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RanzoG's Tips: Exceptions to "Phonetic" Pronunciation

Everything in Hindi (Devanagari script) is pronounced exactly as spelled, है ना? नहीं जी! There are some times where you've got to pronounced different from the literal spelling. The good news is that the spelling does still tell you how to pronounce; it's just that you have to recognize that, in certain situations, the symbols need to be interpreted differently.

The main case for this is when you've got a ह (h) in the middle or final position of a word. I don't know what H did to Hindi in a former life, but Hindi doesn't like to treat H like the other Akshar Friends.

Most will already have seen this in the case of यह and वह. Although they are spelled like /yah/ and /vah/, they pronounced more like /ye/ and /vo/. This is all about the H playing tricks! The H being there has affected the "short" vowel ǝ.

Note: Arguably (please feel free to argue back!) the vowels in these two examples are not actually the ones usually represented by /ē/ ए and /ō/ ओ, but rather they are short forms of those vowels, for which there is no symbol in Devanagari. Ooh! So you're saying that there are technically more vowels in Hindi than are recognized by Devanagari syllabary? बिलकुल! So, for instance, यह is not really pronounced like ये /yē/. It's pronounced more like /ye/ where the /e/ sounds like in the American English /bet/.

Another good example is Taj Mahal, ताज महल. Check out the spelling. The first thing that's obvious is that it's not pronounced, like the really uninformed might say it, "Thaaazh Maahaal." And yet now that you're informed of the Devanagari spelling, should you say /tāj mahal/? Try again. Mr. H is in the middle of the word, playing tricks with those short vowels. The famous palace is therefore pronounced more like /mehel/.

As you go through the lessons, keep an ear out for two more common words with tricky H: बहुत [much] and बहन [sister]. Hint: बहन works like महल, but बहुत presents a different situation due to its short /u/ उ vowel.

July 23, 2018



Thanks, that is interesting. I always thought that some vowels in Hindi sound different than they are supposed to sound.

There is one thing I don't completely understand. It is said that the vowel अ always follows a consonant unless it is marked otherwise. For example नमस्ते is pronounced namaste because it is spelt that way and not नमसते. On the other hand, sometimes it is not marked but that vowel is still not pronounced. For example उसका is pronounced uskaa even though it is not spelt उस्का. Why is that? And I think there are a lot of such instances in Hindi.


You just get a feel for where the syllables begin and end. Apply the principle that the /a/ is not pronounced at the end of a syllable like कब (/kab/, not /kaba/) and then get used to recognizing where syllables begin and end in Hindi words.

It's interesting that Hindi has created such spellings as नमस्ते, but they really aren't necessary as opposed to नमसते. By point of comparison, Punjabi (which is a very similar language to Hindi) is written in a related script, Gurmukhi. In that script, there is no such thing as combo/conjoined letters*. Here's how you write /namaste/: ਨਮਸਤੇ.

(*Technically, there have been a few conjunct letter in Gurmukhi, but they are usually not used anymore.)


Very interesting. Yes, I've noticed that /a/ is usually not pronounced at the end of words, however, sometimes it seems as if it was pronounced, even in this course. Or in some songs, for example:
The first words of this song sound to me like jaba jaba actually and it seems that he adds /a/ to the end of other words too. Why is that? Is it optional to add this vowel?


They are just practicing "good diction," one could say (a quality valued in singers) and giving /b/ it's full value.

When I speak American English, /b/ at the beginning of a word is fully articulated, but /b/ at the end is not; it's "swallowed." Compare /b/ in /ball/ vs. /job/. Hindi in general would give that b it's full articulation, and this requires some degree of vowel to follow it if you really want to hear it. The singer is overemphasizing it.


There is a diacritic called the halant, or 'killing stroke'. It looks like this: ् and means that you don't pronounce the corresponding vowel. If you look at old Sanskrit texts you will see it's used all over, and it's usually on the end of words, for example किताब् would indicate we pronounce it kitaab (as opposed to kitaaba, which would be written किताब). In fact, the short ा is almost never pronounced on the end of words. However, in modern Hindi, nobody bothers with the halant anymore. So it's more or less a safe bet to not pronounce short a on the end of words. As to why उसका is pronounced 'uskaa' as opposed to 'usakaa', it is technically two words: उस (he) + का (possession particle). So in old Hindi it would have been उस् का, but in modern Hindi the halant was dropped: उस का, and then the two are often written as one: उसका, but the old pronunciation is still used.

I hope that helps :)


Thank you! I wondered what that mark was for!

Bahut dhanyavad! Prabhu ki kripa!!!


Can you please check the audio in this course then (regarding the यह and यह)? I learned, as you said that यह is pronounced more like ye (and वह as vo), but also do sometimes hear some people say it as yha. In the audio in the course, वह sounds as vha and यह as yha. Is this incorrect? If so, can someone please check it, so as not to have people incorrectly pronouncing them?

