Italian pronunciation and alphabet

L’italiano si legge come si scrive. Italian is pronounced as it is written. This is the pinnacle (and the miracle) of the Italian pronunciation.

Take the English lieutenant, for example. Is it /lefˈtenənt/ or is it |luːˈtenənt|? The written word doesn’t match in either case, so what’s the right phonetic transcription?

Or why doesn’t cough rhyme with dough? They both have “ough” in there, right?

And what’s up with the “e” in head and heard?!

There are no such tantrums in the Italian pronunciation because… Italian is pronounced as it is written.

In this lesson on the rules of the Italian pronunciation we’ll see how.

Once you know how to pronounce each letter, you will be able to pronounce any Italian word out there because Italian is a highly phonetic language.

Tip
If you’re on desktop Chrome (the only browser supporting speech recognition as of now), don’t forget to do the pronunciation exercises in this lesson!


Italian pronunciation: Vowel sounds

A

A is a pure sound. It is always pronounced as the “a” in father, and never as the “a” in game.

Italian pronunciation tantrums: why is “a” sometimes written as “à”?
Rule of thumb: If an Italian word ends in -a and this -a carries the stress, then it will be written à.
E.g. Farà, maestà, potrà

A
“Father”

Anna, amaca

italian pronunciation guide - hammock
Amaca
Hammock

E

E is a pure sound.

It can be open (|ɛ|), as in ten. This “e” closely resembles the “a” sound in bag or bad.

It can be closed (|e|), as the “a” in day.

Rule of thumb in the Italian pronunciation is: if the vowel it’s stressed, it’s closed. If it’s not stressed, it is pronounced open.

Regional accents will often dictate the openness of each “e” in a word, so as long as it’s an “e” sound, don’t worry too much about its quality.

It is never pronounced as the “e” in her or here. It is never silent.

Italian pronunciation tantrums: why is “e” sometimes written as “è” or “é”?
Rule of thumb: If an Italian word has more than one syllable, ends in -e and this -e carries the stress, then it will be written as either è or é.
E.g. Cioè, perché, poiché
In Standard Italian pronunciation, the “é” sound is always pronounced as a closed “e”, and the “è” sound as an open “e”. Regional dialects often disregard this rule entirely.
How to predict what the correct mark is in the written language? Learn the word by heart. There are not that many, if that comforts you!

E
“Ten”

E
“Day”

Era, essere, perso


I

I is a pure sound. It is always pronounced as the “ee” in eel, and never as the “i” in wine.

Italian pronunciation tantrums: why is “i” sometimes written as “ì”?
Rule of thumb: If an Italian word ends in -i and this -i carries the stress, then it will be written ì.
E.g. Così, colibrì

I
“Bee

Idea, iridi


O

O is a pure sound.

It can be open (|ɔ|), as in cough.

It can be closed (|o|), as the “a” in ooh.

Rule of thumb in the Italian pronunciation is: if the vowel it’s stressed, it’s closed. If it’s not stressed, it is pronounced open.

Regional dialects will dictate the openness of each “o” in a word, so as long as it’s an “o” sound, don’t worry too much about its quality.

It is never pronounced as the “o” in no or now.

Italian pronunciation tantrums: why is “o” sometimes written as “ò”?
Rule of thumb: If an Italian word ends in -o and this -o carries the stress, then it will be written ò.
E.g. Però, comò, farò

O
“Cough”

O
Ooh

Opposto, oste, orecchio


U

U is a pure sound. It resembles the “oo” in fool, and never as the “u” in fuel or fun.

Italian pronunciation tantrums: why is “u” sometimes written as “ù”?
Rule of thumb: If an Italian word ends in -u and this -u carries the stress, then it will be written ù.
E.g. Perù, menù

U
“Coo

Uno, gufo, tofu

italian pronunciation guide - gufo
Gufo
Owl

Italian pronunciation: Consonant sounds

B

B is pronounced just like the English “b” in bye or table.

B
Bee

Ba, be, bi, bo, bu

Banana, tubo, babbo

Italian pronunciation tantrums: what’s up with these double consonants?
If you’ve listened closely to the Italian pronunciation of babbo, you’ll probably have heard that the second “b” sound, “bb”, is longer.

These double consonants are called geminates. English uses them only in the written language: a word such as tabby, as in tabby cat, is pronounced as if it were actually “taby” and not as “tab-bee”.

Italian geminates, however, are longer in quality than lone consonants, as if they were “doubled”.

Not every Italian consonant can be doubled.


C

C can represent two different sounds depending on the letter following it.

C
Cheek”

C has a hard sound (“k”) when it is followed by any consonant or by the vowels A, O and U.

The “ke” and “ki” sounds as in Kentucky and keen are written as CHE and CHI.

It is never aspirated as in cat.

Ca, che, chi, co, cu

Casa, cachi, loco, lacca


C sounds like the “ch” in check when it is followed by the vowels E or I.

Ci + A, E, O and U, respectively CIA, CIE/CE, CIO and CIU, approximately make the sounds in charcoal, check, chocolate and choose.

Cia, ce, ci, cio, ciu

Cina, ceci, calcio, faccia


D

D is pronounced just like the English “d” in duck or dude.

D
Deep”

Da, de, di, do, du

Dado, fede, Budda


F

F is pronounced just like the English “f” in fun or often.

F
Ef-feh

Fa, fe, fi, fo, fu

Filo, afa, baffo


G

G, just like C, can represent two different sounds depending on the letter following it.

