Italiano

Italian pronunciation

As with any other language, learning the correct pronunciation of words in Italian can be relatively easy or quite a challenge, depending on the student‘s native language. Regardless of that, Italian has the advantage of being a highly phonetic language, like Spanish. This means that for every letter there is almost always only one sound and when there are two possible sounds, there is usually a rule to know which sound corresponds. For example, in Italian, the vowels { a, i, u } always have one unique sound, while { e, o } have each two possible sounds: one closed and one open.

Compare that with English, where a given vowel, like { a }, may have different sounds (e.g. arm, ate, bad, many) or where different vowels may sound the same (e.g. build, busy, hit, mystery, pretty, sieve, women).

English language uses 26 written letters but it needs 44 phoneme symbols to represent all of its sounds. On the other hand, Italian language uses 21 written letters but it only needs 31 phoneme symbols to represent all of its sounds.

A good way to learn the correct Italian pronunciation is to listen to Italian speakers and then to try and repeat what has been heard, however, a student may also benefit from using a speech transcription system.

Transcription systems

Speech can be transcribed in two ways:

  1. Phonemic transcription, also sometimes known as broad transcription, involves representing speech using just a unique symbol for each phoneme of the language.

    For example, the word ancora could be transcribed like this: ankora, showing that the word consists of six sounds and where each sound is represented with a unique symbol.

  2. Phonetic transcription, also sometimes known as narrow transcription, involves representing additional details about the contextual variations in pronunciation that occur in normal speech.

    In this case, the same word ancora could now be transcribed like this: aŋkora, where one cannot only see that there is an n-sound but also know about the particular n-sound required: a velar nasal one.

The basic difference between these two methods is that the phonetical transcription —placed between square brackets: x— is used to represent actual sounds in terms of their acoustic and articulatory properties and that the phonemical transcription —placed between forward slash brackets: x— is used to represent abstract mental constructs, not actual sounds.

This basically means that while in Italian there is a velar nasal ŋ, and an alveolar nasal n, an Italian speaker will produce each one without thinking about it when speaking, but this same speaker will hear them both just as a regular { n }, that is, as instances of the phoneme n because contextual variations in pronunciation aren‘t actually perceived.

A phone is then a phonetic symbol that represents a particular sound, and a phoneme is only a mental representation of a sound.

Among the many different phonetic alphabets that have been developed, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) has become the standard to represent any language and its symbols are used both for phonetical and phonemical transcriptions.

The main purpose of this guide is to show the IPA symbols used to represent the vowel and consonant sounds in Italian.

Before continuing with the reading and studying of this guide, please watch the videos from the following YouTube playlist:

lang - italian 02a - pronunciation, ipa & alphabet

This playlist contains an introductory video to the idea and purpose behind the IPA transcription system, four general videos reviewing the Italian alphabet, and a last video that will allow you to get familiar with the Italian phonemes very quickly because it shows the corresponding phoneme(s) for each letter.

If you need it, remember that you can click on the Caption button at the video toolbar to show the video subtitled:

YouTube captions button

If you speak Spanish you may also want to watch the following video:

alfabeto italiano - pronunciación! #2

The Italian alphabet

The following list shows, for each letter of the Italian alphabet, its phonetic pronunciation and its phonemic transcriptions. An interesting aspect regarding Italians and the alphabet, is that to spell a word they use names of Italian cities, for example, “a di Ancona” or “gi di Genova”.

Letter Phone Phoneme(s) Audio (spelling)
A, a a a a di Ancona
B, b bi b bi di Bari o di Bologna
C, c ʧi k, ʧ ci di Como
D, d di d di di Domodossola
E, e e e, ɛ e di Empoli
F, f ˈɛffe f effe di Firenze
G, g ʤi g, ʤ gi di Genova
H, h ˈakka acca di hotel
I, i i i, j i di Imola
J, j i lunga i lunga
K, k kappa k cappa
L, l ɛlle l elle di Livorno
M, m ɛmme m emme di Milano
N, n ɛnne n enne di Napoli
O, o ɔ o, ɔ o di Otranto
P, p pi p pi di Pisa o di Palermo
Q, q ku k cu di quadro o di quarto
R, r ɛrre r erre di Roma
S, s ɛsse s, z esse di Savona
T, t ti t ti di Torino
U, u u u, w u di Udine
V, v vi, vu v vi o vu di Venezia
W, w vi doppia w vi doppia o doppia vi
X, x iks ks ics
Y, y i greka j ipsilon o i greca
Z, z ˈdzɛːta ts, dz zetta di Zara

The letters { j, k, w, x, y } do not form part of the Italian alphabet and so they are used only for foreign words or names and are pronounced like the corresponding English letters.

Only in very few cases, like in the name of the football team Juventus (see: Juventus) or the jota soup (see: jota), the letter { j } is derived from Italian regional languages and it is then pronounced like a semivowel (j —see: Semivowel definition, Semivowel sound, Semivowel sound).

The next table groups the letters of the Italian alphabet according to their vowel sounds.

a a h            
i b c d g i p t v
e e f l m n r s z
o o              
u q u v          
Important notes
  • The letter { v } is set with a colored background just to make obvious the fact that it can be pronounced in two different ways, as it was shown in the table.

Important notes

  1. Consonants can be:
    • Voiced { b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v, z }, because the vocal cords are used to produce their signature sounds. To confirm this, put your fingers in your throat and pronounce a long { d } or { m }, you will feel the vibration of your vocal cords.
    • Voiceless { c, f, p, q, s, t, z }, because the vocal cords are not used to produce their signature sounds. To confirm this, put your fingers in your throat and pronounce a long { f } or { s }, you won‘t feel any vibration of your vocal cords.

    As shown, the letter { z } can be pronounced both in a voiced or in an unvoiced way (see: Consonant “Z”).

  2. A syllable is a segment of a word that is pronounced as a unit or as a single uninterrupted sound when breaking the word into parts.

    For example, the Italian word cane (dog) consists of two pronunciation units or syllables: ca–ne, which means that the segments ca- and -ne are pronounced each in a single stroke of voice (see: Italian syllabication).

