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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Why is HE read as E?
You might have heard that native Japanese speakers sometimes pronounce the hiragana へ as ‘e.’ And you may be wondering when to do it.
Well, we have a rule for that!
The hiragana は, ひ, ふ, へ and ほ were actually pronounced “fa,” “fi,” “fu,” “fe” and “fo” in the Heian period around 1100 years ago. However, in the 11th century, the pronunciation changed.
Did you listen to the lesson explaining “Why HA is read as WA?” In that lesson, you learned that the ancient Japanese people pronounced the hiragana は as “fa” but it began to be read as “wa." The same pronunciation change happened with the hiranaga へ, and it started to be read as “we” and then came to be read as “e” with the “w” sound dropped later.
So, the hiragana characters は and へ have had two pronunciations since then.
When the hiragana へ is a part of a word, it’s pronounced ‘he’ such as 平日 ’heijitsu’ meaning weekday and 平和 ‘heiwa’ meaning peace. But, when it’s used as a particle, it’s pronounced ‘e.’
Let’s think about the sentence 平安神宮(へいあんじんぐう)へ行きます.
平安神宮 is Heianjingu shrine in Kyoto. The meaning of the sentence is ‘I am going to Heianjingu shrine.’ The reading is ‘Heianjinguu e ikimasu.’
The first へ is part of the word, へいあん, so it must be read as ‘he.’
However, the next hiragana へ is a particle, so it’s pronounced ‘e.’ The particle is called a destination marker and it’s put between a destination and a motion verb, in this case between 平安神宮 and 行きます.
Here’s one more example -
Let’s take a look at the sentence 部屋(へや)へ入る.
部屋 means “a room” and is a destination. 入る means enter and is a motion verb. The sentence means ‘I enter a room.’ The first hiragana へ is a part of へや, and is read as “he." But, the second へ is a particle, so it’s read as “e." Consequently, the sentence is read as ‘heya e hairu.’
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to read the hiragana ‘へ’ correctly from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!