How to Pronounce Italian
Created | Updated Mar 29, 2009
Italian is a language which is spoken by about 66 million people, most of them living in Italy. Many Italian words have made their way into English and it is a worthwhile task to learn how to pronounce them. Italian has a very simple phonetic pronunciation system, so it can be learned very quickly.
Of course, there is nothing better than to learn pronunciation by listening to a native speaker, but this entry should be close enough for general use.
There are five vowels, a, e, i, o and u.
|a||as in cat or apple|
|e||before a single consonant, as ay in day
before a double consonant, as e in get
|i||as ee in feet|
|o||before a single consonant, as o in cone
before a double consonant, as o in got
|u||oo as in moon|
Note that e is always pronounced, even at the end of a word. For example, the Italian town Udine is pronounced oo-dee-nay.
The only case where you don't pronounce a vowel is the letter i when it occurs between c or g and a, o or u. This is explained below in the section on c and g.
The pronunciation of c and g are the hardest to remember for English speakers.
- c before a, o or u is hard, like k
- g before a, o or u is hard, like g in garden
- c before e or i is soft, like ch in church
- g before e or i is soft, like j
- ch is hard, like k
- gh is hard, like g in garden
- sc before e or i is pronounced sh as in shop
Thus for example:
- casa = kasa
- cappuccino = kappoo-cheeno
- che = kay
- spaghetti = spa-get-tee
If you want to put a soft c or g before an a, o, or u, an extra i is added to the spelling, but this is not pronounced; it is only there to make the c or g soft, so:
- ciabatta is pronounced cha-batta, not chee-a-batta
- Giulietta is pronounced joo-lietta, not jee-oo-lietta
|b, d, f, l, m, n,
p, q, s, t, v
|more or less as in English|
|r||rolled as in Spanish. Many people have problems doing this, but it can't be that hard... 66 million Italian speakers can do it|
|z||ts (so pizza is peet-sa)|
|h||silent when it appears on its own|
|j, k, w, x and y||These letters do not exist in pure Italian, but are used in imported words, (mainly from English) such as 'jazz', 'weekend' and 'yoghurt'. The pronunciation should be obvious.|
While you will survive pronouncing double consonants the same as single ones, for the real Italian touch you should learn the proper way. To pronounce a double consonant such as pp, say the sound, pause, then continue:
- grappa is grap-(pause)-pa.
- The pause is done with your lips in the p position.
- Similarly, cappuccino is cap-(pause)-poot-(pause)-cheeno.
This can be carried to extremes if you want to sound really pretentious.
One Final Peculiarity
The combinations gl and gn are used for sounds which are not easily spelled in English. gn is the 'ny' sound in the middle of the words 'canyon', 'Tanya' and 'bunnion'. So lasagna is pronounced lass-anya.
gl is is the 'ly' sound in the middle of the word million. So tagliatelle is 'talya-tel-lay'. In Italian, gl can come at the start of a word as well. Gli is pronounced 'l-yee'.
With this whistle-stop tour of Italian, you should have enough to be able to pronounce any Italian words you come across, whether they are musical terms like acciaccatura (at-chak-ka-toora) or types of food like ciabatta (cha-bat-ta).