When ㅎ Becomes Weak or Dead – Korean Pronunciation Tips #11

In the last episode, we've seen ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ became ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅊ because ㅎ is near them. ㅎ changes sounds of many words. Sometimes, ㅎ itself is changed. It sometimes becomes weak or dead. It also changes to other sounds.

When ㅎ becomes weak

ㅎ Between Vowels

In some words, ㅎ sound becomes weak and it sometimes sounds like ㅇ. Let's see these words with examples.

고향이 어디세요?
Where is your hometown?

그는 사형에 처해졌다.
He got the death sentence.

수능은 사고력 중심의 평가를 지향한다.
수능 aims for the test that appraises thinking abilities.

When ㅎ is between vowels like 고향, 사형, 지향, 의혹. ㅎ becomes weak and sounds like ㅇ. In the video below, a girl who learns Korean became confused because 고향이 and 고양이 sound similar. She thought that the taxi driver is asking her about cats, but he was actually asking her hometown.


Native Koreans aren't confused with 고향이 and 고양이 because their contexts are different. However, there are similar words that make them confuse. It's 지향 and 지양. Both of them sounds like 지양. But the first 지향 is to aim for something. It means to make a goal and try hard to be there. The second 지양 means to avoid an attitude or way of thinking. These two words sound nearly same, but mean opposite from each other. Because of that, many Koreans misunderstand when these words are used. If some Korean hear the sentence in our last example–수능은 사고력 중심의 평가를 지향한다–, she might understand that 수능 is not the test for thinking abilities.

ㅎ After Voiced Consonants

When ㅎ is after voiced consonants(ㄴ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅇ), the sound becomes weak.

불혹의 나이에도 그는 선수 생활을 계속 하고 있다.
He's continuing his life as athlete although he is 40 this year.

남향인 집이 따뜻해.
Southward house is warm.

When ㅎ is after voiced sounds like 간혹, 불혹, 남향, 생활, ㅎ sound becomes weak and it seems that it doesn't exist.

However, in above words(고향, 사형, 지향, 의혹, 간혹, 불혹, 남향, 생활), even though it is weak, pronouncing ㅎ is standard.

When ㅎ becomes dead

After ㅇ

ㅎ sound becomes dead when there is ㅇ after ㅎ in a word. Let's see with examples.

날씨가 좋으니까 기분도 좋다.
As the weather is good, I also feel good.

내 키만큼 쌓인 눈을 다 치워야 했다.
I had to clean the snow whose height was as tall as mine.

In the words, 좋으니까, 쌓인, ㅎ sound is completely dead. It's just [조으니까], [싸인].

When ㄴ is next to ㅎ

When ㄴ is next to ㅎ, ㅎ becomes ㄴ.

그는 항상 책을 피아노 위에 놓는다.
He always puts his books on the piano.

In this case, ㅎ became ㄴ like 놓는[논는]. When the ㅎ is used in the last sound, it sounds like ㄷ. So, you can think this as another case of consonant assimilation.