  3. A semivowel is defined as the sound between a vowel and a consonant.

    The unstressed closed vowels { i, u } become the semivowels { j, w } when they are followed by a vowel in a same syllable. So, the { i } in “chiave” is a semivowel { j }, but not in “magia” where it is stressed. These two semivowels sound like the English { y, w } in the words “yet” and “wet”, respectively.

  4. A diphthong is a single sound formed by the fusion of two vowel sounds in one syllable.

    For example, in the Italian word aula (classroom) the segment { au } forms a diphthong (see: Italian phonemic diphthongs).

  5. A diacritical letter is a silent letter that may change the sound of an adjacent letter or group of letters, the meaning of a word, or both. There are two diacritical letters in Italian: the { h } and the unstressed { i }.

    For example, while the diacritical { h } turns the word o (or) into ho (I have), their pronunciation is the same. However, with the diacritical { i }, the word mango (mango) turns into mangio (I eat), and the pronunciation of the letter { g } changes (see: diacritical letters).

  6. The following IPA symbols are used in this guide.
    Symbol Meaning Example Word
    ˈ primary stress tʃenˈniːni Cennini
    . syllable break ˈtu.o tuo
    ː long vowel ˈpriːmo primo
  7. Italian pronunciation of certain letters varies from one region, city or town, to another. For example, the { e } tends to be pronounced open (ɛ) in the North and closed (e) in the South. Another example, and a very notable one, is that of the intervocalic { s }, which is pronounced voiced (z) in the North and voiceless (s) in the southern-central regions, while in Tuscany it may be pronounced either way because its pronunciation varies from word to word. The symbols shown in this guide are only to give a general idea of standard, neutral Italian pronunciation.

    Before continuing, you may want to watch the videos from the following YouTube playlist:

    lang - italian 02b - pronunciación, regional differences

    The following table shows the cities referenced in the video Accenti e stereotipi italiani, of the previous playlist (you may also click on the following links to go to the specific timestamps).

    Time City (Region)
    0:19 Torino (Piemonte)
    0:37 Milano (Lombardia)
    0:52 Trento (Trentino-Alto Adige)
    1:10 Venezia (Veneto)
    1:32 Bologna (Emilia-Romagna)
    1:45 Ancona (Marche)
    2:03 Firenze (Toscana)
    2:24 Terni (Umbria)
    2:35 Roma (Lazio)
    2:54 Napoli (Campania)
    3:05 Bari (Puglia)
    3:25 Catanzaro (Calabria)
    3:37 Palermo (Sicilia)
    3:49 Cagliari (Sardegna)

Vowels

A vowel can be defined as a continuous sound produced by:

  • The vibration of the air flowing through the vocal cords.
  • The outline of the space formed between the tongue and the roof of the mouth.
  • The shape of the lips.

The IPA uses 28 phonetic symbols to represent the basic vowel sounds that can be made by changing the position of the tongue and the shape of the lips.

As mentioned before, to denote variations to these basic sounds the IPA also includes some special symbols, like the long symbol (ː), which is used to indicate that the sound is longer than usual.

The image shows the 28 IPA vowel symbols and their relative position in the vowel space.

Vowel space


For each language in the world only a small subset of these symbols is usually needed to depict the sound of its vowels.

For example, Spanish and Italian have the same written vowels: { a, e, i, o, u }, but as can be seen from the image at the right, Italian needs two more symbols than Spanish to represent its vowel sounds.

Italian vowel space


The position of the tongue determines if a vowel is open or closed and front or back, while the shape of the lips determines if the resulting vowel is rounded or not.

Position of the tongue and shape of the lips

  • In front vowels the tongue is pushed to the front and raised towards the alveolar ridge.
  • In back vowels the tongue is drawn to the back of the mouth (palate).
  • In closed vowels the tongue is raised to decrease the space between it and the roof of the mouth.
  • In open vowels the tongue is lowered to increase that space.
  • In rounded vowels the lips are rounded.
  • In extended vowels the lips are spread out.

For example, as shown in the previous image, i is a Front, Closed, Extended vowel, but ɔ is a Back, Mid-Open, Rounded one.

Just as a reference, the sound of the symbols that are identical to those in the Latin alphabet (a, e, i, o, u) is similar to that of the corresponding vowels in Spanish:

a casa
e dedo
i cine
o ojo
u luna

Italian vowels

Before continuing, please watch the videos from the following YouTube playlist:

lang - italian 02c - pronunciation, vowels

Vowel “A”

The letter { a } has an open sound (a, like the a-sound in words like “arm”, “car” or “father”).

Vowel Sound Phoneme Examples
A a Open a almeno, caso

Vowel “I”

The letter { i } may have three different sounds:

  1. A closed sound (i, like the { i } in “machine” or in “free”) when it is followed by a consonant.
  2. A semivowel sound (j, like the { y } in “yes” or in “you”) when it is unstressed, not preceded by the letters { c, g, sc, gl } and is also followed by any other vowel.
  3. Silent when it is unstressed, preceded by the letters or letter combinations { c, g, sc, gl } and followed by any other vowel. In this case it becomes a diacritical letter.
Vowel Sound Phoneme Examples
I i Closed i idea, finire
  Semivowel j bianco, ieri, saio, fiume
   Closed
  (stressed “i”)
i iato, liana, riarso, viaggio
deviare, inebriare
  Silent Ø ciao, bacio, mangio, giusto
      lasciare, soglia
   Closed
  (stressed “i”)
i farmacia, magia, igiene
viuzza, triade
Important notes
  • The silent and semivowel sounds do not happen if the { i } is stressed, in which case it has a closed sound (see: Hiatus).

Vowel “U”

The letter { u } has two possible sounds:

  1. A closed sound (u, like the { u } in words like “crude” or “rule”).
  2. A semivowel sound (w, like the { w } in “was” or in “wine”) when it starts the word or is preceded by the letters { g, q }, and is also followed by the vowels { a, e, i }.

    This also usually occurs in polysyllabic words when it is followed by the vowel { o } and the syllable is stressed. Compare, for example, “duomo” (ˈdwɔ.mo) with “fatuo” (ˈfa.tuo).

