I. Essentials of pronunciation

  1. 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.

  1. The Italian vowels are aeio, and u. They are pronounced as follows:
  • as in father: casa (house)
  • closed, like a in late: vedere (to see); open e as in met: terra (earth)
  • as in machine (except when is in the same syllable as another vowel): vino (wine)
  • closed 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)
  1. Most Italian consonants are pronounced approximately like the corresponding consonants in English. Note, however, the following exceptions.
  • cis pronounced like k before aou, 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 icena (supper), ciclo (cycle).
  • G is pronounced like the g in gin before e or igente (people), girarre (to turn).
  • G is pronounced like the g in game before aou, or before another consonant (except gli and gn—see below): gamba (leg), golfo (gulf), gusto (taste), grande (large), ghiaccio (lice).
  • 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 aou, 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 iscena (scene), scimmia (monkey).
  • Z is generally pronounced like the ts in getszio (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)
  1. 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: cittàlibertàperché (“because,” also written perchè), virtù. A small number of Italian words are stressed on the third-to-last syllable, and a few on the fourth-to-last.

 

 

Last revised on September 10, 2021.

II. Cognates (related words)

  1. Cognates (related words)

In this Italian reading course, you will be doing a great deal of guessing. Your accuracy will depend in part upon your ability to see similarities between English and Italian words. The Italian language has a very large number of words which, in their written form, closely resemble their English equivalents and have similar or identical meanings. Such words are called cognates, and the ability to recognize Italian cognates of English words will be extremely helpful in reading Italian. The resemblance between an Italian words and its English equivalent may be more or less close. The words will rarely be identical in spelling, but the differences frequently fall into recognizable patterns involving word endings, such as the following:

Italian word ending English cognate ending Examples
-abile -able considerabile, consolabile, curabile, probabile
-ale -al ideale, liberale, locale, officiale, special
-ante -ant elegante, importante, litigante, protestante
-anza -ance abbondanza, arroganza, distanza, importanza
-ario -ary anniversario, dizionario, santuario, vocabulario
-ente -ent accidente, innocente, presidente, residente
-enza -ence competenza, confidenza, diligenza, residenza
-gia -gy biologia, filologia, geologia, zoologia
-ibile -ible convertibile, invicibile, possibile, visibile
-ico -ic angelico, linguistico, scientifico, statico
-iore -ior inferiore, superiore, interiore, esteriore
-ismo -ism fascismo, idealismo, pessimismo, protestantismo
-ista -ist artista, dentista, pessimista, violinista
-ivo -ive offensivo, passivo, pensivo, progressivo
-ore -or aviatore, direttore, motore, professore
-sione

(-ssione)

-sion

(-ssion)

conclusione, confessione, diversione, impressione
-tà -ty libertà, qualità, società, vanità
-zia -cy aristocrazia,democrazia, plutocrazia, teocrazia
-zione -tion ambizione, intenzione, invenzione, tradizione

In addition to these correspondences between word endings, it may also be pointed out that when the English word contains a constant cluster (a group of two or more dissimilar consonants), its Italian cognate will frequently contain a single consonant, a double consonant (the same consonant twice in succession) or a simpler consonant cluster than that of the corresponding English word. The following examples should suffice to illustrate this point.

English spelling Italian spelling Examples
bj gg object- oggetto
bs ss absolute- assoluto, observe- osservare
bst st obstacle- ostacolo
bstr str abstract- astratto
bt tt obtain- ottenere
bv vv obvious- ovvio
ct tt actor- attore, perfect- perfetto
dj gg adjective- aggettivo
dm mm administration- amministrazione
dv vv adverse- avverso, adventure- avventura
mn nn omnivorous- onnivoro
ph f philosophy- filosofia, photographer- fotografo
pt tt apt- atto, inept- inetto
th t athletic- atletico, theater- teatro
x (in prefix ex-) s (in prefix es-) exclusive- esclusivo, executive- esecutivo

Some English words containing a consonant +l have Italian cognates in which the same consonant occurs with i:

English Italian Examples
bl bi blame- biasimo, blond- biondo
cl chi clarify-chiarificare, cloister- chiostro
gl ghi glutton- ghiottone
pl pi planet- pianeta, plate- piatto

Many Italian verbs of the first conjugation (those with infinitives ending in –are) have English cognates ending in –ate:

coltivare (to cultivate)
contemplare
imitare
inaugurare
incarcerare
intimare
irritare
meditare
moderare
partecipare
regolare
separare, etc.

Other first-conjugation verbs are easily recognized because their English equivalents have basically the same stem:

abbandonare (to abandon)
affirmare
arrivare
comandare
continuare
domandare
immaginare
invitare, etc.

Most italian adverbs ending in –mente have english equivalents ending in –ly:

apparentemente (apparently)
correttamente
direttamente
distintamente
generalmente
immediatamente
naturalmente
separatamente, etc.