बहुत बहुत धन्यवाद!


Sivapriya ji,

It would really help if you could specify when you have sometimes heard people say it as yah/yaha as opposed to yℇ. Was it by "normal" native speakers in a "normal" context, or was it by someone in particular in a particular or unusual context? How much is "sometimes."

The reason why I am asking is because I personally don't buy, whatsoever, that /yaha/ is the (or a) "correct" or "proper" pronunciation. I can believe that someone at some point has pronounced the word like that—incorrectly. These are people who think spelling must be 100% literal and who will not accept any exceptions in a system; people who cannot reconcile the difference between theory and practice. I've said all I'm going to say about this elsewhere and won't say any more!

So people of that mindset will use your statement of "sometimes I have heard this" as fuel to rationalize their empty theory that both pronunciations have equal validity, or even to say that /yaha/ is correct and only those few ("sometimes") people say it correctly whereas most say it the way you and I say it but we are wrong. So we need to be really clear about these "sometimes" people, e.g. whether for example they are people who make pretense to doing things the "correct" way even if it's the way that nobody does it. Are they people speaking the Hindi language naturally, or are they people who are reading out a script of Devanagari and trying too hard to be correct?

And the importance of this is that, despite lots of feedback on the audio by people like you and I , a mod has said they have decided to leave the audio as-is on the grounds that the weird pronunciation is the "formal" (!) pronunciation since (allegedly) it's "sometimes" heard in formal contexts. They have decided that we and learners would be just as well to learn this "formal" pronunciation.

No word yet on the vowels, इ vs ई etc.


That's a shame they won't change the audio. Then people will be saying पिता and पीता the same, just as an example. Two very different words.

I can't remember who all I've heard say it that way, but one place that I can remember clearly is with a certain person singing Hanuman Chalisa. It is around the 8:30 mark. Is it due to Sanskrit maybe?


Here's the verse: जो यह पढ़ै हनुमान चालीसा ।

I wondered if it is a regional thing. I know here in the US, pronunciation of English is far different in New York than Boston, or South Carolina, etc. Like vastly different on some words. I would think being a foreigner coming here and wishing to learn English, it could be very confusing.


ji, that example is not Hindi.

We are not dealing with accents here. If we were, they would be making notes about different Hindi accents. No, a decision has been made to present the language in one accent, usually "khaRi boli" of Delhi.

It's not accent but rather a phenomenon whereby certain vowels are affected when they are near "h." Punjabi has the same issue. The word for "this" in Punjabi is spelled like /ih/ but it is universally pronounced as /e/. H is a volatile sound in North Indian language, sometimes disappearing, sometimes adding tone. There is an issue of phonetics going on, and we need to be honest in describing how Hindi sounds, not prescribing how it should sound.


How is it not Hindi? Even if I put "जो यह पढ़ै हनुमान चालीसा" into google translate, it detects it as Hindi and I can read and understand it as Hindi. I don't think it's Sanskrit, because the Sanskrit I know is not that close to Hindi. What language is it?

I'm really curious to know. Especially since when I attended temple in Florida and they realized I could read Devanagari, they put the lyrics to the Hanuman Chalisa in front of me (this was before I memorized it), but it was written in Gujurati. I was surprised I could read it. I didn't personally assume it was Hindi all along, but a certain person told me it is. She certainly is not infallible. I never even thought to ask others, because it was never a concern for me. But now, you have my curiosity piqued.

Like you, I want people to be pronouncing things correctly, so as to be understood. I guess we have to be squeaky wheels around here.


Ranzo Ji,

I appreciate you. Thank you for your contributions in these discussions.

I try to stay active here, to help others on their paths of learning Hindi, because I love learning Hindi and enjoy helping others, as I am capable. I do work full time and also take care of my father, so my time can be limited.

With a free resource like this, I feel it's important for people to contribute as we can. I feel it is even a form of selfless service. You have really taken time to explain things to people, which is very helpful on their paths of language learning.

I pray I may one day be proficient in Hindi. I know and understand a little, but I need to learn much much more! I am very grateful for people like you.

May God shower many blessings upon you, dear!

Har Har Mahadev!

P.S. I'm sure you're not Hindu, so please don't take offense. I hope you recognize it for what it is, well wishes for you.


It's 16th century Awadhi, an Eastern language/dialect. Moreover it is devotional poetry and being sung. Not a good comparison to 20th/21st century spoken Khari Boli (Delhi/Western) Hindi-Urdu... the language here. :)


Oh wow! So good to know.

Bahut bahut dhanyavad! Now that makes sense why it is pronounced that way. I do pronounce it that way when I sing the Chalisa, only because that's how I learned it. But in every day language I don't.


you implied elsewhere that the Urdu spellings came first, do you have a source for that?


Thank you, Sivapriya ji, I appreciate your words.


i thought you had blocked me, but i can still reply here, so now i am confused.


what happened to the reply button in the other thread?

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