Vowel Sound Phoneme Examples
U u Closed u cubo, manuale
  Semivowel w uguale, cinque, aquila
      uovo, buono, duomo, fuoco

Vowels “E” & “O”

Regarding the letters { e, o }, they have two sounds:

  1. A closed sound.

    The closed { e } (e) sound is like that of the { e } vowel sound in Spanish .

    The closed { o } (o) sound is like that of the { o } vowel sound in Spanish .

    English doesn‘t have those sounds by themselves, but they appear as the first vowel sound of diphthongs in words like “brake” or “male” (), or “bone” or “go” (), for the { e } and { o } vowels, respectively.

  2. An open sound.

    Spanish doesn‘t have these sounds, but English does.

    The open { e } (ɛ) is like the { e } in the following words: “bed” or “many” .

    The open { o } (ɔ) is like the { o } in the following words: “born” or “door” .

Vowel Sound Phoneme Examples
E e Closed e e, elefante
  Open ɛ è, tempo
O o Closed o odore, mano
  Open ɔ oca, donna

Listen to the closed and open sounds, one after the other:

  • For the letter { e } .
  • For the letter { o } .
Important notes
  • Open vowels occur only in stressed syllables.
  • Closed vowels may appear in both, stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • Regarding length (duration), a vowel is long (e.g. aː) if it is stressed and at the end of the syllable, but not at the end of the word; all other vowels are short (e.g. a).

Italian consonants

Before continuing, please watch the videos from the following YouTube playlist:

lang - italian 02d - pronunciation, consonants

Consonants “B”, “F”, “M” & “V”

Consonants { b, f, m, v } are represented by the phonemes: b, f, m, v, and are basically pronounced as in the English words: “bar”, “fee”, “my” and “vet”, respectively.

boa ˈbɔa
Eva ˈɛva
bava ˈbava
ambo ˈambo
fio ˈfio
amo ˈamo
fame ˈfame
fava ˈfava
Important notes
  • In Rome the consonant { b } tends to be pronounced as a double one, that is, very emphatically: libro (ˈlibbro).

Consonants “D”, “L” & “T”

Consonants { d, l, t } are represented by the phonemes: d, l, t, and are pronounced in a similar but sharper or more emphatic way than in English. Their pronunciation is actually more like that of the Spanish ones, like in: “da”, “lo” and “te”, respectively.

dado ˈdado
dolo ˈdɔlo
dato ˈdato
ala ˈala
lido ˈlido
alto ˈalto
ateo ˈateo
tela ˈtela
dama ˈdama
filo ˈfilo
lobo ˈlɔbo
veto ˈvɛto

Consonant “P”

The consonant { p } is represented by the phoneme: p, and is pronounced like the { p } in “spot”, that is, a { p } without the aspiration. Its pronunciation is more like the Spanish { p } in “papa” or “copa”.

ape ˈape
pube ˈpube
puma ˈpuma
dopo ˈdopo
lupo ˈlupo
tipo ˈtipo
pelota peˈlɔta
apolide aˈpɔlide
diploma diˈplɔma
vampata vamˈpata

Consonant “R”

The Italian { r } has two sounds (allophones), both of which correspond to the phoneme r:

  1. A flapped one (ɾ), which is like that of the Spanish { r } in “caro” or “mira”, and that occurs:
    • When it is intervocalic.
    • When it ends the word and is followed by a word starting with a vowel (e.g. “per amore”).

    This sound is made by slightly flapping the tongue behind the top teeth and the roof of the mouth.

  2. A trilled one (r), which has a harder sound than the previous one and occurs:
    • When it is at the beginning or the end of a word.
    • When it is preceded or followed by a consonant.
ɾ sound  
acaro ˈakaro
amore aˈmore
euro ˈɛuro
fiera ˈfjɛra
r sound  
remo ˈrɛmo
per per
brio ˈbrio
arpa ˈarpa
Important notes
  • The English language doesn‘t have this particular sound, as its r-sound (ɹ) is very different from the Italian one (r).
  • In Parma and in Piacenza the consonant { r } tends to be pronounced like a French one (ʁ).

Letter combination “QU”

The letter combination { qu } is represented by the phoneme: kw, and is pronounced like the English { qu } in words like “quiz” or “quote”, or like the Spanish { cu } in words like “cuero” or “cuota”.

quale ˈkwale
aquario aˈkwarjo
querela kweˈrɛla
liquido ˈlikwido
eloquio elˈɔkwjo
quota ˈkwɔta

Consonant “H”

In Italian words the letter { h } is always silent and is used in the following three cases, where it also acts as a diacritical letter.

  1. As an initial letter, which only happens in four conjugations of the verb avere (to have).
    1. ho (I have).
    2. hai (you have).
    3. ha (he or she has).
    4. hanno (they have).
  2. After the consonants { c, g }, where it changes their sound (see: Consonant “C”, Consonant “G”).
  3. After the letter combination { sc } (see: Letter combination “SC”) and in some very few cases after the letter combination { sg }.

In foreign words it is usually silent, but when not it is then represented by the phoneme h and is pronounced like the English { h } in: “house”.

Italian  
ho ɔ
cheto ˈketo
ghiro ˈgiro
bischero ˈbiskero
sghembo ˈzgembo
Foreign  
habitat ˈabitat
hamburger amˈburger
hobby ˈɔbbi
hotel oˈtɛl
hot dog hɔtdɔg

Consonant “N”

The letter { n } is pronounced as in English, like in “noun” or “net”. This letter has actually two sounds (allophones), both of which correspond to the phoneme n:

  1. The regular and expected { n } sound (n, technically called alveolar), which is like the { n } in the English word “note” or in the Spanish word “nana”. Its pronounciation is with the tip of the tongue behind the upper teeth and the back part pushed down.
  2. The { ng } sound (ŋ, techically called velar nasal), which is like the { ng } in “sing” or in the Spanish word “ángulo”. Its pronounciation is with the tip of the tongue behind the lower teeth and the back part pushed up, and occurs:
n sound  
nano ˈnano
neon ˈnɛon
nono ˈnɔno
acne ˈakne
ventre ˈvɛntre
ŋ sound  
ancora anˈkora
dunque ˈdunkwe
benché benˈke
angolo ˈangolo
unghia ˈungja

