Italian Alphabet & Pronunciation: Comprehensive Guide

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

One thing learners often overlook when learning a new language is learning the alphabet.

This is understandable for languages like Italian since the alphabet is very similar to the English one. 

However, if you want to learn to speak, read or write in Italian then knowing the alphabet is, of course, very helpful.

Not only are there fewer letters in the Italian alphabet, but the letters are also pronounced differently from the English pronunciations.  

The letters of the Italian alphabet are like individual musical notes of the beautiful music that is the Italian language. 

Luckily, not only is Italian a lovely language to hear, but it is also pretty easy to learn to pronounce. 

The Italian language is very phonetic meaning that once you know how to pronounce each letter, every word is pronounced consistently with few exceptions. 

Also, what makes learning the Italian alphabet even easier is that there are not loads of silent letters, unlike in other languages like English or French.

Therefore, once you have studied the Italian alphabet you will be much more prepared to speak Italian correctly and will be able to pronounce anything you read properly. 

In this guide, you will learn all about the Italian alphabet, what letters are missing and how to pronounce each letter. 

The Most Common Questions About the Italian Alphabet… Answered

How Many Letters Are in the Italian Alphabet?

There are actually only 21 letters in the Italian alphabet, unlike the 26 letters in English. 

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These letters are the 5 vowels (a-e-i-o-u) and 16 consonants (b-c-d-f-g-h-l-m-n-p-q-r-s-t-v-z).

Why Does Italian Only Have 21 Letters?

As mentioned above there are five letters missing in the Italian alphabet compared to the English alphabet. 

This is because Italian comes from Latin and uses the modern form of the Latin alphabet, which only has 21 letters. However, you will still see these five missing letters used in Italian. 

What Are the 5 Letters Missing in the Italian Alphabet?

The five letters that do not exist in Italian but do in English are J, K, W, X and Y.  However, you will still see these letters used in some words. 

Foreign words that have been borrowed from other countries will still be used in Italian for example whiskey, copywriter, make-up and okay. 

Despite J, K, W, X and Y not being officially part of the Italian alphabet it is still good to know how to pronounce these letters in Italian so you know how to pronounce the non-Italian words when speaking Italian. 

What is J in Italian?

Even though there is no letter J in the Italian alphabet, you may still hear a similar-sounding letter since G (gi) often makes a J sound. 

The soft “gi” sound in the name Luigi or the soft “ge” sound in the word gelato. Two iconic Italian words that both have a J sound in them despite not having the letter J in the word. 

There are also words that have a hard G sound instead of the soft G/J sound and it depends on the vowel following the G letter as to how you pronounce the G.  

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Words with the letter combinations ga-, go-, gu-, ghi- or _ghe-, are pronounced with a hard G like the English “gate”. For example, spaghetti and gusto.

When you see words with gi- and ge- in Italian use a soft G or J sound, like the English “jelly” or “jug”. For example, giraffa, or gelato.

Introducing the Italian Alphabet and Its Pronunciation

Now let’s take a look at all the letters of the Italian alphabet along with how to pronounce each one and examples of the words in action. 

LetterNameIn ActionPronunciation in English words
Aa (ah)anello (ring)As in “father”
Bbi (bee)banana (banana)As in “building”
Cci (chee)cena (dinner)As in “cheeta”
Ddi (dee)donna (woman)As in “dog”
Ee (eh)energia (energy)As in “elephant”
Feffe (ehf-feh)formaggio (cheese)As in “first”
Ggi (jee)gatto/gatta (cat)As in “jeep”
Hacca (ahk-kah)hotel (hotel)silent
Ii (ee)italiano (Italian)As in “see”
Lelle (ehl-keh)latte (milk)As in “long” (never as in “able”)
Memme (ehm-meh)medico (doctor)As in “may”
Nenne (ehn-neh)negozio (store)As in “never”
Oo (o)orologio (clock)As in “low”
Ppi (pee)pesce (fish)As in “pop”
Qcu (koo)quando (when)As is “question”
Rerre (ehr-reh)respirare (breathe/breather)Rolled “r”
Sesse (ehs-seh)studente/studentessa (student)As in “sing”
Tti (tee)torta (cake)As in “tornado”
Uu (oo)uccello (bird)As in “cool”
Vvi (voo/vee)vino (wine)As in “van”
Zzeta (tseh-tah)zero (zero)At the beginning of the word, it has a /dz/ sound

Italian Pronunciation: 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

The above table breaks down all the letters in the alphabet and how to pronounce them correctly in Italian, but there are a couple of things that you need to be aware of when combining letters that often catch people out.  

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Aside from forgetting that the letter H is silent, there are four common mistakes that people make when pronouncing Italian words and we have listed them below. 

1. Double Consonants

Italian has a lot of words with double consonants, for example, “nonna” meaning “granny”, “doppio” meaning “double” and “caffè” meaning of course “coffee”. 

It is actually quite obvious to hear the difference between words with double and single consonants in Italian so it is important that you get each version right. 

For double consonants, you need to exaggerate and draw out the sounds to have a correct pronunciation. Without the proper pronunciation, a word with a double consonant could have its meaning lost. 

For example, it might get confusing if you mix up the pronunciation of “cassa” and “casa” since it could sound like you are saying “amo la mia cassa” or “I love my cash desk” instead of “amo la mia casa” which is “I love my house”. 

2. How to Pronounce G in Italian

G is a tricky letter to pronounce in Italian since it can have multiple sounds sometimes even sounding like a J. 

There are two main types of sound, a soft version and a harder one and it depends on the vowel following the G letter as to how you pronounce it.  

G sound

Words with the letter combinations ga-, go-, gu-, ghi- or _ghe-, are pronounced with a hard G like the English “gate”. For example, spaghetti and gusto.

J sound

When you see words with gi- and ge- in Italian use a soft G or J sound, like the English “jelly” or “jug”. For example, giraffa, or gelato.

3. How to Pronounce C in Italian

The letter C is a tricky word for Italian learners because, much like the letter G, it can have several different sounds. 

K sound

When paired with ca-, co-, cu-, che- or chi- the letter C makes a hard K sound. For example, the word “cane” which means “dog” in Italian is pronounced, “kah-neh”. 

Ch sound

When C is paired with I or E, it becomes softer, in a similar way to the letter G. 

Words with ci- or ce- in them make a “ch” sound like the English word “change”. For example, the famous Italian greeting “ciao” is pronounced “chow” since it starts with a “ci”. 

3. Vowels in Italian

Italian vowels make up an important part of how Italian sounds since they feature heavily in most words and almost every Italian word ends in one. 

The five vowels can be a great indicator if a word is masculine, feminine, singular or plural depending on which one is at the end of a word. 

Unlike in English, the vowel sounds in Italian do not change and they are always pronounced clearly and in a more emphasized manner than in English, no matter where they are placed in a word. 

Do not be tempted to soften your vowels, especially your E sounds which are always pronounced with an “EH” like in “beg”. 

Practice your vowels by saying aloud the following Italian words: 

Italian word Pronunciation English translation 
Apeah-pehBee
Elefanteeh-leh-fahn-tehElephant 
Istitutoees-tee-too-tohInstitute 
Oracolooh-rah-coh-lohOracle
Uccelloooch-chel-lohBird 

Conclusion 

Now that you can pronounce all the Italian letters you will be able to read words and speak them confidently no matter if you have heard the word before or not. 

Since the Italian alphabet has consistent phonetics, once you have got to grips with the new sounds and some of the trickier letters you will be able to speak like a real Italian in no time. 

So get out there and practice speaking Italian with your friends or on your travels! 

Good Luck! – Buona fortuna!

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