Italian/Pronunciation and alphabet

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Italian Alphabet and Sounds[edit | edit source]

The Italian alphabet is identical to the English one but the sound of certain letters is different. Double letters sound stronger and more stressed than single ones. Every letter or sound is represented in one unique way, and every letter is always read in the same way, with the exception of ‘’c’’ and ‘’g’’ whose pronunce depends on following vowel (similarly to English) and ‘’s’’ and ‘’z’’ that can be both pronounced voiced or not.

Letter Pronunciation Name in italian
a Like in "Cat" A
b Like in "But" Bi (English: Bee)
c Like in "Chess" if the following letter is e/i, otherwise it's like in "Cake" Ci (English: Chee)
c + h Always pronounced like a "K" CH
d Like in "Diamond" Di (English: Dee)
e Like in "Elephant" or if a long vowel sound, such as when at the end of a word, "A" like in "they" E
f Like in "Father" Effe (English: EffE)
g Like in "General" if the following letter is e/i, otherwise it's like in "Gun" Gi (English: Gee)
g + h Always pronounced like in "Gate" GH
h never pronounced, but if between c (or g) and e/i, it changes their sound (see c,g) Acca
i Like the double "E" sound in "Street", never as "Island", never as "Kid" I (English: Ee)
j Only on foreign words, usually pronounced (in the few original Italian words spelled with this letter) like y in yacht, e.g. jella (misluck) sounds like "Yell"-"ah" Jay/ ilunga
k Only on foreign words, pronounced usually like in English. Kappa
l Like in "Left" Elle
m Like in "Metal" Emme
n Like in "Never" Enne
o Like in "Open" O
p Like in "People" Pi (English: Pee)
q always followed by U, it's like in "Quarterback" Qu (English Ku)
r Like in "Rock" but the sound is different: italians pronounce it by making the tip of the tongue tremble closer to the front teeth Erre
s Like in "Sing", or like in "reason". Esse
t Like in "Time" Ti (English: Tea)
u Like in "Boot" U (English: oo)
v Like in "Volleyball" Vi/Vu (English Vee)
w Only on foreign words, pronounced usually like in English. Doppia Vi/ Doppia Vu
x Not common in Italian, but used nowadays often in the prefix "ex-" ("former" in English). It is always pronounced "ks" (as in wax), never "gz"(as in example) even in foreign words. Specifically only appears in foreign words. Ics
y Only appears in foreign words or in scientific words derived from Ancient Greek. Pronounced like "Yttrium" Ypsilon
z In most words, it is pronounced ts as in "Cats", e.g. Influenza "Influentsa" (eng. influenza). There is also a voiced pronunciation, dz as in "she adds on". Its pronunciation is always intense, regardless of whether as a single or double letter. When appearing as a single letter, it most commonly has the ts pronunciation (but: in northern Italy, it is always pronounced dz at beginning of a word), as is also always the case when followed by i+vowel, e.g. inizio (beginning) pronounced "in-ee-ts-yoh". Zeta
zz a definite "tz" sound - think "pizza". But with exceptions, for example, in the verbs of the -izzare group (english -yze or -ize like realize), e.g. paralizzare (paralyze), "pah-rah-lee-dzah-reh".

  • Since J, K, W, X and Y are not originally "Italian" letters (since they only appear in foreign words), they are pronounced exactly as in English. J used to be an "Italian" letter, but was officially removed from the alphabet in around the early 20th century. X is a common letter in Sicilian language words derived from Greek. Thus, when certain toponyms and family names are rendered in Italian, they preserve the X. Examples include Bettino Craxi, or Sant'Angelo Muxaro. In these examples, the X is pronounced similar to English KS.

Particular phonemes[edit | edit source]

There are, however, digraphs/trigraphs that have their own particular phonemes:

Letters Pronunciation tools Words in Italian
gli called "laterale palatale" [ʎ], it's very close to the sound of "Yes" or "Yiddish" or the Spanish "LL"; however, the 'L' sound is also pronounced (LYA/ LYO...). Paglia (straw), Aglio (garlic)
gn called "nasale palatale" [ɲ], this sound is made by sticking your tongue on your palate while pronouncing a sort of N; as a result the sound will be nasal. In Spanish this sound is represented by the letter ñ, in English it could be rendered, for example, in a mispronounced "onion" ['ʌɲjən]

As a direct phoneme translation, consider replacing the Italian "gn" with English "ny", e.g. campagnolo (country) is pronounced "Cam-pan-yolo". Another way that it could be rendered is the same as the word "Poignant," as the sound of the "gn" is identical to what it sounds like in Italian.

Gnocchi, Bolognese
sce/sci the sound of the digraph SC (normally that of "Sky), when followed immediately by E or I, becomes that of "Shame". Coherently, the word "Schermo" (screen), is to be pronounced like skermo, not like scermo, because of the letter h immediately after the digraph. Scienza (science), Scegliere (to choose)