Consonant “Z”

The Italian { z } has two sounds, and while it is not possible to see the spelling of a word and then derive which sound should be used, the following are good rules of thumb (with many exceptions):

  1. A voiceless one (ts), which is like the { ts } in “cats”, and occurs:
    • When it is at the start of a word in which the second syllable starts with a voiceless consonant (except words of Greek origin, like zefiro, zotico).
    • When it is followed by an { i + vowel } (shown at the first table with the light-blue-colored background).
    • After the letter { L }.
  2. A voiced one (dz), which is like the dz-sound in words like “jam” or “joy”, and occurs:
    • When it is at the start of a word in which the second syllable starts with a voiced consonant or a single or double { z }.
    • When at the start of a word and followed by two vowels (shown at the second table with the light-blue-colored background).
    • When it is single and between two single vowels.
ts sound  
zam–pa ˈtsam.pa
zu–folare tsu.foˈlare
avarizia avaˈrittsja
zio ˈtsio
alzare alˈtsare
calzante kalˈtsante
anzi ˈantsi
avanzo aˈvantso
calza ˈkaltsa
vacanza vaˈkantsa
dz sound  
zam–biano dzamˈbjano
ze–bra ˈdzɛ.bra
zan–zara dzanˈdzara
zi–zzania dzidˈdzanja
zoo ˈdzɔo
zaino ˈdzaino
azero adˈdzɛro
bazar badˈdzar
enzima enˈdzima
pranzo ˈprandzo
Important notes
  • Between vowels or semivowels (j, w), the { z } is pronounced as if doubled and so it needs to be doubled in the phonetic transcription (see the transcription of avarizia or azero).
  • The words shown with the straw-colored background should make evident how similar spelled words are actually pronounced differently (e.g. avanzo against pranzo).

Letter combination “SC”

The letter combination { sc } has two sounds:

  1. One hard (sk, like the { sk } in words like “skate” or in “ski”), which happens:
    • When the letters are followed by the vowels { a, o, u }.
    • When the letters are followed by a consonant (shown at the table with the light-blue-colored background), including the letter { h }, which remains silent.
  2. One soft (ʃ, like the { sh } in words like “she” or “shop”), which happens:
    • When the letters are followed by the vowels { e, i }.
Hard sound sk
bisca ˈbiska
basco ˈbasko
oscuro osˈkuro
schermo ˈskermo
dischi ˈdiski
scrive ˈskrive
scrofa ˈskrɔfa
Soft sound ʃ
scelta ˈʃelta
asceta aʃˈʃɛta
viscere ˈviʃʃere
scibile ˈʃibile
oscillare oʃʃilˈlare
sciarpa ˈʃarpa
sciupare ʃuˈpare
Important notes
  • The sh-sound (ʃ) is a long sound, so it needs to be doubled in the phonetic transcription when it occurs in the middle of a word (see the transcription of asceta or viscere, for example).
  • If the { i } is unstressed it then becomes silent when { sc } + { i } + { any other vowel } —see the transcription of sciarpa or sciupare (shown with the straw-colored background). In this case the { i } becomes a diacritical letter.

Consonant “S”

The letter { s } has two sounds:

  1. One unvoiced (s, like the { s } in “sun” or in “mouse”), which occurs:
    • When it starts a word and it is followed by a vowel.
    • When it is followed by an unvoiced consonant { f, p, q, s, t } (shown at the table with the light-blue-colored background).
    • When it comes after any consonant.
    • When it comes at the start of the second part of a compound word (shown at the table with the light-blue-colored background).
  2. One voiced (z, like the { z } in “maze” or “raise”), which happens when it is followed by a voiced consonant { b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v }.
Unvoiced s
sale ˈsale
sfera ˈsfɛra
ospite ˈɔspite
squalo ˈskwalo
testa ˈtɛsta
falso ˈfalso
stasera staˈsera
unisono uˈnisono
cosa ˈkɔsa
casa ˈkasa
frase ˈfrase
Voiced z
sbadato zbaˈdato
sdraio ˈzdrajo
sgridare zgriˈdare
smalto ˈzmalto
svelto ˈzvɛlto
Islam izˈlam
cosmo ˈkɔzmo
plasma ˈplazma
rosa ˈrɔza
casa ˈkaza
frase ˈfraze
Important notes
  • The straw-colored background is used to emphasize that:
    • In Northern Italy, the intervocalic { s } is almost always pronounced voiced: z.
    • In Southern Italy, the intervocalic { s } is always pronounced voiceless: s.
  • In standard Tuscany-based pronunciation there isn‘t a fixed rule to know how an intervocalic { s } should be pronounced. Some words are pronounced voiceless (e.g. casa, mese, cinese, piemontese) while others should be pronounced voiced.

Consonant “C”

The letter { c } has two sounds:

  1. One hard (k, like the { c } in “car” or the { k } in “kilogram”), which happens:
    • When the letter is followed by the vowels { a, o, u }.
    • When the letter is followed by a consonant —including the letter { h } (shown at the table with the light-blue-colored background), which remains silent (see the transcription of che or fachiro).
  2. One soft (, like the { ch } in “chair” or “church”), which happens:
    • When the letter is followed by the vowels { e, i }.
Hard sound k
casa ˈkasa
anemico aˈnɛmiko
curare kuˈrare
che ke
fachiro faˈkiro
clima ˈklima
creare kreˈare
recluso reˈkluzo
Soft sound
ce tʃe
centro ˈtʃɛntro
camice ˈkamitʃe
cibo ˈtʃibo
macina ˈmatʃina
camicia kaˈmitʃa
ciocco ˈtʃɔkko
farmacia farmaˈtʃia
Important notes
  • If the { i } is unstressed it then becomes silent when { c } + { i } + { any other vowel}. In this case it becomes a diacritical letter.
    Compare the transcription of camicia or ciocco with that of farmacia (shown all three with the straw-colored background).
  • The combinations { ch } + { e, i } occur in Italian words (e.g. che, cherubino, fachiro, alchimia).
  • The combinations { ch } + { a, o, u } occur in loanwords and are pronounced as in the original language.
    For example: chalet (ʃaˈle ), macho (ˈmatʃo ) or chutney (ˈtʃatni).
  • As a reminder of how some letters are pronounced differently in certain regions, in Siena:
    • The hard { c } sound (k) after a vowel tends to be pronounced more like the English { h } in “house” (h).
      See for example how the word “storica” is pronounced in the following video: Contrada E’ - Istrice at time 01:29 or how the words “cagnolini” and casa”, and how the phrase “la Coca Cola calda calda con la cannuccia corta corta” are pronounced in the following video: la coca cola calda calda at 00:17, 00:33 and 01:32, respectively.
    • The intervocalic soft { c } sound () often tends to be pronounced more like the English { sh } in “short” (ʃ).
      See for example how the word Istrice is pronounced in the following video: Contrada E’ - Istrice at 00:35, 00:39 or 01:19.

