A guide to Italian grammar

 

Language cannot be separated from sound, and that is the sum of the matter.

Jesperson

 

Chapter 1 - Pronunciation

 

Words

A.  If there is an accent mark, the marked letter is stressed.

examples:  pietà (pee-ay-tAH)  credè (cray-dAY)  zìi (zEE-ee)  parlò (pahr-lOH)  virtù (veer-tOO)

NOTE: the most common accent mark used in current Italian is the acute accent " ` ". In conjunctions, the "che" at the end of a word will be written as "ché" (examples: benché, finché, perché).

 

B.  If a word ends in a single vowel, the second to last vowel is stressed, and most words are pronounced in this way.   examples:  linguini (leen-gwEE-nee)  lasagna (lah-zAHn-yah)  chianti (kee-AHn-tee)

 

C.  The third to last vowel is stressed under the following conditions.  (also, see Appendix E)

1. the singular word ends with –ie (no exceptions), or –io (75 exceptions of 3500, see appendix D)

            examples:        serie (sEH-ree-ay)       figlio (fEEl-ee-oh)

2. the word ends with –bile, -bili, -vole, or -voli  (no exceptions)

            examples:        portabile (pohr-tAH-bee-lay)             piacevole (pee-ah-chAY-voh-lay)

3. the word ends with –issima, issme, -issimo, or -issimi (no exceptions)

examples:        benịssimo (bay-nEEs-see-moh)          lentịssima (layn-tEEs-see-mah)

4. the word ends with -ica, –iche, -ico,ici, -ogo or -ogi

examples:        critica (crEE-tee-cah)  pubbliche (pOOb-blee-kay)  comico (cAW-mee-coh)

medici (mEH-dee-chee)  biologo (bee-AW-loh-goh)

                There are three exceptions: amica, amico, antico (also their plural forms).

            5. words which end in -ia are separated as follows:

                        A. the stress will fall on the second to last vowel for

                                    1. ALL medical and technical terms

                                                Astronomìa, biologìa, cardiologìa, energìa, farmacìa

                                    2. words which end in -eria

                                                Batterìa, biscotterìa, infermerìa

                        B. the accent will fall on the third to last vowel when

                                    1. the ending is preceded by double consonants,

                                                Antinébbia, focàccia, scartòffia, famìglia, còppia

                                    2. a word ends with three vowels

                                                Bambinàia, cucchàia, mangiatòia, paranòia, allelùia

                                    3. a word ends with -aria, -uria

                                                Agrària, penùria i".

D.  When contractions occur, they are pronounced as if they were only one word.
            examples:        l’evento (a contraction of il and evento) = lay-vEHn-toh
                                    un’amica (a contraction of una and amica) = oo-nah-mEE-cah

Most words are pronounced as the above rules indicate, and these rules are regarded as regular pronunciation.

Of the verb forms, the gerunds, the future tense, and all tenses for the noi and voi forms follow these rules.  Rule C1 applies to all verbs.  Except for the future tense, all verbs in the third person plural find their accent on the third to last vowel.  Additional rules (given in chapters 7 to 17) apply to the pronunciation of verbs.

E.  In some cases, the pronunciation must be memorized.
            examples:        camera (cAH-may-rah)           spettacolo (spayt-tAH-coh-loh)

In this text, accent symbols will be used to indicate pronunciation which deviates from rules A, B, or C.    Seven symbols will be used, which are ạ, ę, ẹ, ị, ǫ, ọ, and ụ.

When the letters a, i, or u are stressed, they will be written as , , and ; their sound will remain the same.

In order to distinguish between the two sounds of the letters e (eh and ey) and o (aw and oh), accent symbols will be used when deviations from the regular rules occur.  Those symbols will be ę (eh), ẹ (ey), ǫ (aw), and ọ (oh).

Thus, in this text, the word
            camera will be shown as cạmera(cAH-may-rah),
            leggere will be shown as lęggere(lEHj-jay-ray),
            lentamente will be shown as lentamẹnte(layn-tah-mAYn-tay),
            lentissimo will be shown as lentịssimo(layn-tEEs-see-moh),
            opera will be shown as ǫpera (AW-pay-rah),
            sono will be shown as sọno (sOH-noh),
            and ulcera will be shown as ụlcera(OOl-chay-rah).

The reader should understand that, at present, this presentation will be found only in dictionaries.

Except for -cce-, -cci-, and  -rr-, double consonants are pronounced with a slight break between the two letters with each letter receiving its true sound.  In the case of the –cce- or –cci-, the first c is silent.  In the case of the rr, the letters are always trilled.

