Pronunciation and Spelling

Vowels (Vocali)

Italian uses 5 letters (a, e, i, o, u) to denote its 7 vowels ([a], [], [e], [i], [], [o], [u]).

The letter a denotes a single sound, while the letters e and o may denote either an open ([] and []) or closed ([e] and [o]) sounds (note that open vowels occur in stressed syllables only); the pronunciation of the open and closed sounds may vary from one part of Italy to the other.

The letters i and u, on the other hand, have vocal ([i] and [u]) and semivocal ([j] and [w]) values; moreover the letter i may be silent in its function to palatalize a preceding c, g, or sc.

Italian vowels are short, clear-cut, and are never drawn out. The glide with which English vowels frequently end should be avoided.

The approximate English equivalents are as follows:

Diphthongs (Dittonghi)

Diphthongs are two vowels fused to emit a single sound.

A diphthong is formed when an unstressed i or u combines with another vowel (a, e, o) or when the two vowels combine with each other, in which case either the i or u may remain unstressed. In diphthongs, unstressed i and u become semivowels approximating in sound the English consonants y and w, respectively.

Tripthongs (Trittonghi)

Triphthongs also exist. These are sequences of three vowels with a single sound, usually a diphthong followed by an unstressed i, cf.:

buoi mpl oxen
miei pron pl mine
pigliai v (I) took
tuoi pron pl yours

Vocal Sequences

Italian has numerous words that contain sequences of vowels. The following words are not triphthongs (which are rare), but sequences of a vowel and a diphthong:

baia f bay;
febbraio m February;
fioraio m florist;
noia f boredom.
Each of the words below has a sequence of two diphthongs:
acquaio m sink;
ghiaia f gravel;
gioiello m jewel;
muoio v (I) die.

Elision (Elisione)

The hiatus to be avoided, the function words drop their final vowel before a word beginning with a vowel. In these cases the apostrophe (l'apostrofo) is generally used to indicate this dropping, cf.:

lo amico => l’amico the friend;
la automobile => l’automobile the automobile;
una università => un’università a university;
di Italia => d’Italia of Italy;
dove è => dov’è where is.
The infinitives and masculine nouns may drop the final e without writing an apostrophe, cf.:
fare l'amore => far l'amore to make love;
dottore Nardi => dottor Nardi Dr. Nardi.

Consonants (Consonanti)

The consonants b, f, m, n, v are pronounced as in English.

The other consonants need specal treatment.

Consonantic Digraphs

Double Consonants

In Italian, all consonants except h and q can be doubled.

Double consonants are pronounced much more forcefully than single consonants. With double f, l, m, n, r, s, and v, the sound is prolonged; with double b, c, d, g, p, and t, the stop is stronger than for the single consonant. Double z is pronounced almost the same as single z. Double s is always unvoiced.

Most Italian words end in a vowel.
Assimilation (Assimilazione)

The sound [n] may be assimilated in a single word or in a syntactic group:

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