What do you usually do when you want to start learning a new foreign language? Of course, learn the alphabet!
The Italian alphabet, l’alfabeto italiano, consists of 21 letters. Let’s learn it together!
The Italian alphabet: the basics
The Italian alphabet is a Latin-based alphabet and it consist of:
- 5 vowels A – E – I – O – U
- 16 Italian consonants B – C – D – F – G – H – L – M – N – P – Q – R – S – T – V – Z
- 5 foreign consonants J – K – W – X – Y – Z
All of these letters are shared by the English alphabet, but their Italian pronunciation is not the same! Let’s have a look at how to pronounce the Italian alphabet:
A A / Aah (as in “father”, just more open)
B Bi / Bee
C Ci / Chee
D Di Dee
E E / Eh (as in “end”, a bit closer)
F Effe / Eh-ffeh
G Gi / Gee (as in “jeep”)
H Acca / Ah-kka (silent)
I I / Ee
L Elle / Eh-lleh
M Emme / Eh-mmeh
N Enne / Eh-nneh
O O / Oh (wide “o” as in “front”)
P Pi / Pee
Q Qu / Koo
R Erre / Eh-rreh
S Esse / Eh-sseh
T Ti / Tea
U U / Oo
V Vi, Vu / Vee, Voo
Z Zeta / Tseh-tah
As we mentioned earlier, the official Italian alphabet does not include J, K, W, X and Y, but they still appear in foreign words acquired by the Italian language. However, these letters are not pronounced in the same way either! Have a look:
J I lunga / Ee loon-gah (“long i”)
K Kappa / Kah-ppah
W Doppia vi, doppia vu / Doh-ppee-ah vee, voo (“double v”)
X Ics / Eeks
Y Ipsilon, I greca / Eeps-ee-loh-n, Ee greh-kah (“Greek i”)
The Italian alphabet: the song
What is the first song you ever learned?
Don’t worry, don’t think too hard, I think I already have the answer… The alphabet song!
Sure, it might not be the coolest song, but it surely is catchy! I still find myself singing it sometimes (especially while writing about the Italian alphabet!). I can guarantee you will have this tune stuck in mind for days… Which isn’t bad at all if you want to learn the Italian alphabet. This version even includes the pronunciation of the 5 foreign consonants!
The Italian alphabet: accents
As you probably noticed in written language, certain letters can have accents on them. In Italian, we can place an accent on all five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). An accent, however, does not really change the pronunciation of the vowel*, but it denotes the stress pattern in a word.
For example, the word città (city) has an accent on the “A” to show that the stress is on the last syllable instead of the second-to-last syllable, which is the normal Italian stress pattern
*A grave accent on the letter e (è) makes its pronunciation more open, while an acute accent (é) only changes the stress of the word.
The Italian alphabet: Acca (H)
While Italian pronunciation is pretty consistent, some consonants have a particular behaviour in some cases. The consonant H is one of them!
H Before a vowel
As we know, the letter H is called acca and it is silent. When it appears in front of a vowel, we skip it althogether and start the pronunciation with the following letter as in hanno (they have).
H With C and G
When there is an H after C and G, however, things get interesting! As you probably noticed, the consonants C and G have a hard and a soft pronunciation. C and G are pronounced like a hard /k/ sound as in “cat” (for C) and /g/ sound, as in “golf,” (for G) when they are followed by the vowels A, O and U, and by consonants (casa – house, crescere – to grow, gatto – cat, grattare – to scratch).
Otherwise, C and G are pronounced softly, like a /ch/ sound and a /j/ sound when they are followed by the vowels I and E (cielo – sky, gemma – gem).
What do we do, then, to have a hard /k/ or /g/ sound with the vowels I and E? Simple, we put an H in between! So we find that CHI, CHE, GHI, GHE retain the hard sound:
However, “G” is pronounced softly like a /j/ sound, as in “judge,” when it’s followed by the vowels “I” and “E.” We hear this pronunciation in words like chiesa – church and ghepardo – cheetah.
Italian alphabet with Italian cities
Now that you’ve learned the alphabet, let’s practice it a bit with the names of some Italian cities. Try reading them out loud to practice your pronunciation!
Roma (the capital of Italy!)
N.B. As the foreign letters are only used in foreign words, obviously they do not appear in the name of Italian cities! Here are some foreign words adopted by the Italian vocabulary:
Jeans, Ketchup, Wurstel, Xbox, Yogurt
By the way, this list will come in handy when you want to spell a word to someone!