The Italian Alphabet
Letter              sound              pronunciation
a                      ah                    always like  the a in pasta (pAH-stah)

b                      bi  (bee)           always like  the b in bella (bEHl-lah)

c                      ci  (chee)          the letter c has both hard and soft sounds
                                                hard before  a (carro), o (comma), u (cura)
                                                hard before any consonant, like credo (except -cce-, or -cci-)
                                                like the ch  in English before e or i, including -cce- and -cci-

d                      di  (dee)           always like the d in domani

e                      e  (eh)              when stressed, like the e in Giuseppe  (often called “open e”)
                                                   with a written accent, like the e in padre (in Italian, written è)
                                                   [exceptions will be shown by , example lẹsso (lAYs-soh)
                                                when unstressed, like the e in padre (often called “closed e”)
                                    general rule:  with endings mente, mento, menti, -ezza, -ezze like the e in padre
In this text, pronunciation irregularities will be indicated as follows.
            ę = eh = open = accent grave              ẹ = ay = closed = accent acute

f                       effe                  always like the f in fino

g                      gi  (jee)            the letter g has both hard and soft sounds
                                                hard before a (galleria), h (ghetto), o (golfo), r (grande), u (gusto)
                                                like the j in English before e , i, including -gge-, -ggi-
                                                in the body of words, silent when combined with -li- as in figlio (fEEl-yoh)
                                                like the ny in English when combined with n (example: lasagna)

h                      hacca               no sound; never pronounced

i                       i (ee)                always like the i in pizza

1                      elle                   always like the 1 in luna

m                     emme               always like the m in madre

n                      enne                 always like the n in no

o                      o  (oh)              when stressed, like the o in opera (often called “open o”)
                                                   with a written accent, like the o in opera (in Italian, written ò)
                                                when unstressed, like the o in postale (often called “closed o”)
                                                   [ exceptions will be indicated by ]
                                    general rule: like the o in postale in words ending in -one, -ona, -oni, -ore, -ori and
                                                adjectives ending in -osa, -ose, -oso, -osi
In this text, pronunciation irregularities will be indicated as follows.
            ǫ = aw = open = accent grave             ọ = oh = closed = accent acute

p                      pi (pee)            always like the p in persọna

q                      cu (coo)           always like the q in quattro
                                                (q is always followed by the letter u; their
                                                pronunciation is the same as in English)

r                       erre                  always like the r in rosa
                                                (for emphasis r, when it is the first letter, may be trilled;
                                                double rr is always trilled)

s                       esse                  generally like the s in santo
                                                between two single vowels, more like z; example lasagna, and
                                                in the beginning of a word when followed by b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v

t                       ti  (tee)             always like the t in tempo

u                      u                      always like the u in tutti
                                                (as in English, the u is silent after q)

v                      vu                    always like the v in volare

z                      zeta                  in the body of a word, like the ts in English, example pizza
                                                in the beginning of a word, like the z in the English word zebra

The letters j (i lunga), k (cappa), w (doppio v), x (iccase), and y (ipsilon) do not exist in the Italian alphabet.  When they occur, their presence indicates a foreign word.

 

 

Pronunciation of the alphabet
In Italian, the following letters have the same sound as they do in English.
            b    d    f    l    m    n    p    q    r    t    v    z

Four letters have fixed sounds, namely
            the letter a, which is always pronounced like the a in pasta (pAH-stah)
            the letter h, which has no sound, and is never pronounced
            the letter i, which is always pronounced like the i in vino (vEE-noh)
            the letter u, which is always pronounced like the u in luna (lOO-nah)

As a result, only the letters c, e, g, o, and s require any study.

The letter c is pronounced as follows:
            before the vowels a, o, or u, and all consonants, its sound is hard
            examples:        hard before  a, like carro  (kAHr-roh)
                                    hard before  o, like colọre  (koh-lOH-ray)
                                    hard before  u, like cura  (kOO-rah)
                                    hard before all consonants, except -cce-, -cci-
                                                chianti  (kee-AHn-tee)  cliente (klee-EHn-tay)  crịtico (krEE-tee-coh)
            whenever a double c is followed by a, o, u, or a consonant, the first c is hard, but short in duration,
            and the second c is hard.
                        examples:        giacca  (jAHk-kah)      secco   (sEHk-koh)    occupare  (ohk-koo-pAH-ray)
                                                                accldere  (ahc-clUH-day-ray)               bicchiere  (beek-kyEH-ray)    
            before the vowels e, or i, its sound is like the ch in the English word church
            examples:        centro  (chEHn-troh)                           cịrcolo  (chEEr-coh-loh)

            whenever a double c is followed by e or i, the first c is not pronounced, and the second c is soft.
            example           eccellente(ay-chayl-lEHn-tay)            focaccia  (foh-cAH-chah)

The letter e is pronounced as follows:
e                      e  (eh)              when stressed, like the e in Giuseppe  (often called “open e”)
                                                   with a written accent, like the e in padre (in Italian, written è)
                                                   [exceptions will be shown by , example lẹsso (lAYs-soh)
                                                when unstressed, like the e in padre (often called “closed e”)
                                    general rule:  with endings mente, mento, menti, -ezza, -ezze like the e in padre
In this text, pronunciation irregularities will be indicated as follows.
            ę = eh = open = accent grave              ẹ = ay = closed = accent acute

