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Italian pronunciation

say it right, in every region of Italy

Italian words are pronounced phonetically.

Stress and accents

The stress of a word usually falls on the penultimate syllable. When it doesn't, there is often an accent mark to tip you off: così, ragù. This is the only purpose of accent marks in Italian. And they are always reversed accent marks, excepting 'e', which can go either way, depending on the pronunciation of the letter: caffè ('coff-eh'), perché (pair-kay).


Consonants are generally pronounced as in English, with some exceptions. K, W, X and Y only occur in foreign words.

c, when followed by an ‘e’ or ‘i’, is pronounced like the English ‘ch’: città; c followed by 'a', 'o' or 'u' is hard: castello; ch is always a hard 'c': Chianti.

g: like 'c' is also soft before ‘i’ or ‘e’: generale; gh is a hard 'g': ghetto. gl: before 'a', 'o' and 'u', is pronounced as in English: gloria; before 'i' and 'e' it sounds like 'ly': Pagliacci. gn: like 'ny': gnocchi

h: aspirated, like the English 'h' in honest:

j: is called 'long i' in Italian; except in foreign words it is pronounced as 'y', Jacopo

qu: like 'kw': quattro (never 'k', as it is in Spanish)

r: not like the flat 'r' in English, but always rolled or trilled

s: like 'z' when it is between two vowels: rosa; otherwise like 's': salsa. sc before an 'e' or 'i' is like the English sh: Brescia. (One of the most common mistakes for beginners is pronouncing 'sch' as in German words. It's really 'sk': scherzo)

z: like ‘ts’ or 'tz': pizza.

Italians are particular about double consonants. Both must be voiced; its 'spaghet-ti', not 'spagheti'. It takes some practice learning to do this without exaggerating the break between the letters! 'll' is the same; it is never 'ly' as in 'million', or 'y' as in Spanish words.


Vowel pronunciation:

a usually as in English ‘father’: Dante; sometimes, rarely, as English 'cat': Atlantico; au and ao are both pronounced 'ow': ciao

e as the English long 'a': mele ('maylay'); or else short, like the English 'bet': Venezia

i is usualy like ‘ee’: vino. But it can be short, especially at the beginning of a word: Italia

o usually long, as in Roma. sometimes more like the 'o' in English ‘pot’: risotto

u is pronounced like the ‘u’ in ‘June’: Siracusa

Vowel combinations: In proper Italian every vowel should be sounded: Aida, pietà, ionico, italiano.

In everyday speech though, they tend to get mashed together: 'pyay-ta', 'yon-i-co', 'i-tal-yan-o'

Italian Dialects

Of course, every local dialect has its own way of saying things. In some parts, every village has its own way. Covering them all would take forever and a day, but here are some tips for the major dialects.

As a general rule, remember that all vowels are pronounced; diphthongs, where two are combined in a single sound, are few.

Piemontès (Piedmont)

ch: like a hard 'c'

e: usually short, but pronounced like the 'a' in cake when the e comes at the end of a syllable, or has an acute accent (é). è is short; ë is a schwa.

gh: hard 'g'; gg is a soft 'g'

o: like Italian 'u'. ó like the English hope; ò like the English hot.

s: like 'z' at the beginning of a word or before a consonant; otherwise as 's'

u: like a French 'u', or German 'u' umlaut

z: like the s in rose

Ligure (Genoa and Liguria)

Ligure is a family of closely related dialects, of which the most common is Zeneize ('Genovese')

A circumflex or an umlaut over a vowel (except 'e') lengthens it: bîrra (beer) sounds like 'biira'

æ: like the 'e' in bet

ç: 's', as in French

é: like long 'a' in cake; è, like the short e in bet

eu: like the French 'eu' in honneur

nn-: a very nasal 'n'; the '-' in Ligurian dialects functions as a kind of stop

o: at the end of a word, sounds like 'u'. ô* is like the 'u' in hut; òu sounds both vowels separately

s: 's', or often like 'z' when between vowels

sc-c: pronounced 'shk'

u and ù: like the French in *rue

x: like 'zh'

z: like the 's' in rose

Milanes (Milan and Lombardy)

double vowels (aa, ee etc.) at the end of words are stressed and pronounced separately:

ô: long o

oeu: like the French 'eu'

s'c and s'g: like 'sh' and 'sj'

u: like a German 'ü'

z: like 's'

Veneto (Venice and the Veneto)

Spoken in much of northeast Italy, the 'terra firma' once ruled by the Venetian Republic. There are many sub-dialects and a lot of confusion about pronunciation.

