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 Italian pronunciation.

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

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

And what about with the “e” in head and heard?!

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

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

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

Tip
If you’re using desktop Chrome (the only browser that currently supports speech recognition), 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 that -a carries the stress, then it is written as à.
E.g. Farà, maestà, potrà

A
“Father”

Anna, amaca

italian pronunciation - amaca

E

E is a pure sound.

It can be open (|ɛ|), as in ten. This “e” is very similar to the “a” sound in bag or bad.

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

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

Regional accents 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 that -e carries the stress, then it is 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 is always pronounced as an open “e”. Regional dialects often ignore this rule completely.
How do you predict the correct accent mark in the written language? Memorize the word. There are not many, if that makes you feel better!

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

Learn to speak Italian like a native? Easy.
Italian All-in-One For Dummies appeals to those readers looking for a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide to mastering the Italian language. It contains content from all For Dummies Italian language instruction titles, including Italian For Dummies, Intermediate Italian For Dummies, Italian Verbs For Dummies, Italian Phrases For Dummies, Italian Grammar For Dummies, and Italian For Dummies Audio Set.

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 that -i carries the stress, then it is written as 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|), like the “o” in ooh.

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

Regional dialects 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 that -o carries the stress, then it is written as ò.
E.g. Però, comò, farò

O
“Cough”

O
Ooh

Opposto, oste, orecchio


U

U is a pure sound. It is similar to the “oo” in fool, and never to 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 that -u carries the stress, then it is written ù.
E.g. Perù, menù

U
“Coo

Uno, gufo, tofu

italian pronunciation - gufo

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 those double consonants?
If you’ve listened carefully to the Italian pronunciation of babbo, you’ve probably 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 like tabby, as in tabby cat, is pronounced as if it were actually “taby” and not as “tab-bee”.

Italian geminates, on the other hand, are longer in quality than single consonants, as if they were “doubled”.

Not all Italian consonants can be doubled.


C

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

C
Cheek”

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

The “ke” and “ki” sounds, as in Kentucky and keen, are spelled 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 followed by the vowels E or I.

Ci + A, E, O and U, respectively CIA, CIE/CE, CIO and CIU, roughly correspond to 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, like C, can have two different sounds depending on the letter that follows it.

G
Gee

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

Ga, ghe, ghi, go, gu

Gusto, agosto, agguato

italian pronunciation - gusto

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

Gi + A, E, O and U, respectively GIA, GIE/GE, GIO and GIU, roughly correspond to 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 English phonetics.

Gna, gne, gni, gno, gnu

Gnomo, bagno, montagna

Italian pronunciation tantrums: GN sound
Having trouble pronouncing this sound?
Position your tongue as if you were saying N. Say the sound. Keep saying it while lifting the middle part of your tongue and pressing it 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 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
Having trouble pronouncing this sound?
Position your tongue as if you were saying L. Say the sound. Keep saying it while you lift the middle part of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, as if you were pressing your tongue against it.


H

H is always silent. You never hear it.

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

H
Ah-kah

Hotel


J

J almost 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 softer.

L
El-leh

La, le, li, lo, lu

Lisca, ala, fallo

italian pronunciation - ala

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 a C or another Q.

Q
Coo

Qua, que, qui, quo, qu

Quadro, questo, acque, soqquadro

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


R

R is the most tricky 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
Having trouble pronouncing this sound?
When placed 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 butter in American English.

Try positioning your tongue as you would 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” flapping sound in butter.

italian pronunciation - ramarro

S

S can be voiced or unvoiced depending on the regional accent, so don’t worry too much about its quality. Towns 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 followed by the consonant C and the vowels E or I.

SCi + A, E, O and U, respectively SCIA, SCIE/CE, SCIO and SCIU, roughly correspond to 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 the same as the English “v” in vein.

V
Veer”

Va, ve, vi, vo, vu

Vena, ovile, ovvio


W

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

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

Depending on the regional dialect, Z 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


Now what?

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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