Double consonants in Italian (and how to pronounce them)

Unlike English, Italian double consonants are pronounced differently than single consonants. They sound longer. But how much longer, exactly? And are there times when a single consonant must be pronounced double?

In this lesson, you’re going to see how to recognize and pronounce le consonanti doppie, the double consonants in Italian.

double letter L

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Double consonants in Italian

Generally speaking, a written double consonant corresponds to a longer consonant sound or sound interruption in Italian. This applies to all types of consonants, from non-plosives such as m and r (they do not interrupt the flow of air coming out of your lungs) and plosives (b, d, hard g, p, t and hard c).

Mamma, sasso, tatto, pacco
Mom, rock, touch, package

How do you pronounce a double consonant like T or S?
Pronounce attack. Now start pronouncing at… stop. Keep your tongue on your alveolar ridge (the soft palate just above your teeth). Hold it there longer than usual, then release… tack! There you have a longer consonant. With enough practice and listening, you will be able to get double consonants just right.

You will still be understood if you pronounce them as single consonants, but you will have to watch out for words that completely change meaning with the quality of their consonant!

Bara, barra
Coffin, plank

men transporting a coffee

Ano, anno
Anus, year

Casa, cassa
House, box

Double S (SS) is always unvoiced, never voiced.

Now let’s look at the peculiarities of double consonants in Italian.

Z is always double

The consonant Z is always pronounced double, even if it is written as a single consonant. The double form also exists, as in pazzo or pizza.

Pazzo, pizza
Crazy, pizza

pizza delivery boy

Following this rule, a word like spazio, space, is actually pronounced as if it were spazzio. The same can be said of any word ending in -zione, such as nazione and protezione.

Spazio, nazione, protezione
Space, nation, protection

Z is not pronounced as if it were double when it follows a consonant, because it would sound awkward.

Canzone, pranzo
Song, lunch

This also applies to the beginning letter of a word following another word.

Lo zaino
The backpack

trekker with torn clothes and a backpack

GN is pronounced as if it were double

Unlike the Z rule, the pronunciation of GN as a double consonant can vary depending on your regional accent. For example, gn is not pronounced as if it were double in my accent (Western Emilia Romagna), but it is in standard Italian (the one you hear in dubbed movies, on the radio, and on TV).

Ragno, castagna, stagno
Spider, chestnut, pond

Like Z, this rule also applies to the beginning letter of a word that follows another word.

Lo gnomo
The gnome

SC (“sh”) sound is always doubled

This again depends on your regional accent, but in standard Italian, you should pronounce any sci and sce sound as if they were double. This rule, too, applies to the beginning letter of a word that follows another word.

Let me go!

Lo sciame
The swarm

three bees near a beehive

I pesci nuotano nell’acquario.
Fish are swimming in the aquarium.

More free Italian resources

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

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