G
Gee

G has a hard sound (as in get) when it is followed by any consonant but N or by the vowels A, O and U.

Ga, ghe, ghi, go, gu

Gusto, agosto, agguato

italian pronunciation guide - taste
Gusto
Taste

G sounds like the “j” in jeans when it is followed by the vowels E or I.

Gi + A, E, O and U, respectively GIA, GIE/GE, GIO and GIU, approximately make the sounds in jar, jet, John and juice.

Gia, ge, gi, gio, giu

Gioco, giugno, faggio


Italian pronunciation: palatalized N

When followed by N, G produces the palatalized N (the Spanish ñ). There is no such sound in the English phonetics.

Gna, gne, gni, gno, gnu

Gnomo, bagno, montagna

Italian pronunciation tantrums: GN sound
Have trouble pronouncing this sound?
Position your tongue as for saying N. Utter the sound. Keep uttering it while you raise and flatten the middle section of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, behind your teeth.


Italian pronunciation: palatalized L

When followed by L, G produces the palatalized L. There is no such sound in the English phonetics.

It is not found at the beginning of a word.

Glia, glie, gli, glio, gliu

Foglia, tagli, aglio, tagliuzzare

Italian pronunciation tantrums: GL sound
Have trouble pronouncing this sound?
Position your tongue as for saying L. Utter the sound. Keep uttering it while you raise the middle section of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, as if you were flattening your tongue against it.


H

H is always silent. You never hear it.

It is used alongside C and G to produce CHE/CHI and GHE/GHI sounds.

H
Ah-kah

Hotel


J

J always sounds like the “j” in jeans.

J
Jay

Jack, jeans


K

K always sounds like the “k” in okey. It is never aspirated.

K
Cup-pah

Ka, ke, ki, ko, ku

Karate, kiwi


L

L is pronounced like the “l” in fly, but gentler.

L
El-leh

La, le, li, lo, lu

Lisca, ala, fallo

italian pronunciation guide - wing
Ala
Wing

M

M is pronounced like the “m” in mum.

M
Em-meh

Ma, me, mi, mo, mu

Mare, ama, mamma


N

N is pronounced like the “n” in nun.

N
En-neh

Na, ne, ni, no, nu

Neo, uno, nonna


P

P is pronounced like the “p” in lipid. It is never aspirated as in pen.

P
Pee

Pa, pe, pi, po, pu

Pane, Papa, pappa


Q

Q is pronounced like the “k” in okey. It is never aspirated as in key.

It is followed by the vowel U.

It is pronounced doubled when preceded by C or another Q.

Q
Coo

Qua, que, qui, quo, qu

Quadro, questo, acque, soqquadro

Italian pronunciation trivia
Soqquadro is actually the one and only Italian word featuring a double “q”, “qq”.


R

R is the trickiest letter in the Italian alphabet. It is rolled, but not as rolled as the Spanish R.

R
Ehr-reh

Ra, re, ri, ro, ru

Rio, ora, raro, ramarro

Italian pronunciation tantrums: trilled R sound
Have trouble pronouncing this sound?
When at the beginning of a word or positioned between vowels, R resembles a flip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth, as in the American English butter.

Try positioning your tongue as for the L sound, then let the tip of your tongue loose. Just the tip! Let some air out through the tip. Keep thinking about the “d” sound in butter.

italian pronunciation guide - ramarro
Ramarro
Green lizard

S

S can either be voiced or unvoiced depending on the regional accent, so don’t worry too much about its quality. Town that are 50 miles apart can vary greatly in their Italian pronunciation…

S
Ehs-seh

Sa, se, si, so, su

Examples of unvoiced S are…

Sale, asta, sasso

Examples of voiced S are…

Casa, rosa

Geminate S, “ss”, is always unvoiced.


Italian pronunciation: SC sound

S almost always sounds like the “sh” in shoe when it is followed by the consonant C and vowels E or I.

SCi + A, E, O and U, respectively SCIA, SCIE/CE, SCIO and SCIU, approximately make the sounds in sharp, share, shot and shoe.

Sc
Sheep”

Scia, sce, sci, scio, sciu

Sciame, scena, liscio, sciupato


T

T is pronounced like the “t” in tall. It is never aspirated and has a cleaner sound than the English T.

T
Tee

Ta, te, ti, to, tu

Tre, fato, fatto


V

V is pronounced exactly like the English “v” in vein.

V
Veer”

Va, ve, vi, vo, vu

Vena, ovile, ovvio


W

W, depending on the word, can either be pronounced as a V or as a U.

W
Dop-pee-ah voo

Whisky, wafer


X

X is pronounced as “eeks”.

X
Ee-ks

Xenofobo, xilofono


Y

Y is always pronounced like an “i”.

Y
Ee-psee-lon

Yogurt


Z

Z, depending on the regional dialect, can be pronounced unvoiced as “ts”, as in tsunami, or voiced as “ds”.

Z
Dseh-tah

Za, ze, zi, zo, zu

Examples of voiced Z…

Zaino, ozio, zero, pranzo

Examples of unvoiced Z…

Pazzo, pizza


What next?

Click here to go to the Italian pronunciation speech recognition exercises!

Now that you’ve seen how easy the Italian pronunciation is, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

If you want to know how to pronounce an Italian word, head to Forvo, the pronunciation dictionary, or write your doubts in a comment below!

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