What is the Hyoid Bone?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The hyoid bone is a very special bone in the human head which is unique in that it is not attached to any other bones in the body; rather, it is supported by a network of muscles and ligaments, which trap it like a fly in amber directly below the tongue. The primary role of the bone is to support the weight of the tongue, allowing people to articulate words while speaking, and enabling the production of a wide range of vocalizations.

larynx and hyoid bone.
larynx and hyoid bone.

Without the hyoid bone, humans would be incapable of speech as we know it, so this bone represents a major step in human evolution. The first hyoid bones appeared in hominids around 300,000 years ago, and they were accompanied by a phenomenon known as the larynx drop, which allows the larynx to settle deeper into the throat after childhood, further enabling speech. Needless to say, we probably wouldn't exist in our current state without this bone, as speech is a crucial tool for civilization.

The hyoid bone supports the tongue.
The hyoid bone supports the tongue.

This bone is shaped roughly like a horseshoe, and it nestles in the throat below the tongue. This bone is also sometimes called the "lingual bone," in a references to the fact that it gives humans the power of speech. The term "hyoid" comes from the Greek hyoeides, which means "upsilon-shaped." The Greek letter upsilon is shaped much like the Roman letter U.

Speech plays an important role in building friendships and strengthening bonds.
Speech plays an important role in building friendships and strengthening bonds.

When looking at the hyoid bone, it can be broken into several sections. The main "body" is like the heavy base of the U, while the greater cornu are the horns which make up the arms of the U. The lesser cornu are two smaller sections of the hyoid which create a second set of horns on the U, near the body of the hyoid bone.

In addition to being of interest to living humans, the bone is also sometimes important in forensic analysis. When the hyoid bone is broken, it is a strong indicator that someone was strangled, as the bone is otherwise extremely difficult to break. Therefore, forensic analysts often check on the condition of the hyoid in a suspicious death, especially in the event that only skeletal remains are available for autopsy, as a broken hyoid can seal the deal, as it were, providing evidence of a clear case of strangulation.

Without the hyoid bone, humans would be incapable of speech.
Without the hyoid bone, humans would be incapable of speech.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Awesome! It's a remarkable post. These are the kinds of details that need to be given and not the random misinformation that is on other forums.


To the person who did the project on the diagastric muscle.: my right-side one was in spasm after a complicated wisdom tooth removal and since then I have noticed a prominent snapping of something in the front of my neck. It feels like a tendon or something popping over something else and at the same time there is a mild choking sensation. Hyoid bone or muscle?


I had a situation in that I had a tumor removed from my throat. The tumor was growing from the middle of the hyoid bone. The middle of the hyoid bone was removed since it wasn't known yet whether or not it was cancerous. Thankfully, it wasn't. However, I am still concerned how this situation might affect my speech and or swallowing. I seem to have a difficult time swallowing at times. Please advise. Thanks. --RR


Good information for many of us. But I don't support this evolution of a thing. Because if it's true we could have seen a plant or animal, including human beings of any size, changing their previous state. Can't our age witness any change taking place no matter how minute?


I am getting the Systrunk Procedure done and with this surgery they break this bone and they said that there is no need for it. Does this mean that I will not be able to talk after this?


Very good and interesting article, thanks for writing.


Thanks for the information. i really didn't know it. It assisted me in speech.


I knew from TV that a broken hyoid was indication of strangulation, but had no idea it was necessary for speech or that it was directly under the tongue and difficult to break. Thanks for this information.


And that is how it works. Thousands and thousands of "variables" over millions of years evolved to this. I consider myself a believer.


Aren't there hyoid bones in some people's hands?


The status of the hyoid bone in Neanderthals is not certain. Whether the Neanderthals could speak, and how well they could speak, depends on their hyoid, as in humans.


Interesting that it isn't supported by any other bone, but what if the muscles/ligaments around the bone snap (hypothetically)? Would the victim be unable to speak?

I was led to this site because I did a PE project on the digastric muscle (also connects to hyoid) and was curious about how the hyoid controls speech.


I had no idea a bone had anything to do with speech.

Thanks for that last paragraph, I've always wondered how a death could be ruled strangulation when there was no skin left to show bruising etc.!

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