The pronunciation of the letter g is as follows:
            before a, h, o, r, or u, its sound is hard, as in English
            example           hard before a, like gallerịa (gahl-lay-rEE-ah)
                                    hard before h, like spaghẹtti (spah-gAYt-tee)
                                    hard before o, like gọlfo (gOHl-foh)
                                    hard before r, like grande (grAHn-day)
                                    hard before u, like gusto (gOO-stoh)
            when a double g is followed by a, o, u, or a consonant, the first g is hard, but short in duration,
            and the second g is hard.        example:  agganciare  ( ahg-gahn-chAH-ray)  to hook
                        rugghiare  (roog-gyAH-ray)  to roar
            in the beginning of a word, the combination gl is pronounced like the gl in glọria.
                        [ There is one exception, namely the word gli, which is pronounced lyee. ]
            in the body of a word, the g of the combination -gli- is silent.
                        example:  figlia  (fEEl-yah)     fọglia(fOHl-yah)
                        [There are three exceptions, negligente, negligentemẹnte, negligenza.]

            before the vowels e or i, its sound is soft, like j in English
            example           soft before e, like generale
                                    soft before i, like Giuseppe
            when a double g is followed by e or i , both of the letters are pronounced like the English j
            example           oggetto(ohj-jEHt-toh) object              viaggio (vee-AHj-joh) voyage

            when the g is followed by the letter n, the combination is pronounced like the ny in the English
            word canyon.  examples:  lasagna  (lah-zAHn-yah)   balọgna  (bah-lOHn-yah)

The letter o is pronounced as follows:
o                      o  (oh)              when stressed, like the o in opera (often called “open o”)
                                                   with a written accent, like the o in opera (in Italian, written ò)
                                                when unstressed, like the o in postale (often called “closed o”)
                                                   [ exceptions will be indicated by ]
                                    general rule: like the o in postale in words ending in -one, -ona, -oni, -ore, -ori and
                                                adjectives ending in -osa, -ose, -oso, -osi
In this text, pronunciation irregularities will be indicated as follows.
            ǫ = aw = open = accent grave             ọ = oh = closed = accent acute

The letter s is pronounced as follows:
            generally like the s in santoor before accented vowels cosà, così
            more like z between two single vowels, example lasagna, or
            in the beginning of a word when followed by b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v

            NOTE: if a prefix is placed before a word normally pronounced with a true s sound, that sound is             retained.  example: salutare, risalutare  --  in this case, and others like it, the s in risalutare has a true        s sound, and is not pronounced as z

 

Letter combinations
1. Consonants
            A. The h after the letters c or g changes their sound to a hard letter.
            examples:        chianti             zucchini           spaghetti          ghetto

            B. Double consonants are always said, with a slight break between the two
            letters.  example:   spaghet’ti
                        There are three exceptions, namely the combination -cce or -cci, in which the first c is silent,                      and the double rr, which is always trilled.
           
            C. The gn combination has the same sound as the ny in the
            English word canyon.  example:   lasagna (lah-zAHn-yah)

            D. When it occurs in the body of a word, the combination  -gli- is prounounced
            like the ll in million.    example:   figlia (fEEl-yah)  
            [There are some exceptions; words whose stem is from neglect, and a few rare words.]

            At the beginning of a word, the gli has its full sound..  example:  glorificare
            (There is one exception, namely the word gli, which is pronounced lyee)

            E. When g occurs doubled, the first g has the same sound as the second g.
            example:          viaggio  ( vee-AHj-joh)            agganciare  (ahg-gahn-chAH-ray)
                                    rugghiare  (roog-gyAH-ray)

            F. When followed by e or i, the combination sc is pronounced like the sh in English.
            examples:        prosciutto (proh-shOOt-toh)   sceriffo (shay-rEEf-foh)

2. Vowels
            A. When they occur at the end of a word, the vowel pairs -ia, -ie, -io are treated as if they were one             vowel.   examples:   ampia (AHm-pee-ah)   serie (sEH-ree-ay)   radio  (rAH-dee-oh)

            This rule extends to the pronunciation of verbs
            examples: affaccia (ah-fAH-chee-ah), cambio (cAHm-bee-oh), allevio (ahl-lEH-vee-oh)
Because there are no exceptions to these rules, accent marks are not used.

            B. After c or g, the i in ia, ie, io, and iu is silent; its function is to keep the consonant soft.
                        Examples         ciao                 =          chAH-oh
                                                cielo                 =          chEH-loh
                                                gioco               =          jAW-coh
                                                Giuseppe         =          Ju-zEHp-pay

            C. In most vowel pairs, the length of the first vowel is always shortened, although it receives its true             sound.

            D.  The letter u in the vowel combinations ua, ue, ui, uo, is pronounced like the w in English.
                        example           cuanto = cwAHn-toh              puerile = pway-rEE-lay
                                                cui       = cwEE                       buono  = bwAW-noh

            E.  The letter e in the vowel combination -ie when it occurs in the body of a word always has the sound of the letter e in Giuseppe.          example:          cielo(chEH-loh)