Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation

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Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation

Post by Roby » Thu Mar 06, 2008 3:13 am

Italian Alphabet

Letter Name Letter Name
A a
B bi
C ci
D di
E e
F effe
G gi
H acca
L elle
M emme
N enne
O o
P pi
Q qu
R erre
S esse
T ti
U u
V vi
Z zeta

Italian Alphabet and Pronunciation

Taken from the Website:

**To hear sound bits for pronouncations of letters
go to website.

The modern Italian alphabet has less letters than the
English one: J, K, W, X and Y do not occur in native
terms. Nevertheless, these letters do appear in
dictionaries, for archaic spellings, and for a few
foreign and international terms officially adopted in
Italian too.
The following table includes these letters too, though
showing them in deep green, to stress their less
common use.
Each entry shows the pronounciation of the letter in
Italian, trying to make the closest match with English
sounds. All vowels have links to .WAV files, for an
easier comprehension (click on the icon).
The last column on the right shows the "name" of the
letters, i.e. how each single letter is called in


A Always as a short English a, as in cat, fact, or
like the o in how, cloud.
(audio sample A ) a
B Always as English b. bi
C As English k, except when the following vowel is e
or i, in which case it sounds as English ch in chest,
Letter c also forms some special clusters, discussed
in the following page. ci
D Always as English d. di
E Depending on the word, it may sound either as
English a in hay, layer, may (this is popularly called
a narrow "e" or closed "e"), or as English e in send,
tent, hen (this one is popularly called a wide "e" or
open "e").
Unlike the French language, in Italian accented vowels
such as é (narrow "e", with acute accent, slanted
rightwards) and è (wide "e", with grave accent,
slanted leftwards) are used in very limited
situations, so the exact sound is not usually spelled.
But this only concerns spoken language, not written
language. In most cases, a word pronounced with an
incorrect sound (for example a wide "e" in place of a
narrow "e") would be understood all the same.
(audio sample É, acute ) · · · (audio sample È, grave
) e
(narrow sound)
F Always as English f in fame, knife, flute, but never
like of. effe
G As English g in gravel, goblet, except in three

when followed by vowels e and i, it sounds as English
j in jelly, jigsaw;
when followed by n, forming cluster gn (discussed in
the following page);
when followed by l, forming cluster gl (discussed in
the following page).
H Always soundless; it is therefore used as a mere
graphic spelling in very few words.
It also takes part to special clusters, discussed in
the following page.
But letter h never sounds as in English house, hope.
I It always sounds as English y in yellow, troyan. A
similar sound is that of English ee in fleet, seem,
but the length of the Italian sound is shorter.
(audio sample I ) i
J A few names have a letter j, always pronounced as
English y in yell, lawyer; for further details about
this letter, scroll down the page to the NOTES or
follow this LINK. i lunga
K In foreign or international words, it always sounds
as English k. kappa
L Always as English l. elle
M Always as English m. emme
N Always as English n. enne
O Always as English o, in some case with a "narrow" or
"closed" sound as in blow, soul, row, or sometimes
with a "wide" or "open" sound as in cloth, spot, dog.
The use of accented vowels ó (narrow) or ò (wide) is
very limited, as explained for letter e above.
(audio sample Ó ) · · · (audio sample Ò ) o
(wide sound)
P Always as English p. pi
Q Always as English q, it is always followed by vowel
u. qu
R The sound is always "rolled", like a Scottish r in
Edinburgh, or a Spanish r in señor. It never sounds as
an English r or a French r. erre
S As English s, sometimes strong as in strip, fuss,
sometimes weak as in easy, abuse.
Letter s also belongs to some clusters, discussed in
the following page. esse
(strong sound)
T Always as English t ti
U The sound is similar to English w in win, rowing,
but obviously u is a vowel.
(audio sample U ) u
V Always as English v. vu or vi
W In foreign or international words, it may either
sound as a German w in würstel (i.e. like Italian v),
or as English w in window (i.e. as the Italian vowel
When Italians are in doubt, they usually pronounce
letter w in the German way, as suggested by the name
given to the letter, which means double v. doppia vu
X In foreign or international words, it always sounds
as English x. ics
Y In foreign or international words, it always sounds
as English y, i.e. as the Italian vowel i.
A further note about this letter is at the bottom of
the page: either scroll down, or follow this LINK. i
Z It usually sounds like an English cluster dz in
godzilla, but when the letter is double (see paragraph
1.3), the sound is stronger, as the English cluster tz
or ts in lots, mats. zeta


