1. Ten Things To Know About Pronunciation in Italian.


In the Grammar Guru we use a simplified Pronunciation Guide designed for English-speaking students. In the Guide, the stressed syllable of a word is indicated in boldface: vino becomes vee-noh, for example, and ragazzo is rah-gahts-tsoh. For more information on the phonetics of the Pronunciation Guide, click here.


1. Consonants.
In Italian most consonants are pronounced very much as in English, although the r is usually rolled or trilled more forcefully. The letters j, k, w, x, and y are almost never found in Italian, except in words borrowed from other languages, and h is not pronounced. Thus io ho (I have) sounds like ee-oh oh, and loro hanno (they have) is loh-roh ahn-noh.


2. Letters s and z.
The letter s has the regular sound of s in an English word like "sister" or "bossy" when it begins a word, when it precedes a consonant, or when it is doubled: sale (salt), questo (this), osso (bone)--sah-lay, kweh-stoh, ohs-soh.  But it sounds like the English z (or the s in an English word like nasal) when it is found alone between vowels: thus quasi (almost) and naso (nose) sound like kwah-zee and nah-zoh. The letter z in Italian has a sound similar to the combination tz in matzoh or the ts in lets: thus zuppa (soup) and mezzo (half) sound as if they were written tsoo-pah and mehts-tsoh.
3. The letter g.
As in English, the letter g has two sounds, soft (like the English j in "jar," or the sound of g in "germ") and hard (as in "game"). The soft g is found before the vowels i and e, while the hard g comes before a, o, u, or any consonant, including the silent h: gita (tour), and gentile (kind) have soft g's (jee-tah, jehn-tee-lay), while gatto (cat), gonna (skirt), grido (shout), and ghiaccio (ice) have hard ones (gaht-toh, gohn-nah, gree-doh, gee-ah-choh).
4. The letter c.
The letter c also has a soft and a hard sound. The soft c is similar to the English ch in "cheese," while the hard c is like the English k. Just as with g, the c is soft before i and e, and hard before a, o, u or any consonant. Cielo (sky) and  certo (certain) begin with soft c's (chay-loh, chehr-toh). Campo (field), colle (hill), credere (to believe), and chiesa (church) have hard c's (kahm-poh, kohl-lay, kray-day-ray, kee-ay-zah).
5. The combinations gl, gn, sc.
In Italian the combination gl is pronounced like the letters li in the English word "million": figlio (son) thus sounds as if it were written fee-lyoh. The combination gn is similar to the Spanish ñ, or English ni in "onion": bagno (bath) = bah-nyoh. When the pair sc occurs before e or i it sounds like the Engish sh in "ship": esce (he goes out), sciocco (fool)  = eh-shay, shohk-koh; but before a, o, u, and h, the c remains hard: scuro (dark), scarpa (shoe), scherzo (joke) = skoo-roh, skahr-pah, skehr-tsoh.
6. Vowels.
The vowels in Italian follow the European rather than American or English way of pronunciation. Thus a sounds like ah in "father," i like the i in "machine," o like the oh in "rope," and u like oo in "soon": sala (room), vino (wine), oggi (today), luna (moon) = sah-lah, vee-noh, ohj-jee, loo-nah.
7. The letter e.
E has two sounds in Italian. It makes a "short" or "open" sound like the English e in "pet" when it precedes two or more consonants, as in tenda (tent) and bello (beautiful)--tehn-dah, behl-loh. At the end of a word, or when followed by only one consonant, e usually has the "long" or "closed" sound similar to the English combination ay in "bay" or "day": treno (train), luce (light), me (me) = tray-noh, loo-chay, may.
8. Stress. 
The great majority of Italian words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable: ragazzo (boy), strada (street), finestra (window) = rah-gahts-tsoh, strah-dah, fee-neh-strah. A number of common words, however, carry the stress on the third-to-the-last syllable: albero (tree), medico (doctor), fantastico (fantastic) = ahl-bay-roh, may-dee-koh, fahn-tah-stee-koh.
9. Final syllable stress.
A small number of Italian words are stressed on the last syllable, and these are always written with an accent on the final vowel: città (city), lunedì (Monday), partirò (I will leave) = cheet-tah, loo-nay-dee, pahr-tee-roh. In modern usage, the accent is usually written as the backwards-leaning "grave" accent, except for words ending in -ché, which use the forward-pointing "acute" accent: perché (because), benché (although) = pehr-kay, behn-kay.
10. One-syllable words.
In addition to multi-syllable words stressed on the final vowel, we find the written accent employed in five common short words as part of their spelling: ciò (this), già (already), giù (down), più (more), and può (he can) = choh, jah, joo, pee-oo, pwoh. Note that in ciò, già, and giù the letter i is not pronounced: as is often the case, it is there just to "soften" the c or g.
The accent also appears on a number of one-syllable words to distinguish them from other words spelled the same way. The most common are:
    he gives (pronounced dah)   da   from (pronounced dah)
è he is (pronounced eh) e and (pronounced ay)
there (pronounced lah) la the (pronounced lah)
neither (pronounced nay) ne of it (pronounced nay)
he knows (pronounced sah) sa his (pronounced sah)
yes (pronounced see) si himself (pronounced see)
tea (pronounced tay) te you (pronounced tay)
In these instances the accent has no affect on the pronunciation, with the exception of è ("he is") and e ("and"). Italians pronounce the accented è in the short or open manner (eh) and the non-accented e in the long or closed way (ay): Carlo è qui (Charles is here) = kahr-loh eh kwee. Carlo e Luca (Charles and Luke) = kahr-loh ay loo-kah.
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