Consonant “G”

The letter { g } has two sounds:

  1. One hard (g, like the { g } in the English words “gas” or “flag”), which happens:
    • When the letter is followed by the vowels { a, o, u }.
    • When the letter is followed by the consonant { h } (shown at the table with the light-blue-colored background), which remains silent (see the transcription of ghepardo or cinghia).
    • When the letter is followed by any other consonant, except for { n } —see: Digraph “GN”— or li —see: Trigraph “GLI”.
  2. One soft (, like the { j } in the English word “joke” or the { g } in “age”), which happens:
    • When the letter is followed by the vowels { e, i }.
Hard sound g
gamba ˈgamba
gola ˈgola
gusto ˈgusto
ghepardo geˈpardo
cinghia ˈtʃingja
globale gloˈbale
grave ˈgrave
sigla ˈsigla
Soft sound
gelato dʒeˈlato
generale dʒeneˈrale
geranio dʒeˈranjo
giberna dʒiˈbɛrna
giro ˈdʒiro
cugino kuˈdʒino
adagio aˈdadʒo
giusto ˈdʒusto
Important notes
  • If the { i } is unstressed it then becomes silent when { g } + { i } + { any other vowel}. In this case it becomes a diacritical letter.
    See the transcription of adagio or giusto (shown with the straw-colored background).
  • Only the { gh } + { e, i } combinations occur in Italian words (e.g. alghe, ghepardo, cinghia, unghia).

Digraph “GN”

The sound (ɲ) of the digraph { gn } is like that of the { ñ } in the Spanish words “niño” or “caña”. English doesn‘t have this particular sound, so the best approximation is like the { ny } in “canyon”.

gnomo ˈɲɔmo
gnu ɲu
bagno ˈbaɲɲo
dignità diɲɲiˈta
insigne inˈsiɲɲe
lasagne laˈzaɲɲe
legna ˈleɲɲa
ognuno oɲˈɲuno
sogno ˈsoɲɲo
vigneto viɲˈɲeto
Important notes
  • The gn-sound (ɲ) is a long sound, so it needs to be doubled in the phonetic transcription when it occurs in the middle of a word (see for example the transcription of bagno or legna).

Trigraph “GLI”

The letter combination { gli } can be pronounced in two different ways:

  1. Where all three letters { g, l, i } are distinctively pronounced (gli). This occurs:
    • When it is at the start of the word and it is followed by a consonant (they are usually words of Greek origin): “glicemia” (glitʃeˈmia), glicerina, glicol or glissare.
    • When it comes after the consonant { n }: “anglicano” (angliˈkano), ganglio.
    • When it is followed by the consonant { g }: “negligente” (negliˈdʒɛnte), negligenza.
    • When it is related to the suffix -glifo (which is of Greek origin): “geroglifico” (dʒɛroˈglifiko), petroglifo.
  2. With a palatal sound (ʎi), which is a relatively difficult sound because it is not present nor in Spanish nor in English. This occurs:
    • When it is at the end of the word.
    • When it is unstressed and followed by another vowel, in which case the { i } becomes silent (it becomes a diacritical letter): ʎ (see the transcription of aglio or biglia, for example).
    • When it comes before the consonants { m, n } or the consonants { c, f, t }.

    One way to learn to reproduce this particular sound is to put the tip of tongue behind the lower teeth, rise the middle part of the tongue so it touches the roof of the mouth (like when reproducing the { gn } sound: ɲ), extend a bit the lips and then try to make the air flow through the sides of the tongue. You may want to watch the following short video to learn a bit more about its pronunciation: How to make the sound GL/GLI.

bagagli baˈgaʎʎi
aglio ˈaʎʎo
biglia ˈbiʎʎa
moglie ˈmoʎʎe
pagliuzza paʎˈʎuttsa
accoglimento akkoʎʎiˈmento
bavaglino bavaʎˈʎino
coniglicoltura koniʎʎikolˈtura
maglificio maʎʎiˈfitʃo
coglitore koʎʎiˈtore
Important notes
  • The gl-sound (ʎ) is a long sound, so it needs to be doubled in the phonetic transcription when it occurs in the middle of a word (see the transcription of moglie or pagliuzza).
  • In some regions of Italy the pronunciation may be completely different.
    For example, in Rome it tends to be stronger, moving it closer to a Spanish { lli } or { yi } sound, or to the English sound, like in “jeep” or in “age”.
    Please watch the following video for an example: How to pronounce GLI.
    As a reference, please see the following Wikipedia pages:

Consonants “K”, “X” & “Y”

The letters { k, x, y } do not form part of the Italian alphabet, they are used only for foreign words or names, and are pronounced as in English.

kiwi ˈkiwi
extra ˈɛkstra
yogurt ˈjɔgurt
xilofono ksiˈlɔfono

Consonants “J” & “W”

The letters { j, w } do not form part of the Italian alphabet; they are used for foreign words or names, or for words derived from Latin or regional languages.

In loanwords, the letter { j } sounds as in English: (left table); otherwise, as a semivowel: j (right table).

