What was the first song you learned by heart?
Was it a killer rock song that you heard from your parents’ record collection?
Or, perhaps you’re overlooking one song in particular: the alphabet song!
Yes, it may not be the most musically interesting song, but it sure was catchy. In fact, I bet you remember the tune and all the words to this day!
Learning the Italian alphabet through song and other mediums is a useful skill for reading, spelling and communicating in the language.
The Italian language uses a Latin-based alphabet, and it consists of 21 letters (five vowels and 16 consonants).
While Italian pronunciation is pretty consistent, there are some anomalies and rules to remember while reading or writing the Italian alphabet. Furthermore, certain letters can also have accents on them.
Let’s look at this fascinating topic in more detail!
Where to Practice the Italian Alphabet
While the Italian alphabet and spelling are pretty straight forward, you’re going to need some practice!
- The Italian Alphabet Song: This post started by talking about songs, so here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: Italian has its own version of the “Alphabet Song.” I guarantee that it’s not only a great way to learn the alphabet, but it’s also just as catchy as the English version!
- FluentU: If you’d like to practice the Italian alphabet and Italian sounds and words in general, check out FluentU to see the language used in authentic contexts. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning experiences. Plus, you can practice what you’ve learned with interactive subtitles, customized vocabulary lists, dynamic flashcards and fun quizzes.
- Italy Made Easy’s Video Guide: If you’re interested in listening to how each letter is actually pronounced, I recommend the three-part guide to the Italian alphabet and pronunciation of letters from Italy Made Easy. The first part tackles all the letters you can see in Italian writing, the second part looks at letters as part of Italian names and the third part dissects certain letter combinations and their pronunciations.
- CyberItalian’s Alphabet Tool: I also recommend that you check out this interactive alphabet tool from CyberItalian. It lets you play around with each Italian letter and practice its name and pronunciation. Each letter has a sample word with audio that can be slowed down for more accurate attention and practice.
Easy as ABC! An Italian Alphabet Guide to Help You Master the Basics
Now, let’s look at all the letters of the Italian alphabet, their sounds, spelling particularities and pronunciation!
The Complete Italian Alphabet
As detailed in the “Italian Alphabet Song,” the complete Italian alphabet is as follows:
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, z
Standard Italian Consonants
Many consonants in Italian are named and pronounced the same way in English. This is a win for English learners since it means you can rely on your knowledge of the English alphabet to help you out.
Let’s look at these letters in-depth:
“B” is named /bi/ and is pronounced as in the English word “big.”
Example: bambini (children)
“D” is named /di/ and is pronounced as in the English word “dog.”
Example: donna (woman)
“F” is named /effe/ and is pronounced as in the English word “finger.”
Example: fagiolo (bean)
“L” is named /elle/ and is pronounced as in the English word “love,” but never as in the world “able.”
Example: luce (light)
“M” is named /emme/ and is pronounced as in the English word “mom.”
Example: madre (mother)
“N” is named /enne/ and is pronounced as in the English word “no.”
Example: notte (night)
“P” is named /pi/ and is pronounced as in the English word “pop.”
Example: pasta (pasta)
“Q” is named /ku/ and is pronounced as the hard “k” sound in the English word “kick.”
Example: quattro (four)
“R” is named /erre/ and is a trill (it’s commonly known as the “rolled r”). It is common in other languages, like Spanish.
Example: raccolta (collection)
“T” is named /ti/ and is pronounced as in the English word “tan.”
Example: tacco (heel)
“V” is named /vi/ or /vu/ and is pronounced as in the English word “van.”
Example: vacanza (vacation)
Particular Italian Consonants
The letter “H” is a particularity in Italian.
It’s called /acca/ and is silent. It doesn’t get pronounced at all. In fact, it’s often placed in front of Italian vowels, and that means that it gets skipped over and pronunciation begins with the following vowel.
For example, the Italian word hanno (they have) is pronounced /anno/ without the “H” at the beginning.
C and G
In Italian, the letters “C” and “G” can be quite complicated, but by learning some simple spelling rules, you can master these two letters in no time!
In short, “C” is pronounced like a hard /k/ sound when it’s followed by the vowels “A,” “O” and “U” and other consonants. This means that the words calze (sock) and collo (neck) have a /k/ pronunciation at the beginning.
Alternatively, “C” is pronounced softly like a /ch/ sound when it’s followed by the vowels “I” and “E.” This means that the words cielo (sky) and cento (hundred) are pronounced with the /ch/ sound at the beginning.
However, before an “I” or “E,” a “C” can become “CH” to keep its hard /k/ sound. For example, the word chilo (kilogram) maintains its hard /k/ sound at the beginning because of the “H” following the “C.”
Similarly, “G” is pronounced like a hard /g/ sound, as in “golf,” when it’s followed by the vowels “A,” “O” and “U” or other consonants. We can see this in the Italian words gamba (leg) and gonna (skirt).
Furthermore, before an “I” or “E,” a “G” can become “GH” to keep its hard /g/ sound. We see this in words like ghepardo (cheetah), which keeps its hard /g/ sound at the beginning.
Additionally, “G” has another particularity. When a “G” is combined with an “N,” it makes a sound like the /ny/ combination in the English word “canyon.” This occurs in the Italian word gnocchi (a type of pasta).
S and Z
Like “C” and “G,” “S” and “Z” also have some particularities in the Italian alphabet.
The letter “S” is called /esse/ in Italian. It’s pronounced like a hard /s/ sound in most situations, as in the English word “sing.”
However, it’s pronounced like a /z/ sound, as in the English word “zebra,” when placed between two vowels. An example of this is the Italian word casa (house).
Furthermore, when “S” is written beside another “S,” it makes a hard /s/ sound.
At the beginning of words, however, “Z” is pronounced like a /dz/ sound, as in the Italian word zio (uncle).
Non-native Italian Consonants
In addition to the consonants already discussed, there are some letters that aren’t native to Italian.
This means that they’re not part of the official Italian alphabet, but they’re sometimes used in writing and speech.
Oftentimes, they’re pronounced in Italian the same way they’re normally pronounced in their loanwords from other languages.
“J” is named i lunga (long i).
Example borrowed word: jazz
“K” is named /kappa/.
Example borrowed word: kebob
“W” is named v doppia (double v).
Example borrowed word: wafer
“X” is named /iks/.
Example borrowed word: xenofobia
“Y” is named ipsilon.
Example borrowed word: yacht
When consonants are doubled in Italian, the length of the pronunciation is also doubled. This happens in the following Italian words:
In addition to its consonants, Italian has five vowels. While there are some exceptions, each vowel generally only has one pronunciation (unlike in English).
“A” is called /a/ and is pronounced like the /aw/ in the English word “paw.”
Example: ape (bee)
“E” is called /e/ and is pronounced like the /ay/ in the English word “play.”
Example: edificio (building)
“I” is called /i/ and is pronounced like the /ee/ in the English word “see.”
Example: istituto (institute)
“O” is called /o/ and is pronounced like the /ow/ in the English word “low.”
Example: olio (oil)
“U” is called /u/ and is pronounced like the /oo/ in the English word “cool.”
Example: università (university)
Unlike English, accents can be placed on all five vowel letters. Instead of changing their pronunciations, however, accents denote irregular stress patterns 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, B, C! It’s easy as 1, 2, 3!” The Jackson 5 were right!
With a little bit of practice and a catchy song, the Italian alphabet is pretty simple!
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