letter J - in some Italian words, as ieri (=
yesterday), gioiello (= jewel), and a few others,
vowel i is followed by another vowel which belongs to
the same syllable. This i will therefore have a rather
"swift" sound, more or less like letter y would be
pronounced in English words like yellow or coyote: no
more than 60 years ago, this i would have been spelled
j, to show this particular sound due to the following
vowel. The Italian name for j is long i.
Nowadays, this spelling has become totally obsolete,
and j only occurs in a few christian names and

letter Y - it is a reminiscence of the Greek alphabet,
as suggested by the name Greek i given to it. But
while this letter in Greek sounds like German ü, in
Italian it sounds exactly like vowel i, and has
therefore been dropped because redundant.

:Special Clusters:
Taken from Website:

**To hear sound bits of the pronuncations go to

Pronunciation: Special Clusters

Some consonants change sound when they come together
forming one syllable (monosyllabic clusters).



CIO, CIU While ca, co and cu are pronounced like in
English, ce and ci have a soft sound, like in English
che and chi.

When cluster ci is followed by a further vowel, the
sound of i is dropped, becoming merely graphic (only
to show that c has to be pronounced as English "ch").


CHE, CHI A letter h between c and e or between c and i
gives the cluster a hard sound:
che sounds like an English ke, while chi sounds like
an English ki.



GIO, GIU The clusters ga, go and gu are pronounced
like in English, but ge and gi have a "soft" sound,
like English je and jy.

Also in this case, when cluster gi is followed by a
further vowel, i becomes mute, and the sound of
English "j" is followed by the second vowel.


GHE, GHI In the same way explained above, an h
inserted between g and vowel e or i gives the cluster
a hard sound:
ghe sounds like an English gue in guest , while ghi
sounds like an English gui in guild.



GLIO, GLIU When gl is followed by vowel i, it has the
same sound as ll would have in Spanish words like
caballo, lluvia, etc.
This sound does not exist in English, although a very
similar combination is obtained in expressions such as
"I will call you", where the "ll" cluster is followed
by "y" + another vowel.
To get even closer to the Italian sound, while
pronouncing this cluster you should press the back of
your tongue against your rear teeth and your palate.

When gli is followed by vowels a, e, o and u it gives
the vowel the Spanish "ll" sound: glia sounds like
Spanish "lla", glie like Spanish "lle", glio like
Spanish "llo", and gliu like Spanish "llu".
Instead, when gl (without an i) is followed by vowels
a, e, o and u, it is simply pronounced as in English,
in words like glass, glove etc.


GN It is pronounced exactly as a Spanish ñ, in señor,
The gn cluster is always followed by a vowel.




SCIO, SCIU Cluster sc only has a special sound when
followed by vowels e and i, in which case it sounds
like the English sh in sheriff, fashion.
In any other case (sca, sco, scu) the pronounciation
is like English sk.

When cluster sci is followed by a vowel (scia, scie,
scio, sciu), the sound of i is omitted, i.e. this
vowel only acts as a phonetic part of the cluster,
needed to produce the "sh" sound.


The aforesaid concepts are summarized in the following
table, which shows the Italian clusters with the
English sound in italics (the few marked [*] refer to
Spanish sounds):


ca · ca co · co cu · cu ce · che ci · chi
- - - che · ke chi · ki
cia · cha cio · cho ciu · chu - -

ga · ga go · go gu · gu ge · je gi · ji
- - - ghe · gue ghi · gui
gia · ja gio · jo giu · ju - -

gla · gla glo · glo glu · glu gle · gle gli · lli [*]
glia · lla [*] glio · llo [*] gliu · llu [*] glie ·
lle [*] -

gna · ña [*] gno · ño [*] gnu · ñu [*] gne · ñe [*]
gni · ñi [*]

sca · sca sco · sco scu · scu sce · she sci · shi

[*] = as in Spanish words



Take note that there are some words ending with
...cia, ...cie, ...gia, ...gie, where these clusters
do not have the above-mentioned sound. This is not due
to an irregular pronounciation, but simply to the fact
that what looks like a single cluster is actually made
of two separate syllables (i.e. these clusters are
Focus these examples:
grigia, meaning grey (in feminine form), is made of
the following syllables: gri - gia, and sounds as
English "gryhjah" (soundless "h" !); as you see, the
gia cluster makes one syllable, following the sound
table discussed above;

bugia, meaning a lie, is made of the following
syllables: bu - gi - a, and sounds like English
"bwjyhah" (soundless "h" !), because what looks like a
single gia cluster is really made of two separate
syllables: gi and a, therefore pronounced separately;
For the time being, simply ignore this apparently
complicated situation, and keep following the cluster
sound table: any tricky or unusual pronounciation will
be clearly indicated

English Spelling of Italian Sounds:
Taken from Website:

*To hear audio for the pronounciation go to website.