The letter { w } may sound as in English: w (left table), or as in German: v (right table).

jazz dʒaz
jeans dʒinz
jockey dʒɔki
Walter walter
webcam webˈkam
whisky ˈwiski
Jesi jesi
Jupiter ˈjupiter
Juventus juˈventus
water ˈvater
watt vat
   

Double consonants

Double consonants follow the same rules as the single ones, but they are pronounced more emphatically:

  • For the consonants { f, l, m, n, r, s, v, z }, the sound is prolonged.
  • For the consonants { b, c, d, g, p, q, t, z }, the stop sound is stronger.

As syllables in spoken Italian are given a similar amount of time to pronounce them, vowel sounds are usually long before a single consonant, but they are shortened before double consonants because they need to make space, so to speak, for the first consonant.

First syllable 50% time Second syllable 50% time
ca– /ˈkaː ne ne/
can /ˈkan ne ne/
le– /ˈleː go go/
leg /ˈleg go go/

The IPA syllable break symbol is used in the following table to make the previous idea more notable.

cane ˈkaː.ne canne ˈkan.ne
capa ˈkaː.pa cappa ˈkap.pa  
lego ˈleː.go leggo ˈleg.go  
sera ˈseː.ra serra ˈsɛr.ra

Every consonant can be doubled except for the letter { h } because it is silent.

baffo ˈbaffo
bello ˈbɛllo
mamma ˈmamma
nonno ˈnɔnno
birra ˈbirra
sasso ˈsasso
evviva evˈviva
azzimo ˈaddzimo
bizza ˈbiddza
mezzo ˈmɛddzo
gazza ˈgaddza
babbo ˈbabbo
cocca ˈkɔkka
accento atˈtʃɛnto
accidente attʃiˈdɛnte
facciale fatˈtʃale
freddo ˈfreddo
aggancio agˈgantʃo
leggenda ledˈdʒɛnda
leggibile ledˈdʒibile
dileggio diˈleddʒo
pappa ˈpappa
soqquadro sokˈkwadro
tetto ˈtetto
aguzzo aˈguttso
pizza ˈpittsa
mazzo ˈmattso
nozze ˈnɔttse
Important notes
  • The double { s } is always unvoiced (ss).
  • The double { z } (see the words shown with the straw-colored background) is usually pronounced like the single { z } and so it may be voiced (ddz) or unvoiced (tts).
  • Always take care and correctly emphasize double consonants because doubling a consonant usually changes the meaning of the word (see: Contrasting single and double consonants).
  • A double consonant is usually followed by a vowel or, for the consonants { c, g }, by the consonant { h }; only in some cases it may be followed by the consonant { r }, like in the word “labbra”.
  • Soqquadro (disorder) is the only Italian word with a double { q }.
  • In Rome the double { r } tends to be pronounced as a single one.

Double consonant sounds

Besides the double hard g sound created by the { gga, ggo, ggu } combinations, it can also be created by the { gghi } combination.

mugghiare mugˈgjare
sogghigno sogˈgiɲɲo
Important notes
  • The combination { gghe } does not exist.

Besides the double hard k sound created by the { cca, cco, ccu, qqu } combinations, it can also be created by the { cqu, cche, cchi } combinations.

acqua ˈakkwa
acqueo ˈakkweo
acquisito akkwiˈzito
sciacquo ˈʃakkwo
bicchiere bikˈkjɛre
maccheroni makkeˈroni
occhio ˈɔkkjo
racchetta rakˈketta

Double vowels

Only the { e, i, o } double vowels can be found in a scarce number of words.

geenna geˈenna
veemente veeˈmɛnte
riinserire riinseˈrire
sciita ʃiˈita
zii ˈtsii
cooperare koopeˈrare
oosfera oosˈfɛra
zoologia dzooloˈdʒia

Stress and intonation patterns

Before continuing, please watch the videos from the following YouTube playlist:

lang - italian 02e - pronunciation, syllables

Italian has a distinct sound and a particular bouncy intonation whose basic rhythm unit is the syllable.

Extract from “La metamorfosi”, by Franz Kafka

Roberto Benigni, reading from “La donna nel Talmud”

A syllable is an uninterrupted segment of speech or the smallest fraction of a word that is pronounced as a single sound. All Italian syllables must have at least one vowel, but not necessarily a consonant, and most end in a vowel sound.

In Italian language, stress usually falls on the second-to-last (penultimate) syllable:

ba–cio ca–ne gu–sto sca–la
a–mi–ca bam–bi–no fol–li–a spa–ghe–tti
al–le–gri–a far–ma–ci–a ca–len–da–rio a–cro–ba–zi–a

Some words may have the stress on the third-to-last syllable (many of these words are third person plural conjugations):

al–be–ro a–na–tra ce–le–bre ci–ne–ma
ma–cchi–na ma–gi–co or–di–no sa–ba–to
A–me–ri–ca an–ti–pa–ti–co te–le–fo–no zuc–che–ro
a–scol–ta–no ca–de–va–no chie–des–si–mo  

Or on the fourth-to-last syllable (most of these words are third person plural conjugations or compound words, like verbs with clitic pronouns):

a–bi–ta–no or–di–na–no te–le–fo–na–no
com–pra–me–lo par–la–me–ne di–men–ti–can–do–se–ne

Or on the fifth-to-last syllable (most of these words are compound words):

fab–bri–ca–me–lo oc–cu–pa–te–ne or–di–na–glie–lo

When stress falls on the last syllable, the vowel is then written with:

  • A grave accent mark (`). This is the usual case, where letters { e, o } have an open sound: ɛ and ɔ, respectively.
  • An acute accent mark (´). This is used on words ending in -ché, where the letter { e } has a closed sound: e.
cit– caf– lu–ne– sen–ti– vir–
ben–ché fin–ché per–ché    

Sometimes a word can have two (or even three) different pronunciations based on the stressed syllable, in which each variation has a different meaning.

ambito (environment) ambito (yearned for)  
ancora (anchor) ancora (again)
bacio bacio (facing north)  
decade (decade) decade (it decays)  
impari (uneven) impari (you learn)  
leggere (to read) leggere (light things)  
leggero (a light thing) legge (I will read)  
nocciolo (kernel) nocciolo (hazel)
papa (pope) pa (father)  
pero (pear tree) pe (but, yet)  
principi (princes) principi (principles)  
subito (at once) subito (endured)  
abito (dress, suit) abito (I reside)  
  abi (he resided)  
spiano (they spy) spiano (I level)
  spianò (he leveled)  

Italian phonemic vowels

The following tables group several words according to their phonemic vowels.