ç: 's' as in French

j: 'dz'

l, n and v: nearly silent, especially at the end of a word

x: 'z'

z: like 's'

Emiglièna-Rumagnôla (Emilia-Romagna)

The region has a variety of related dialects of which the most widespread is Bulgneis, Bolognese). The vowel sounds are many and largely indistinguishable to foreign ears.

à and ä: more or less as in father; â and å as in hat

ê and è: as in bet; é is like the Italian long 'e': chiesa

î: like the Italian long 'i': vino

j: also a long 'i' sound

ô: as in the English more; ò is long 'o' as in hope; ó as in *pot

s: with a dot over the letter, as 'sh'

s-c: 'sk' (see above, Milanès)

û: 'oo' as in boot

Toscano (Tuscany)

Tuscan is very close to standard Italian, and the pronunciation is much the same.

Romanesco (Rome and Lazio)

c: usually as 'sh'

gg: soft 'g'

j: 'ly'

r: very rolled; often takes the place of italian 'l'

z: 'ts'; often takes the place of Italian 's'

Nnapulitano (Naples)

This is a distinct language, the speech of most of the south. It extends, with many variants, as far as the southern Abruzzo, northern Calabria and northern Puglia. It's a language of lazy vowels. Speak standard Italian, omitting most vowels and people might think you're from Naples.

Nneapolitans enjoy confusing us with double consonants at the beginning of words. There's an ancient and obscure and complex reason for it, but pay no attention; just ignore the extra consonant.

b: at the beginning of a word or syllable is usually more like 'v'

c: 'c' before 'i' and 'e' makes a sound between 'sh' and 'ch'

d: at the beginning of a word or syllable is often pronounced like 'r'

g: before 'i' and 'e' makes a sound between soft 'g' and 'zh'. gu at the beginning of a word is pronounced like the English 'w'

i: always as 'ee'

r: between vowels sounds almost like a 't'

s: as in Italian, but often as 'sh' when followed by a consonant

x: 'sh'

Calabbrìsi (Calabria)

bb:'b' (see above; double consonants work the same way as in Neapolitan)

chj: 'ky'

dd: 'd'


gg: 'j'

ë: 'u'

h: aspirated, or hard 'h' as in Scottish 'loch'; 'h' sometimes takes the place of 'f'

öu: 'u'

š: 'sh'

ua: 'wa'

end vowels are omitted, or converted to a schwa, making a faint 'uh' sound at the end of words.

Sicilianu (Sicily)

Sicilianu, like Nnapulitano, is considered not a dialect, but a language in its own right.

dd: like the hard 'th' in Thomas

h: hard, as in the Scottish 'loch'

i: always short

j: as 'ee'

u: as in the English 'put'

z: a faint 'ts'

Sardu (Sardinia)

Sard too is a proper language, one almost completely unintelligible to a speaker of standard Italian. It includes several dialects of its own.

There are huge differences between written and spoken Sard. Consonants b, d, f and g can be almost silent at the beginning of a word. And words that end in consonants are often spoken as if they had a short vowel sound after them (repeating the vowel that came last in the word).

Vowel sounds, fortunately, are much like those of Italian, and accent marks are only used to show the stress.

b: close to 'v', as in Spanish: vaca

ch: always a hard 'c'

d: as 'd', but can be a soft 'th' between vowels. dd or a d after another consonant is a hard 'th' (Thomas)

gh: always hard 'g'

j: as 'y', though sometimes can be 'zh' at the beginning of a word.

s: sometimes turns into 'r' after a vowel

th: like the soft 'th' in English: *thin

tz: like 'ts'

x: like 'ks'

z: like 's'

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: babelblog