IT, figue FR, figo PT,
hijo son figlio IT, fihlo PT, fiu RO, fils FR
hilo thread fil FR, filo IT, fio PT, fir RO
hocico snout focinho PT
hoja leaf, sheet of paper foglia IT, feuille FR, foaie RO, folha PT (we still use the words folio and foja, but they are very formal)
hongo fungus, mushroom fungo IT
horma de zapatos shoetree forme pour élargir FR, forma per scarpe IT
hormiga ant fourmi FR, formica IT, formiga PT, furnică RO
horno oven four FR, forno IT, forno PT
huír to flee fuir FR, fuggire IT, fugir PT, a fugi RO, fliehen German
humo smoke, fumes fumée FR, fumo IT, fumaça PT, fum RO. We still have the f in the verb fumar, to smoke
hurón ferret furet FR, furetto IT, furão PT, Frettchen German
hurto theft furto IT, furt RO
rehusar to refuse refuser FR, rifiutare IT, a refuza RO



Something similar happened with the Spanish J. We pronounce it differently than most other languages. Ladino or Judaeo-Spanish, which is the old Spanish spoken by the Jewish people in old Spain, still keeps a J sound similar to its current international pronunciation.

My guess is that this happened because in Spain they already had the characteristic TH sound for C and Z that sometimes can be confused with the F sound. If on top of that you added the F sounds of the H, plus the PH of Greek and Latin, the language would end up sounding like FFFTHTHFFFTHTH, like a highly lisping language.


This is an explanation (in Spanish) about the change in the pronunciation of the old Spanish F, and how it ended up as today’s silent H,


Originally published on 20090515, updated on 20090528, last update 20210429 ( top

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