Carefully repeat each word several times, trying to reproduce its correct sound.

a alta, ama, banana, casa, da, lavoro, pasta
città, dà, sarà, società
ɛ è, era, festa, lei, lento, miei, presto, sedia, senza, vento
caffè, cioè * aereo, bene
e e, bere, che, dove, me, nero, ponte, vedere, vero
perché * rè, tè * aereo, bene
i amico, bimbi, finito, Italia, libri, sì, violini, zia
ɔ cosa, cuore, donna, moda, no, posta, rosa * piangerò, spiegherò
brodo, buono, luogo, olio, oro, otto, trono, vostro
o o, come, dono, lo, mondo, nero, nome, non, ombra, ponte, posto, rosso, so
brodo, buono, luogo, olio, oro, otto, trono, vostro
u ultimo, uno, uso, busta, cuore, due, luna, lungo, museo, tumulto
caucciù, giù, ragù, virtù
Important notes
  • When a word has an emphasized letter (in red color), that letter corresponds to the sound being denoted, while the same unemphasized letters correspond to the other possible sound.
  • Note that aereo and bene have both, an open and a closed { e }.
  • Note that brodo, buono, among the others listed, have an open and a closed { o }.
  • Also note that very similar words (e.g. non vs. no, posto vs. posta, rosso vs. rosa), have a different type of { o } (a closed and an open one, respectively).

Semivowels

The semivowels { j, w } sound like the English consonants { y, w } and are formed by having the unstressed closed vowels { i, u } followed by a vowel, respectively.

j bianco, diavolo, scoiattolo
ieri, biella, dietro, dieci, fiera, siete, siesta, vieto
biondo, fioco, pioggia, piovoso, saio
fiume, p, piumoso * Jesi
w guado
conseguenza, guerra
conseguire, qui
uovo, buono, fuoco, scuola, suola

Contrasting closed and open “e” and “o”

The following table contrasts closed and open { e }.

  e ɛ Audio
accetta hatchet he accepts  
affetto I slice affection  
annetto year (dimin.) I append  
credo I believe creed  
dei it: di + i divine beings
e and he is  
esse it: esso, pl. fem. the letter “s”  
feci it: fare, pass.rem. excrement  
legge law he reads  
lessi you boil it: leggere, pass.rem.  
mento chin I lie  
messe masses harvest  
mezzo soaked half, means of  
nei it: in + i moles  
pene sorrows penis
pesca fishing peach
peste bruised, pl. plague  
re king musical note: D
rene sands kidney  
reni lower back kidneys
reso it: rendere, p.p. name of a monkey
te / tè pronoun beverage
tesi it: tendere, p.p. thesis
venti twenty winds  

The following table contrasts closed and open { o }.

  o ɔ Audio
accorsi it: accorrere, pass.rem. it: accorgere, pass.rem.  
apposta it: apporre, p.p. on purpose  
botte barrel, cask blows, hits  
colla it: con + la glue
colle it: con + le hill
collo it: con + lo neck
colto well-educated it: cogliere, p.p.
corso it: correre, p.p. Corsican
dotto duct (anatomy) erudite, learned
foro hole court
fosse he was pits  
mozzo ship‘s boy; cut off (head) hub
ora hour he prays
oratori orators, speakers oratories
porci it: porre + ci (put there) pigs  
porti it: porre + ti (put to you) port, harbor  
posta it: porre, p.p. mail, post office
rocca distaff (spinning tool) fortress
rogo var. of rovo (blackberry bush) funeral pyre, the stake
rosa it: rodere (itch, erosion) pink, rose
scopo I sweep aim, purpose
sensori it: pl. sensore (sensors) it: pl. sensorio (sensories)
sorta it: sorgere, p.p. kind, sort, type
sorte it: sorgere, pass.pross. fate, destiny, chance  
tocco I touch chunk, lump, piece
torsi torsos it: torcere, pass.rem.  
torta cake it: torcere, p.p.
volgo common people I turn  
volto face it: torcere, p.p.

Italian phonemic consonants

The following table shows the Italian phonemic consonants.

m mano, mentre, mia, mondo, muro, ambito, campo, esempio * emme, mamma
n nato, nebuloso, niente, noioso, nuovo, punto * anno, nonna
  ŋ fango, unghia, ancora, banca, anche, panchina, dunque 
ɲ gnocco, campagna, ogni
p pane, papà, pepe, piano, ponte, campo, capo, dopo, riempire * mappa, tappeto
b bella, bene, bianco, bocca, cibo, libro, mobile, robusto * abbaco, labbro
t tanto, testa, timido, totale, alto, carta, nato * botte, mattina, mettere, tutto
d da, dente, diventare, dove, due, andare, dodici, ludico, radio * addio, freddo
k cane, come, così, cuoco, cuore, acuto, banco, fico, marca, tasca * ecco, gnocco
  che, chilo, chimica, chiuso, anche, finché, perché * bicchiere, zucchero
  acqua, acquaio * quale, questo, quinto, quota * kiwi, kaiser
g gamba, gatto, godere, gonna, gusto, glifo, agro, lingua, lungo * aggio, viaggio
  ghetto, ghiaccio, alghe, funghi, laghi, spaghetti * rugghiare, sogghignare
ts zampa, zattera, zio, zingaro, zuppa, zucchero, canzone, grazie, marzo, nazionale
  aguzzo, nozze, pazzo, pezzi, pizzicato, sozzo
dz zaino, zanzara, zebra, zero, zona, zoo, pranzo, stanza
  azzurro, dozzina, gazza, gazzella, mezzo
cena, certo, cibo, cinque, acido, dolce, dici, dicembre, facile, rapace, vincita
  accento, siccità, succede * acacia, cielo, bacio, ciuffo * abbraccio, faccia, acciuga
gelato, gemma, girare, gitano, angelo, cugino, fingere, pagina
  oggetto, fuggire * fagiolo, giogia, giù, magia * aggiungere, foggia, raggiera, raggio
f fare, fino, fosforo * baffo, caffè
v vado, vicino, povero * evviva
s sale, sete, sole, scatola, scusa, casa, pasto * adesso, bassa, spesso
z casa, presentare, rosa * nisba, sdegno, sgarbo, islam, asma, snello, israele, svelto
ʃ scena, scibile, asceta, cascina, pesci * scià, cosciente, sciita, derviscio, asciugare
l latte, lungo, balo, pala, sale * allora, balla, calle, collirio, illuso * tallio
ʎ gli, aglio, bottiglia, famiglia, figli, glielo, maglia, moglie, quadrifoglio
r rosso, arte, cerca, fermo, morte, scarpa * arrivo, birra, burro, serra
  ɾ albero, amore, cuore, mare, Torino

Contrasting single and double consonants

The following table contrasts some single and double consonants.