Finally, there are many other Italian words—hundreds of them—which cannot be classified but are equally easy to recognize, even out of context. The following are only a relatively small sampling of such words:

persona, tragedia, commedia, appetito, medicina, sigaretta, musica, famoso, lingua, stupido, americano, genuino, breve, atlantico, oceano, dramma, momento, scena, causa, articolo, artificio, atmosfera, lista, incredulo, latino, lettera, idiota, rosa, sciatica, immaturo, livido, immoderato,tomba, galleria, anatomia, giustizia, profondo, sentimento, talento, forma, pacifico, ombrello, idea, dilemma, telegramma, arte, singolare, modestia, caffè, sistema, epoca, virtù, poeta, coraggio, cattedrale, problema, suicida, collega, profeta, pinguino, serpente, coccodrillo, etc.

In addition to these, many words have passed from Italian into English, or vice versa (or into both languages from some other language, such as French), with little or no change in form. Words such as the following are thus immediately recognizable:

algebra, autobus, cinema, film, radio, robot, tram; sport, baseball, cricket, croquet, golf, hockey, polo, rugby, slalom, tennis, set; allegro, andante, aria, cantata, concerto, fuga, opera, operetta, scherzo, sonata, tempo, toccata, baritono, basso, contralto, mezzosoprano, soprano, tenore, maestro; lasagna, pizza, ravioli, spaghetti, etc.

There are also, unfortunately, a number of false cognates. These resemble English words but have different meanings, and should not be translated by the English words they suggest. They will be indicated as they occur.

Although the spelling is different, the consonant sound is the same (cf. chin character and gh in ghost).

 

 

Last revised on October 5, 2017.

III. Present tense of essere (to be)

III. Present tense of essere (to be)

sono I am siamo we are
sei you are siete you are
è he/she/it/one is sono they are

With pronouns:

io sono             I am

tu sei                you are (familiar form)

lui è                 he is4

lei è                  she is4

Lei 5 è       you are (polite form – note the capital L in “Lei”)

 

noi siamo         we are

voi siete           you are (voi can also be a polite form, rarer in modern Italian but often found in literary texts)

loro sono         they are (m.) 6

loro sono         they are (f.) 

Loro 5 sono        you are (polite form, though rare)

 

Learn to recite essere by heart.

*Note: The pronoun subject is normally omitted in Italian whenever it can be understood without ambiguity and is not stressed. The ending of the verb is generally sufficient to indicate the person and number:

Example: Siamo americani. – “We are Americans.”

The pronoun esso may also mean “it” (referring to masculine nouns), but it is usually omitted. You may also see egli but it is antiquated and not often used in either spoken or written Italian (although it is more common in more formal contexts).

4 The pronoun essa may also mean “it” (referring to feminine nouns), but it is usually omitted. You may also see ella but it is antiquated and not often used in either spoken or written Italian (although it is more common in more formal contexts).

In present-day Italian, Lei and Loro, meaning “you,” are usually capitalized. They are nowadays the normal polite form of address (although Loro is less common). Note that these forms are used with third-person verbs (singular/plural). Therefore, “Di dov’è Lei?” = Where are you from? / “Di dov’è lei?” = Where is she from?

Note that there is no neuter gender in Italian. The pronoun referring to an inanimate object thus has the same grammatical gender as the noun which names the object. In more conversational style, loro is used instead of essi and esse to mean “they,” but when it refers to things (as opposed to people) it is usually omitted.

 

 

 

Last revised on September 10, 2021.

IV. Formation of the negative

  1. Formation of the negative

In Italian, the negative is formed by placing non before the verb:

(Lui) non studia. – “He does not study.”

(Lei) non è italiana. – “She is not Italian.”

VOCABULARY A

Learn all of these vocabulary words

all’
at the
anche
also
bravo
good, nice, fine
c’è
there is
ci sono
there are
di
from, of
dove
where
e
and
ecco
here is, here are
grande
large, big
l’, la

the (need not be translated in Exercise A)
ma
but
nella (= in+la)
in the
ragazza
girl
ragazzo
boy
ricco
(pl. ricchi)
rich
signorina
young lady/woman
storia
history
un, una
a (an)

VOCABULARY B

Learn the items marked with an asterisk.8

alcuni, –e
so
*che
which, that
chiamato
called
*cinque
five
*così
so, thus
*dal (= da+il)
from the
*del (= di+il)
of the
*fra (or tra)
among, between
*hanno
have (third plural, avere)9
*molto
much (sing.), many (plur.)
*mondo
world
*nel (= in+il)
in the
parlato
spoken
*perchè
because
*più
more (with article=most)
quelle
the ones, those
questi, –e
these
tedesco
German

That is, you should make an effort to learn by heart at least these items, since they are the most basic and useful. Learn the others as well, if you can. An asterisk before items in future vocabularies will have this same meaning.

Various forms of irregular verbs will first be presented in this way, the information in parentheses being the person and number of the given form and the infinitive of the verb.

 

 

 

 


 

Last revised on October 5, 2017.