Italian consonants should not prove difficult to
English-speakers, but most vowels have a different
sound, so there are two important points to keep well
in mind at all times:

Italian vowels always have one sound (only e and o
have two: "wide" and "narrow" sounds), while for
example an English "e" is pronounced in different ways
(leave, hen, break, etc.).
So, the sound of Italian vowels is not affected by any
other letters, with the exception of vowel i: when i
belongs to some clusters, as explained in paragraph
1.2, it gives consonants a softer sound, though the
vowel is not actualy heard.

The duration (or length) of Italian vowels is always
short, whereas in English they often have a "long"
sound when they occur at the end of a word: for
example the English undergo is pronounced as if the
word was spelled "undergoe", although the word ends
with "o".
In Italian, this sound would be shorter, as if the
word was spelled "undergoh", but the "h" would not be
Vowels are the biggest limit in turning Italian sounds
into English spelling, as there is no other way to
obtain short English vowels than adding an "h" after
each of them.
So, practice shortening your vowels.
In these first chapters, an "English spelling" has
been added (in quotation marks), as a further help for
the absolute beginner; at more advanced stages, it
will be dropped, assuming that the reader has
gradually become confident with the pronounciation.

Whenever you find an "h" in the English sound
spelling, do not pronounce it (as explained above, it
is merely graphic), unless it belongs to clusters "sh"
or "ch", which will really sound like short, chest,
Here is a list of most "English spelling" sounds which
may require a description:

the sound of Italian vowel a is obtained by "..ah..",
always sounding as English a in pantheon;

Italian e is obtained by cluster "": it may
sound as letter e in bet ("wide" e), or as letter a in
may omitting the y sound ("narrow" e);

Italian i is obtained by "..yh.." or "..y..", always
sounding as letter y in gym;

Italian o is obtained by cluster "..oh..", sometimes
sounding as letter o in box ("wide" o), and sometimes
as letter o in coal, though with a shorter sound than
in English ("narrow" o);

Italian u is obtained by "..w..", always sounding as
letter w in want;

Italian c is obtained by "..k.." when its sound is
"strong", as in card, come.
The "soft" sound, like the English cluster ch in
church or cheese, is obtained by the same cluster
"" (remember not to omit the sound of h in this

in a similar way, Italian g is obtained by "..g..",
when its sound is "strong", as in goal, guide; while
its "soft" sound, like an English j, will be obtained
by "..j..", sounding like jam or jungle;

the Italian cluster sc, discussed in the previous
paragraph, when sounding as the English cluster sh in
shade or fish, is obtained by "" (again, do not
omit the sound of h in this case!);

the Italian gn sound is easily obtained by a Spanish
"..ñ..", as señor;

the Italian cluster gl has to be obtained by another
Spanish group, "..ll.."; the fact that this cluster
should sound like Spanish ll in caballo will often be

Also remember that letter r is always "rolled": there
is no graphic style for showing this, so simply keep
in mind the pronounciation of this letter.


Accent will be the subject of the next paragraph, but
I would like to introduce now that in the English
sound version, the stressed syllables will be shown in
bold: these syllables carry the stress in pronouncing
that word. For example:
animale (animal) is pronounced "ahnyhmahleh" (stress
on syllable ma)
popolo (people) is pronounced "pohpohloh" (stress on
first syllable po)
perché (why, because) is pronounced "pehrkeh" (stress
on last syllable che)

So now, according to the basic sound table and to the
above-mentioned notes, you should be able to pronounce
any Italian sound.
Take a test with the following words:

To hear audio samples go to website.

bianco "byahnkoh" white
strada "strahdah" road
mare "mahreh" sea
grazie "grahtsyeh" thanks
luogo "lwohgoh" place, location
amico "ahmykoh" friend
facile "fahchyleh" (English "ch") easy
centro "chentroh" (English "ch") center
alzare "ahltsahreh" to lift
Parigi "Pahryjyh" Paris

Double Consonants:
Taken from Website:

**To hear sound bits of the pronounciation go to


Many Italian words have double consonants. They can be
found in any part of the word, but never as first
letters or as last letters.
In most cases they are followed by a vowel, as in
dubbio = doubt, gatto = cat, etc.; but in some cases
they may be followed by r, as in labbra = lips,
attrito = friction, etc.
Instead, another consonant never occurs before a
double consonant.
Also English has several words with double consonants,
as supple, bottle, abbot.
In Italian, though, double consonants sound stronger
than in English; this is obtainable by breaking the
sound, for example as if the word cattle was spelled
ca-ttle: the tt sound should therefore be heard more.
Any consonant can be doubled, except letter h (never
doubled, because it is always soundless), or for
non-standard ones (j, k, w, x, y).