Single consonant Double consonant Audio
agio (at ease) aggio (premium, age)
ano (anus) anno (year)  
bara (coffin) barra (bar)  
belo (I whine) bello (beautiful)  
cacio (cheese) caccio (I hunt)  
camino (fireplace) cammino (I walk)
cane (dog) canne (reeds)  
capa (head) cappa (cape)  
capello (hair) cappello (hat)  
caro (dear, expensive) carro (cart, wagon)  
casa (house) cassa (cash register)  
copia (copy) coppia (couple)
coro (choir) corro (I run)  
fato (fate) fatto (fact)  
lego (I tie, I fasten) leggo (I read)  
nono (ninth) nonno (grandfather)
note (notes) notte (night)  
oso (I dare) osso (bone)
pala (shovel) palla (ball)  
Papa (Pope) pappa (baby food)  
pene (penis) penne (pens)  
polo (pole) pollo (chicken)
risa (laugh) rissa (scuffle)  
roca (hoarse) rocca (fortress)  
rosa (pink, rose) rossa (red)  
sano (healthy) sanno (they know)  
seno (bosom) senno (sense, good judgment)
sera (evening) serra (greenhouse)  
sete (thirst) sette (seven)
sono (I am or they are) sonno (sleep)
speso (spent) spesso (often)
tori (bulls) torri (towers)  
tufo (tuff) tuffo (I dive)  
velo (veil) vello (fleece)

Italian diacritical letters

In written language, a diacritic or diacritical mark is a special sign added above a letter (like the grave accent ` in the Italian word però or the tilde ~ in the Spanish word niño), or below a letter (like the cedilla ç in the French word français), either to distinguish it from another letter of similar form, or to indicate that it has a different phonetic value (among other possibilities). For example, in Italian the grave accent is used not only to distinguish the word è (is) from e (and), but also to change its pronunciation (see: Vowels “E” & “O”).

In Italian there are two letters that in some particular cases fulfill a similar function to that of a diacritical mark, and so they are called diacritical letters.

  1. The letter { h }, which is always silent (see: Consonant “H”).
  2. The letter { i }, which only becomes silent under certain circumstances (see: Vowel “I”).

The diacritical “H”

In Italian words the letter { h } fulfills a diacritical function in the following instances:

  1. In four conjugations of the present indicative of the verb avere (to have), to distinguish them from a series of homophones (words that are pronounced the same and therefore sound the same).
    ho (I have) o (or)
    hai (you have) ai (to the)
    ha (he/she has) a (to)
    hanno (they have) anno (year)
  2. In the groups { che, chi; ghe, ghi } to distinguish them from similar words but with the groups { ce, ci; ge, gi } (see: Consonant “C”, Consonant “G”). The pronunciation of both groups differ.
    chicca (tidbit, gem) cicca (cigarette butt)
    ghiro (dormouse) giro (lap, tour)
  3. In the groups { sche, schi; sghe, sghi }. In these cases the { h } only modifies the sound of the { sc, sg } letters (see: Letter combination “SC”).
    bischero (peg)
    sghiribizzo (whim, fancy)

The diacritical “I”

The letter { i } fulfills a diacritical function in the following instances:

  1. When unstressed and in the groups { cia, cio, ciu; gia, gio, giù; scia, scio, sciu } to change the sound of the groups { ca, co, cu; ga, go, gu; sca, sco, scu } (first table —see: Consonant “C”, Consonant “G”, Letter combination “SC”). When there are similar words in those groups it also distinguishes them in meaning (second table).
    acacia (acacia)
    arancio (orange color)
    ciuco (fool)
    agiato (well-off)
    adagio (adage, slowly)
    giubba (tunic, jacket)
    ascia (hatchet)
    conscio (conscious, aware)
    asciutto (dry, arid)
    ancia (reed) anca (hip)
    ciocco (chunk of wood) cocco (coconut)
    ciucco (silly) cucco (cuckoo)
    giara (jar) gara (race)
    mangio (I eat) mango (mango)
    giusto (just) gusto (taste)
    sciala (he wastes) scala (staircase)
    sciocca (he shocks) scocca (body car)
    prosciutto (ham) discusso (debated)
  2. When unstressed and in the groups { glia, glie, glio, gliu } to change the sound of the groups { gla, gle, glo, glu } (see: Trigraph “GLI”).
    biglia ˈbiʎʎa
    biglietto biʎˈʎetto
    luglio ˈluʎʎo
    pagliuzza paʎˈʎuttsa
    sigla ˈsigla
    inglese inˈgleze
    globale gloˈbale
    gluteo ˈgluteo

When in the groups { cie; gie; scie }, the { i } is totally superfluous because it does not change the sound of the adjacent letters and it does not fulfill a diacritical function as there aren’t any similar words but with the groups { ce; ge; sce }. These cases are usually words in which the { i } is the remnant of an ancient pronunciation, plurals of words ending in { -cia, -gia }, by influence of the spelling of the singular, or words in which the { i } is maintained by the influence of Latin spelling.

  • cieco, cielo, camicie, superficie
  • effigie, gorgiera, igiene, valigie
  • cosciente, coscienza, scienza, usciere

References

Dictionaries

Italian pronunciation

About the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Fonts with all the IPA symbols

General information