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How to pronounce the Italian language correctly

Italian language and Italian grammar

The Italian language, like any other language, has its own characteristics and difficulties.
The Italian grammar, compared to other languages, has a medium difficulty, while the pronunciation is less complicated. Most vowels and consonants always have the same pronunciation.

The Italian language and the five vowels

Making a comparison with English, the most spoken language in the world and the easiest one due to its simple grammatical construction, the 5 vowels have about twenty phonemes, while Italian has only seven. Furthermore, unlike English, if the accent of the two additional Italian phonemes (E and O closed or open) are pronounced wrong, the meaning of the word can be understood anyway.
For this reason, speaking Italian is easy. Easier than many other languages.

Italian words known all over the world

The fact that many Italian words are known all over the world is surely a further help. Think of these words.
Italian greetings: ciao, buongiorno, arrivederci
Famous Italian foods: pizza, pasta, spaghetti, cappuccino, espresso, tiramisù
Famous Italian food brands: Nutella, Barilla, Lavazza, Campari, Martini
Famous Italian luxury cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati
Famous Italian people: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo
Famous Italian designers: Armani, Prada, Gucci,
Famous Italian wines: Chianti, Prosecco, Brunello

Alphabet, vowels and consonants of the Italian language

The alphabet of the Italian language is composed of 21 letters (5 vowels and 16 consonants).
Compared to the most spoken language in the world, English, there are no letters J, K, W, X, Y.
The only Italian words where these consonants can be founded are of foreign origin, mostly from English (examples: Jazz, kit, web, pixel, yacht), and to a minimum part deriving from the Latin (for example extra). Some very few exceptions concern the common names of persons (for example Jacopo), surnames (for example Bixio), and some cities (for example Jesolo).
The 21 letters correspond to 21 graphemes (writing) and 28 phonemes (pronunciation).

The five vowels of the Italian language

The 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are expressed with 7 phonemes.
While the vowels a, o, u, always have the same open sound, the vowels e and o can have an open or closed accent.
Examples of the letter “e” with grave (open) and acute (closed) accent:
the conjugation to the third person singular of the verb to be “è” or the female third person singular “lei” have an open pronunciation so they have a grave accent, while the conjunction “e” and the interrogative adverb “perché” have a closed pronunciation so have an acute accent.
Examples of the letter “o” with grave (open) and acute (closed) accent:
the color “rosa” or the number “otto” have an open pronunciation so they have a grave accent, while the color “rosso” or the “sole” have a closed pronunciation so they have acute accent.
The accent is written only if it falls into the last vowel (città, caffè, così, però, virtù).

Same words with two or more meanings in the Italian language

As in other languages, even in the Italian language there are some equal words that have two or more meanings, these words are divided into homonyms, homographs, and homophones.

Homonymous words are written and pronounced in the same way but have different meanings.
Three examples:
vado a letto / ho letto un libro
una parte della città / lui parte per Firenze
lo stato italiano / lui è stato a Roma

Homographic words are written in the same way but have a different pronunciation and different meanings. The different pronunciation is due to the grave (open) or acute (closed) accent in the same vowel or to the position of the accent in a different vowel of the word.
Three examples:
lui legge il giornale / la legge italiana
la pesca sull’albero / la pesca nel fiume
il numero venti / i venti forti

Homophonic words are pronounced the same way but have a different writing with a different meaning.
Three examples:
lui ha una penna / vado a scuola
loro hanno i libri / l’anno scorso
la casa bella / c’è un bar aperto

Summary:
Homonyms: same writing, same pronunciation, different meaning.
Homographs: same writing, different pronunciation, different meaning.
Homophones: different writing, same pronunciation, different meaning.

The sixteen consonants of the Italian language are expressed with 21 phonemes

The letters C and G
The letters C and G can have a hard or soft sound.
If they are followed by the vowels A, O, U, they sound hard.
Hard sound: CA-GA, CO-GO, CU-GU
Examples of hard sound: CA casa, GA gatto, CO corso, GO gomma, CU cultura, GU guida
If the letters C and G are followed by the letter H and then by the vowels E, I, the sound is hard.
Hard sound: CHI-GHI, CHE-GHE
Examples of sound hard: CHI chimica, GHI ghisa, CHE chela, GHE ghetto
If they are followed by vowels E, I, they have a soft sound.
Soft sound: CE-GE, CI-GI
Examples of soft sound: CE cena, GE gelo, CI cibo, GI giro
Note: there are no Italian words with CHA, GHA, CHO, GHO, CHU, GHU.
The soft sound is always expressed with CI, GI, CE, GE.
Examples: CIA ciao, GIA giardino, CIO cioccolato, GIO giovane, CIU ciuffo, GIU giusto

The letter C preceded by the letter S can have a hard or soft sound.
If they are followed by the vowels A, O, U, they have a hard sound.
Hard sound: SCA-SGA, SCO-SGO, SCU-SGU
Examples of hard sound: SCA scarpa, SCO scopa, SCU scuola.

If the letters C and G are followed by the letter H and then by the vowels E, I, the sound is hard.
Hard sound: SCHE-SCHE
Examples: SCHE schema, SCHI schifo

If they are followed by vowels E, I, the sound is soft.
Soft sound: SCI-SCE
Examples of soft sound: SCE scena, SCI scienza

The letters G + L

The letter G followed by the letter L can have a hard or soft sound.
When GL is followed by vowels A, E, O, U it always has a hard sound.
Hard sound: GLA-GLE-GLO-GLU
Examples: Gladiatore, inglese, gloria, glucosio
Usually when GL is followed by the vowel I, it has a soft sound.
Soft sound: GLI
Examples: Aglio, famiglia, foglia, foglia, bottiglia
There are exceptions with a hard GLI sound.
Examples: Glicerina, glicine, anglicano, negligente

The letters G + N

The letter G followed by the letter N always has a soft sound.
Soft sound: GN
Examples: sognare, ingegnere, dignitoso, cognome, ognuno

The letter H (in Italian it is pronounced acca)

The letter H has no pronunciation, it is useful to diversify some words with the same pronunciation but with a different meaning. Examples: “a” preposition, “ha” verb to have. In other cases, the presence of the letter H changes both the meaning and the pronunciation. Example: “ci” personal pronoun, “who” relative pronoun.

The letter Q (in Italian it is pronounced qu)

The letter Q is always followed by the vowel U, and always has the same hard pronunciation as the letter C. Examples: casa, scuola, corpo, quota, quadro, quattro

The pronunciation of double consonants

When the consonants are double, the pronunciation lengthens and is more pronounced.
It is appropriate to give the correct pronunciation and strengthen the double consonant to avoid misunderstandings.
Let’s make some examples of words that totally change meaning if the consonant is double: ano – anno, cane – canne, capelli – cappelli, caro – carro, casa – cassa, fata – fatta, nono – nonno, note – notte, pala – palla, pena – penna, peli – pelli, sete – sette, sono – sonno.

Interrogative sentence

The interrogative sentence differs from the affirmative sentence by lengthening and raising the last vowel tone.

Negative sentence

The negative sentence differs from the affirmative only with the addition of the denial “non”.

Divide words into syllables

A tip: the simple division of the word into syllables facilitates the correct pronunciation.
Examples: ca-sa, la-vo-ro, stu-di-o, pen-na, al-fa-be-to, let-to, scrit-to, sor-pre-sa, fa-cil-men-te.

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Istituto Il David – Italian language school – Florence