Diphthongs in Italian

What is a diphthong? Diphthongs are special pairs of vowels that are considered to be a single sound. They are found in many Italian words and dictate how words are divided into syllables. In this lesson, we will take a look at all the possible diphthongs in Italian.

All types of diphthongs in Italian

Let me start by saying that vowels in Italian can be either weak (i and u) or strong (a, e, and o).

All diphthongs contain either an i or a u vowel + a strong vowel.

In Italian, a diphthong is called ascendente (ascending) if it is formed by either:

  • i + u (IA, IE, IO, IU) as in…

Piangere, iena, fiocco, fiuto
To cry, hyena, flake, sniff

man sniffing a cork
  • u + a (UA, UE, UI, UO) as in…

Guanto, questo, suino, tuono
Glove, this, swine, thunder

In Italian, a diphthong is called discendente (descending) if it is formed by either:

  • strong vowel + i (AI, EI, OI, UI) as in…

Zaino, Pirenei, poi, lui
Backpack, Pyrenees, then, he

  • A/E + u (AU, EU) as in…

Baule, reumatismo
Trunk, rheumatism

boy aching all over

What about triphthongs in Italian?

A triphthong in Italian is a sequence of three vowels that make up a syllable. They are made up of the vowels i and u + a strong vowel.

You can’t divide a triphthong into two syllables. It’s its own syllable.

For example, here are some words with triphthongs in Italian:

Tuoi, aiuola, suoi, miei, buoi
Your, flowerbed, his, my, oxen

However, these words do not contain triphthongs:

Gennaio, noia, ghiaia.
January, boredom, gravel.

That’s because you need two weak consonants (either 2 i’s or 2 u’s or 1 i and 1 u) to form a triphthong.

AIO has one i. OIA also has one i. The same can be said for AIA.

UOI, however, has both an i and a u. IEI as in miei has two i’s and so on.

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