Essentials of pronunciation
Italian is largely a phonetic language: you only need to know a few rules to determine the pronunciation of a word. The following are some of the most important of these rules.
The Italian vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. They are pronounced as follows:
- ‘open’ A, like a in father: casa (house)
- ‘closed’ A, like a in late: vedere (to see); open e as in met: terra (earth)
- i as in machine (except when i is in the same syllable as another vowel): vino (wine)
- ‘closed’ O as in note: dove (where); open o as in soft: donna (lady)
- u like oo in moon (except when u is followed by another vowel, in which case it is pronounced like w in well): luna (moon)
Most Italian consonants are pronounced approximately like the corresponding consonants in English. Note, however, the following exceptions.
- cis pronounced like k before a, o, u, or before another consonant (including h): casa (house), cosa (thing), cura (cure), cravatta (necktie), chiamare (to call).
- C is pronounced like ch in cheese before e or i: cena (supper), ciclo (cycle).
- G is pronounced like the g in gin before e or i: gente (people), girare (to turn).
- G is pronounced like the g in game before a, o, u, or before another consonant (except gli and gn—see below): gamba (leg), golfo (gulf), gusto (taste), grande (large), ghiaccio (ice).
- GLI is pronounced like the lli in million: egli (he).
- GN is pronounced like the ni in onion: ogni (every).
- H is always silent in Italian.
- SC is pronounced like sk before a, o, u, or before another consonant (including h): scarpa (shoe), scopo (aim), scusa (excuse), schiavo (slave), scrivere (to write).
- SC is pronounced like the sh in shoe before e or i: scena (scene), scimmia (monkey).
- Z is generally pronounced like the ts in gets: zio (uncle), grazie (thanks). Most double-consonant combinations are pronounced “doubly,” with greater force or greater length than the corresponding single consonants. (ex. soNo vs. soNNo)
Most Italian words are stressed on the penultimate (second to last) syllable. Words which have a written accent over their final vowel are stressed on the final syllable: città, libertà, virtù, perché (“because,” also written perchè). A small number of Italian words are stressed on the third-to-last syllable, and a few on the fourth-to-last.