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Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation: The Complete Guide

Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation: The Complete Guide

Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation: The Complete Guide

Simple...

Yes, that is a word that we can use to describe the Italian alphabet

Why?

Because the Official Italian Alphabet has only 21 letters...Very simple, isn't it?

Are you a beginner, wondering around about how to start teaching yourself Italian? Are you already busy learning the irregular verbs or useful phrases or even the question words? That's great but don't forget to learn the Italian alphabet and the pronunciation rules as well!


Official Italian alphabet

Italians use the Latin Alphabet and in this lesson we are going to learn all 21 letters:

A aa

B bbi

C c ci

D ddi

E ee

F f effe

G ggi

H hacca

I i - i (-ee- in English) 

L l elle

M memme

N nenne

O oo

P ppi

Q q  - qu

R r - erre

S s - esse

T tti

U u - u

V vvi

Z zzeta

 

5 Foreign Letters Not Included in the Official Italian alphabet

These 5 letters are not included in the official alphabet but they are often encountered in foreign words:

J j i lunga

K k kappa

W wdoppia vu

X xics

Y y i greca / ipsilon


The Italian Pronunciation

There are 5 vowels : a, e, i, o, u and usually they are pronounce "open". 

There are 16 consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, z and their pronunciation is a bit more complicated...

 

The letter 'C '

If the letter 'c' is before a vowels 'a', 'o', 'u' it's pronounced "hard", like a - k - in caffè{k-afè}, comune/municipality{k-omune}, cura/cure{k-ura}.

If you find the letter 'c' before an 'e' and an 'i', it's pronounced "soft" as the English - ch - as in the word church. Examples: cinema/cinema {ch-inema}or centro/centre {ch-entro}. 

*When you encounter CHE & CHI:

If the letter 'c' is used before an 'h + e' or  'h + i' it is again pronounced "hard", like a - k Examples: perché/why {per-k-è} or chiesa/church {k-iesa}.

 

The letter ' G '

Same as letter 'c' , when the 'g' letter is used before the vowels 'a', 'o', 'u' it's pronounced "hard", like the - g - in the English words gap. Esempi: gara/race {g-ara}, governo/government {g-overno}, gusto/taste {g-usto}.

If used before an 'e' and an 'i', it's pronounced "soft" as the English - g- in gesture. or the - j - in joy Examples: gelato/ice-cream {g-elato}, giro/tour {g-iro}

*When you encounter GHE & GHI:

If the letter 'g' is used before an - he - or - hi - it is again pronounced "hard", like the - g - in gap. Examples: spaghetti/spaghetti {spa-g-etti-} or ghiaccio/ice {g-iacho}.

*NB: the 'h' in Italian is always silent

*The letters 'g' & 'c' + the combinations - ia - & - io - :

When we use the two letters g' & 'c' before the two combinations - ia - and - io - we never pronounce the -i- before the vowels -a- and -o- and the sound is always "soft" (as the -ch- in church and the -g- gesture). Examples: ciao/hi {ch-ao}, cioccolato/chocolate {ch-okkolato}, giardino/garden {g-ardino}, gioia/joy {g-oia}.

 

The letter ' S '

There are two ways to pronounce the Italian 's' : like a - z - in English as the sound in the word quiz or like a - s - in English as the sound in the word kiss. 

* When is it pronounced as the English - s - :

Always when the word begins with a 's' or when you encounter two 'ss' between two vowels Examples: sorella/sister{s-orella}, sport/sport{s-port} & espresso/espresso{espr-e-ss-o}, rosso/red{r-o-ss-o}

When is it pronounced as the English - z - :

Always when one 's' is in between two vowels. Examples: casa/house{c-a-s-a}, rosa/pink{r-o-s-a}, frase/phrase{fr-a-s-e}

*When you encounter SCI/SCE & SCHI/SCHE:

If you see a 's' before a -ci- or a -ce-, you have to pronounce "soft" it as -sh- in English, like in the word shampoo. Examples: uscita/exit {u-sh-ita}, pesce/fish{pe-sh-e}

If you see a 's' before a -chi- or a -che-, you have to pronounce it "hard", like -sk- in the English word sky. Examples: maschile/masculine{ma-sk-i-le}, scheda/card{sk-e-da}.

 

The letter ' Q '

It's pronounced as the English - q -, just remember that an ' u ' will always follow it. Examples: quando/when, quindici/fifteen, questo/this .

 

The double consonants

In Italian there are plenty of words with double consonants. If you want to speak correctly and to sound at least a little bit Italian, you have to always pronounce both consonants:

-bb- in babbo/dad

-cc- in piccolo/little or small

-ff- in caffè/coffee

-gg- in oggi/today

 -ll- in bella/beautiful

-mm- in mamma/mommy

 -nn- in nonna/grandma

-pp- in cappello/hat

-rr- in torre/tower

-tt- in settimana/week

-zz- in ragazza/girl

*NB: If you misspell some words that have a double consonant, you may use a word that has a different meaning. Examples: cappello/hat and capello/hair; speso/spent and spesso/often; polo/pole and pollo/chicken and etc. 

 

The combinations GLI & GNI

*How to pronounce the -gli- words:

All the words that have the -gli- combination must be pronounced very "soft", like the -lli- in the English word million. Examples: famiglia/family{fami-lli-a}, voglia/desire{vo-lli-a}.

*How to pronounce the -gn- words:

The Italian words that have the -gn- combination must be also pronounced very "soft" like -ny- in the English word canyon. Examples: gnocchi/gnocchi{ny-oki-}, bagno/bathroom{ba-ny-o}. 


Great, if you made it until here, it means that in no time you will be an expert when it comes to Italian pronunciation! If you are ever having any doubts about how to pronounce an Italian word, you can also check it on Forvo - it's a great pronunciation tool!

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Italian Lessons for Beginners: Question Words

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