Accent marks in Italian

Unlike English, Italian uses accent marks on some words to indicate how those words should be pronounced. When are they mandatory? Is there more than one type of accent mark?

In this lesson, you’re going to see how to use and pronounce words with gli accenti grafici, accent marks in Italian.


Why do we have accent marks in Italian?

Accent marks are used to mark the stress position of an Italian word. Normally, the stress of an Italian word falls on one of its last three syllables.

This means that some words carry the stress on the last syllable. These words, like , tea, are called parole tronche, “truncated words”. Accent marks in Italian help you to find these parole tronche so that you can pronounce them correctly.


Tea

Other examples of parole tronche, where the stress is on the last syllable, are…

Città, né, finì, più
City, neither, s/he finished, more

man who got lost in a big city

Now, there are two types of accent marks in Italian:

  • accento acuto (´), acute accent
  • accento grave (`), grave accent

You will always use an accento grave on the vowels A, I, O and U, and also on the stressed open E vowel (brush up on your Italian vowels here) in the final position.

You will always use an accento acuto on a stressed closed E vowel in the final position.

In the previous examples, you may have heard that and both carry the stress on their final -e, but the quality of the sound is slightly different. Let’s listen to these words again.

Tè, né
Tea, neither

hearbal tea and a cup

has an open E sound, so the accent mark leans to the left (grave accent).

, on the other hand, has a closed E sound, so the accent mark leans to the right (acute accent)!

When you see an acute accent, you will know that the word is stressed on the last syllable and that the vowel E will must be pronounced as if it were closed.

Don’t worry too much about written acute/grave accent marks. As long as you write down any mark, it doesn’t really matter where the slant is, unless you’re publishing a book. Almost no one follows this writing formality in everyday writing, and Italian forums and websites are filled with perchè.

The same goes for capital letters with an accent mark. Nobody will bat an eye if you write E’ with an apostrophe instead of È, but if you’re publishing a book, make sure you never use an apostrophe with capital letters carrying an accent mark.

Now, when is it mandatory to put the accent mark on an Italian word? Let’s move on.


Accent marks in Italian are mandatory for…

All monosyllabic words featuring two vowels or a diphthong (i/u + vowel).

Già, giù, più, può
Yeah, down, more, it can

Qui and qua are exceptions. NEVER write quì or quà.

All polysyllabic words with the stress on the last syllable (you will have to memorize these, but almost all English words ending in -ty like “city” and “velocity” end in -tà in Italian).

Velocità, lavorerò, tribù
Speed, I will work, tribe

american indian man in front of a bonfire

Compound words that end with a monosyllable.

Quaggiù, trentatré
Down here, thirty-three

On very specific monosyllabic words that are indistinguishable from others.

è (is)e (and)
(yes)si (reflexive pronoun)
(itself)se (if)
(tea)te (you)
(neither, nor)ne (clitic pronoun)
(there)li (them)
(there)la (feminine article “the”)
(s/he gives)da (from)
(day)di (of)

Lunedì, martedì, mercoledì, giovedì, venerdì, sabato, domenica
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday

boy walking in the sun and sweating

Homographs, especially in professional writing (publishing houses, newspapers etc.) and when they can cause confusion, such as sùbito (immediately) and subìto (past participle of to suffer).

Ho sùbito aperto la porta.
I opened the door immediately.

Ho subìto una tremenda sconfitta.
I suffered a tremendous defeat.

Another common homograph is prìncipi (princes) and princìpi (principles).

I due prìncipi sono andati a caccia.
The two princes went hunting.

drawing of a hunter posing with different live animals

Quali sono i princìpi della termodinamica?
What are the laws (principles) of thermodynamics?

For any other common Italian word, you don’t need any accent marks at all.


More free Italian resources

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!

❤️ If you liked this guide on accent marks in Italian, consider sharing it with your social media friends who are also studying Italian.