Here you can listen to the actual sound of double

dubbio (doubt) affare (bargain, business)
gatto (cat) passato (past)
labbra (lips) collare (collar)
attrito (friction) anno (year)

Some clusters too may be doubled:
...cci like English "...tchyh", as in stracci (rags)
...cce like English "...tcheh", as in accesso (access)

Compounds of ...cci + vowel obviously follow the same
pronounciation, dropping the i sound:

...ccia (sounds like "...tchah"), as in faccia (face)

...ccio (sounds like "...tchoh"), as in riccio (curl;
...cciu sounds like "...tchuh" as in acciuga (anchovy)

Similar clusters with g (...ggia, ...ggio, etc.),
follow the same phonetical rules as above, sounding as
"...djah", "...djoh", etc.

Rarely, the cluster ...ccie or ...ggie (with an i) may
also occur, but they sound exactly as the clusters
...cce and ...gge mentioned above; in these cases i
(merely phonetic) is also redundant, so modern
spellings tend to drop it.

Double vowels are quite rare in Italian, though
possible in a few cases.
They always sound as the normal individual vowels, but
in these cases a longer sound should be heard:
cooperare (to cooperate)
zii (uncles)

Double letters, either consonants or vowels, always
belong to separate syllables:
attrito at - tri - to
passare pas - sa - to
abboccare ab - boc - ca - re
cooperazione co - o - pe - ra - zio - ne

and so on.

Accent or Stress:
Taken from website:

To hear sound bits go to website.


Although there is no strict rule, most Italian words
have an accent on the penultimate syllable. The stress
actually falls on one syllable, but in spoken language
it is easier to remember which vowel carries the
stress, more than the full syllable. For instance, in
the word possibile (possible) the stress is carried by
syllable si (unlike in English), but it is easier to
remember that the first vowel i is stressed.
In the following examples I will use accented vowels
for the Italian spelling, to show which is the
stressed vowel. Take note that it is very unusual for
Italian words to be spelled with accented letters,
with very few exceptions discussed further down in
this page.
To help the reader, the stressed syllables have also
been marked in the "English spelling" version by using
bold letters, as explained at the end of the previous
paragraph 1.4.

A few examples:

lampadìna "lahmpahdyhnah" light bulb
carbòne "karbohneh" coal
supermercàto "swpehrmehrkahtoh" supermarket
senatòre "sehnahtohreh" senator
aereoplàno "ahehrehohplahnoh" airoplane
arcobaléno "ahrkohbahlehnoh" rainbow
riconoscènte "ryhkohnohshenteh" (English "sh" !)

But some other words have stress on an earlier

mòbile "mohbyhleh" piece of furniture
ràpido "rahpyhdoh" fast, quick
telèfono "tehlehfohnoh" telephone
lìbero "lyhbehroh" free
pòvero "pohvehroh" poor


Accented vowels have been used in these examples. As
previously said, they are allowed, but never used in
ordinary spelling, except in two cases:

There are many of them in Italian, and some are very
common. An accent is compulsory in this case,
otherwise the stress would not be heard. Sometimes,
the spelling without an accent may even have a
different meaning (see right column of the following

perché "pehrkeh" why, because
sarà "sahrah" it will be Sara "sahrah" Sarah (a
perciò "pehrchoh" therefore
però "pehroh" but, though pero "pehroh" pear-tree
più "pyw" more, plus

Some of these words have an accent on the last
syllable because they have dropped the last part of
the original archaic word, or because they are of
French origin (most French words have an accent on the
last syllable).
Also several compounds of che (pronounced "ke",
meaning which, that) are spelled with an accent:
perché (why, because); poiché (because); sicché (so);

A few words have a different meaning when different
syllables carry the accent:

àncora "ahnkohrah" anchor (noun)
ancòra "ahnkohrah" again, more (adverb)

règia "rehjah" royal (adjective)
regìa "rehjyhah" direction of a movie or a play

capitàno "kahpytahnoh" captain (noun)
càpitano "kahpytahnoh" they happen, they occur (verb)

In this case, accents are not compulsory, and are not
often used, because the meaning of the word, and
therefore its sound, is clearly understood by the
context of the phrase: in expressions like "such
things happen" or "he is the captain", a
misunderstanding would be almost impossible.

