When the silent h wants some recognition...
The “aspirated h” is a misnomer in French.
Have you ever noticed the strange thing about the following sentences? Je vais à l’hôpital. But : J’aime le hockey There is a glottal stop between le and hockey – they do not elide in the normal way that we learn about an initial h in French. And in the plural: Une omelette aux herbes (pronounced /oz-airb/) But J’aime les haricots verts – the –s of haricots is not pronounced, so again there is a brief stop between the words les and haricots. “H aspiré” makes it sound like the h at the beginning of a French word should be pronounced, or aspirated, but it is not. However, it is different from the more normal silent h, the “h muet” in that it does not allow elisions or liaisons – the h behaves like a consonant. Par exemple : Je harnache les hérissons. – I harness the hedgehogs. [A nice useful example sentence for you!]
Because harnacher begins with an h aspiré, there is no elision with je. If it were h muet, you’d have to write j’harnache.
Likewise, les hérissons is pronounced /leh erisson/, not lehz-erisson/ as it would be if hérisson started with h muet.
So, the initial h on a French word is never actually pronounced, but there are many words where it acts strongly enough to be taken notice of, if I can put it like that. The following is a fairly comprehensive list of French words that start with h aspiré. You will notice that some, but by no means all of them are loan words from other languages. As they begin with h aspiré rather than h muet, the pronunciation stays more faithful to that of the original language.
hâbleur boaster la hache axe hacher to chop le hachisch hashish le haddock haddock la haie hedge le haïku haiku le haillon rag la haine hatred Haïr to hate Haïssable detestable Halal halal le hâle suntan haler to haul hâler to suntan haleter to pant le hall hall la halle market le hallier thicket, brush Halloween (f) Halloween le halo halo la halte break le hamac hammock le hamburger hamburger le hameau hamlet le hammam hammam la hampe pole le hamster hamster la hanche hip le hand-ball handball le handicap handicap le hangar shed hanter to haunt happer to snatch, grab Harangue harangue Harasser to exhaust Harceler to harass la harde herd Harder to leash Hardi daring le hareng herring la hargne spiteful anger le haricot bean harnacher to harness le harpail herd la harpe harp le harpon harpoon le hasard luck, chance la hâte haste se hâter to hasten hausser to harness haut high la hauteur height le havre haven hercher to haul le hère wretch, young stag le hérisson hedgehog la hernie hernia le héron heron le héros hero la herse hearse le hêtre beech tree heurter to strike le hiatus hiatus le hibou owl le hic snag le hickory hickory hideux hideous la hiérarchie hierarchy le hiéroglyphe hieroglyph hippie hippie hisser to hoist, heave, haul le hobby hobby hocher to nod, shake one’s head le hockey hockey la Hollande Holland le homard lobster Hong-Kong Hong Kong la Hongrie Hungary la honte shame le hoquet hiccup hoqueter to hiccup hors outside la houe hoe la houille coal la houle swell houleux stormy le hooligan hooligan la houppe tuft houspiller to scold la housse cover housser to cover (furniture) le houx holly le hublot porthole la huche chest, trunk huer to boo le huguenot Huguenot huit eight hululer to hoot humer to smell hurler to shriek