The Italian Alphabet – Writing The Italian Letters

The people of Italy are good at keeping things sweet and simple. The Italian alphabet is no exception to this. There are 21 letters found in the alphabet, however there are five further Italian letters that you will find only on foreign words which are common in everyday Italian writing. These letters are j, k, w, x and y. The Italian alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet. The Italian language itself is derived from Latin and is the closest match to Latin of any language spoken today.

Letters In The Italian Alphabet

Italian Letter

Italian Name

English Approximation

Italian Example

Memorization Tips

A, a

a

car

aria

The pronunciation of the vowel “a” never changes; it corresponds exactly to the “a” sound in the English word car.

B, b

bi

black

bello

Identical to its English counterpart.

C, c

ci

sketch

ciao

The /t/ sound is employed only and exclusively when “c” is followed by either “i” or “e”.

customer

chiaro

The /k/ sound is used only and exclusively when “c” is followed by: 1) any consonant, including the letter “h” 2) either “a”, “u” or “o”. It keeps this pronunciation also in rare cases where “c” is the word last letter.

D, d

di

dodge

radio

Identical to its English counterpart.

E, e

e

trainer

erba

It can be pronounced either with an “open” or “closed” accent. Both are acceptable, the former characterizes the southern talking, the latter the northern one.

F, f

effe

Fig

fortuna

Identical to its English counterpart and the “ph” diphthong.

G, g

gi

judge

giardino

The /d/ sound is employed only and exclusively when “c” is followed by either “i” or “e”.

gag

grillo

The /g/ sound is used only and exclusively when “c” is followed by: 1) any consonant, including the letter “h” 2) either “a”, “u” or “o”. It keeps this pronunciation also in rare cases where “c” is the last letter of the word.

H, h

acca

hole

bicchiere

The Italian “h” is always mute. Being a mere graphic sign, it serves the only purpose to define the pronunciation of the letters “c” and “g” (see above). In any other position, it causes no sound whatsoever.

I, i

i

creed

isola

The Italian pronunciation of ‘i’ is identical to the “ee” sound in English, except it is slightly shorter.

J, j

i lungo

jazz

jazz

Identical to its English counterpart. Words that include this letter are mostly foreignisms, i.e., Italian words borrowed by foreign languages.

K, k

kappa

crisis

kilo

Identical to its English counterpart. Words that include this letter are mostly foreignisms.

L, l

elle

long

lino

Identical to its English counterpart.

M, m

emme

mother

mare

Identical to its English counterpart.

N, n

enne

nurse

nonno

Identical to its English counterpart.

O, o

o

horse

ora

The sound /o/ is always closed, that means identical to the group “ou” in the word “course”, except it is slightly shorter.

 

P, p

 

pi

 

priest

 

palla

Identical to its English counterpart.

Q, q

cu

steak

quadro

Always followed by the letter “u”. The group “qu” is pronounced as the letter “k”.

R, r

erre

not present

re

Similar to its English equivalent, the “r” is in Italian ‘rotic’, that means it is pronounced touching the upper part of the of the mouth’s roof with the tip of the tongue.

S, s

esse

song

serenata

It is always soft, it never makes the sound /ts/, such as in the English plural forms (ex. “pets“)

T, t

ti

train

tetto

Identical to its English counterpart.

U, u

u

blue

uccello

Always identical to the ‘oo’ sound of ‘ booze’ (/u:/), but slightly shorter. It never changes its phonetic form.

V, v

vu

vacation

vista

Identical to its English counterpart.

W, w

doppia vu

wealth

webcam

Identical to its English counterpart. Words that include this letter are mostly foreignisms.

X, x

ics

exaggerate

xilofono

Identical to its English counterpart. Words that include this letter come mostly form Greek, Latin and foreign terms.

Y, y

ipsilon

yell

yogurt

Identical to its English counterpart.

Z, z

zeta

cats

zaffiro

Identical to the “ts” sound in English

Students who take on Italian as a second language are always pleased to discover that Italian is for the most part a phonetic language. This means that Italian words are read and sound exactly how they appear in writing. This makes pronunciation and spelling in Italian letters much easier to learn than with some other languages. Those who learn Italian by listening find learning the Italian alphabet and Italian writing later on a breeze.

Like English, the appearance of two letters at the same time can indicate a change in pronunciation. In your Italian lessons you will learn that there are few variants of this occurrence, and with a bit of practice you’ll have no problems picking up on these irregularities.

Italian letters use an accent system. An accent on the word means that pronunciation should be stressed in a different way. Italian accents can seem complicated at first, but once you get started, you’ll find the Italian writing system is easy to understand. Don’t worry, Italian grammar is much easier than English. You’ll pick it up in no time!