Focus your attention on the third sample above: in the
first noun (règia), the gia cluster makes only one
syllable (syllables are re + gia), therefore the
pronounciation of cluster "..jah" follows the sound
table shown in paragraph 1.2.
In the second one (regìa), instead, the same cluster
makes two separate syllables (re + gì + a), so the
sound too splits into "re-jyh-ah" because only
syllable gi carries the accent, not the final a.

Types of Accent Uses in Italian Spelling:
Taken from website:
**To hear sound bits of pronounciations go to website.


This part of the paragraph is not really fundamental,
although some readers might have noticed how most
accents are slanted rightwards (perciò, sarà), while a
few others are slanted in the opposite direction

Modern Italian uses the following accented vowels:

rightward or "grave" accents
("wide" sound pronounciation) à è ì ò ù

leftward or "acute" accents
("narrow" sound pronounciation) é

(eventually, see again paragraph 1.1 for the
pronounciation of wide "e" and narrow "e").

From the table above, you can see how only e has both
forms, while others use a more generic rightwards
accent, as a standard. The reason for this difference
is that Italian has several words with accent on the
last syllable e: some of them have an "wide" sound,
and some have a narrow "sound". The few words which
end with an accented o, instead, always give this
vowel the "wide" pronounciation. So only accented e
needs to be specified.
The following words end with a stressed "wide" e:
è "eh" he/she/it is
caffè "kah'ffeh" coffee
frappè "frah'ppeh" fruit-flavoured milk shake

Others instead have a "narrow" sound:
perché "pehrkeh" why, because
sé "seh" self, one's self

Just as perché, the compound words which contain che
(already mentioned above) always have end with a
"narrow" e (acute accent).

In very few cases, an accented e may be used within
the word, to indicate whether the vowel has a wide or
narrow sound:

pèsca (with a wide e) = peach pésca (narrow e) =

Nevertheless, such accent is rarely spelled because
the context of the sentence makes it quite clear which
of the two makes more sense in the sentence.

Words with stress on the last syllable, but ending
with a different vowel, simply use the rightwards

già "jah" yet, already
lunedì "lwhnehdyh" monday
andrò "ahndroh" I will go
giù "jwh" down

When typing these accents with a computer, most
non-Italian people might find themselves in trouble
because a standard keyboard does not have these
letters. You can use the ASCII chart, by entering
their code numbers while pressing the Alt key: try
yourself, by typing them in the box below.

à = Alt+133 ..... è = Alt+138 ..... ì = Alt+141 .....
ò = Alt+149 ..... ù = Alt+151 ..... é = Alt+130

Instead, not all fonts have capital (uppercase)
accented letters; Times New Roman and Arial fonts,
among the most commonly used, have the following
codes: try them out.

À = Alt+0192 ..... È = Alt+0200 ..... Ì = Alt+0204
..... Ò = Alt+0210 ..... Ù = Alt+0217 ..... É =
Alt+0201 .

If your computer or your font does not have such
vowels, you can use normal ones followed by an
a' ..... e' ..... i' ..... o' ..... u'

A' ..... E' ..... I' ..... O' ..... U' .
Many Italian people too use apostrophes in place of
accented vowels, but since this is not really very
correct, and the two different e's cannot be told, the
use of accented vowels should be preferred, when
"Per raro che sia, il vero amore e' meno raro della vera amicizia."

"As rare as true love is, it is not as rare as true friendship."
- François de La Rochefoucauld

Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Post by Roby » Thu Mar 06, 2008 3:21 am

Question on the pronunciation of the cc and cch
"Per raro che sia, il vero amore e' meno raro della vera amicizia."

"As rare as true love is, it is not as rare as true friendship."
- François de La Rochefoucauld

Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Post by Roby » Fri Sep 12, 2008 1:46 pm

"Per raro che sia, il vero amore e' meno raro della vera amicizia."

"As rare as true love is, it is not as rare as true friendship."
- François de La Rochefoucauld

Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Post by Roby » Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:21 am

"Per raro che sia, il vero amore e' meno raro della vera amicizia."

"As rare as true love is, it is not as rare as true friendship."
- François de La Rochefoucauld

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