Italian alphabet

Italian alphabet

The Italian alphabet is a variant of the Latin alphabet used by the Italian language. The standard contemporary Italian alphabet has 21 letters, shown in the table below.


The Italian alphabet has five vowel letters, "a", "e", "i", "o", and "u". Of those, only "a" has one sound value while each of the others has two. In addition, the letters "e" and "i" affect the pronunciation of a preceding "c" or "g" (see below).

In stressed syllables, the letter "e" represents the sounds IPA|/ɛ/ and IPA|/e/. The letter "o" represents both IPA|/ɔ/ and IPA|/o/ (see the Italian phonology article for further details on these sounds). There is typically no orthographic distinction between the two sounds represented by each letter, although accent marks are used in certain instances (see below). In unstressed syllables, only IPA|/e/ and IPA|/o/ occur.

The letters "i" and "u", in addition to representing the respective vowels IPA|/i/ and IPA|/u/, also typically represent the semivowels IPA|/j/ and IPA|/w/, respectively, when unstressed and occurring before another vowel. Also, unstressed "i" may represent that a preceding or following consonant is palatal (see below).

C and G

The letters "c" and "g" represent the consonants IPA|/k/ and IPA|/g/ when they appear before "a", "o", "u" or any consonant. When they appear before "i" or "e", they represent the sounds IPA|/tʃ/ (like English "ch") and IPA|/dʒ/ (like English "j"), respectively.

The letter "i" may also function merely as an indicator that the preceding "c" or "g" is palatal, as in "cia" (IPA|/tʃa/), "ciu" (IPA|/tʃu/), etc. The letter "h" is used after "c" and before "e" or "i" to give the "c" an ordinary IPA|/k/ sound; the "h" itself is silent. Thus, "che" represents IPA|/ke/ or IPA|/kɛ/ and "chi" represents IPA|/ki/. While this orthographic practice came out of allophonic palatalization of velar consonants in Latin, the velars and palatals are full phonemes, as seen with the minimal pairs of the following table.

The letter "g" is also used to mark that a following "l" or "n" is palatal (excepting foreign loanwords). With "l", a following "i" is also necessary although this may be stressed or unstressed: "famiglia" IPA|/ faˈmiʎʎa/ ('family').

The digraph "sc" is used to represent IPA|/ʃ/. Except in some Northern Italian dialects, intervocalic IPA|/ʎ/, IPA|/ɲ/, and IPA|/ʃ/ are geminated.

Other letters

The letter "h" at the beginning of a word is silent; it is used to distinguish "ho", "hai", "ha", "hanno" (present indicative of "avere", 'to have') from "o" ('or'), "ai" ('to the'), "a" ('to'), "anno" ('year') but there is no difference in the pronunciation of such words. "H" is also used in combinations with other letters (see above). In foreign loanwords, the "h" is still silent: "hovercraft" IPA|/ˈɔverkraft/.

The letter "z" represents an alveolar affricate consonant; either voiced IPA|/dz/ ("zanzara" IPA|/dzanˈdzaɾa/ 'mosquito') or voiceless IPA|/ts/ ("nazione" IPA|/naˈttsjone/ 'nation'), depending on context, though there are few minimal pairs. In handwriting, some people use a stroke zed ƶ for the IPA|/dz/ sound.

The letter "s" also is ambiguous to voicing; it can represent IPA|/s/ or IPA|/z/. However, these two phonemes are in complementary distribution everywhere except between two vowels in the same word, and even in such environment there are extremely few minimal pairs.

The letter "r" may represent one of two rhotics, an alveolar flap IPA|/ɾ/ or an alveolar trill IPA|/r/ .

The letters "j" ("i lunga"), [it [ Tullio De Mauro's dictionary online] ] "k" ("cappa"), "w" ("doppia vu"), "x" ("ics"), and "y" ("ipsilon/i greca"), are not considered part of the standard Italian alphabet, but appear in loanwords (such as "jeans", "whisky", and "taxi"). "X" has become a commonly used letter in genuine Italian words with the prefix "". "J" in Italian is an old-fashioned orthographic variant of "i", appearing in the first name "Jacopo" as well as in some Italian place names, e.g., the towns of Bajardo, Bojano, Buja, Castel di Judica, Jacurso, Jelsi, Jenne, Jerago con Orago, Jerzu, Jesi, Jesolo, Jolanda di Savoia, Jonadi, Joppolo, Lajatico, Letojanni, Majano, Mezzojuso, Mojo Alcantara, Montalbano Jonico, Pietraroja, Raccuja, Reana del Rojale, San Giuseppe Jato, Scanzano Jonico, Torre Cajetani, Vajont, Vejano, among numerous others, and in the alternate spelling "Mar Jonio" (also spelled "Mar Ionio") for the Ionian Sea. "J" may also appear in many words from different dialects, but its use is discouraged in contemporary Italian, and it is not part of the standard 21-letter contemporary Italian alphabet.


The acute accent may be used on "e" and "o" to represent close-mid vowels when they are stressed in a position other than the default second-to-last syllable; this use of acute is generally only mandatory in the final syllable. Since final "o" is never close-mid, "ó" is very rarely encountered in written Italian. The grave accent may be used on "e" and "o" when they represent open-mid vowels. All vowels aside from "e" employ only the grave accent in most texts. Both acute and grave accent may sometimes be used to distinguish homographs.

The circumflex accent can be used to mark the contraction of two vowels, especially two I's. For example, it can be used to differentiate words like "geni" ('genes') and "genî" ('geniuses'). However, its use quite rare, and seen as archaic. In modern Italian, it's preferred the use of tonic accent to mark the difference (e.g. "principi": it means 'principles' if the accent is on first "i" and 'princes' if it's on second one. To distinguish them, you can write "principî" ('principles'), but it's a little obsolete: usually, if there's a possibility of a misunderstanding ("seguiamo i principi della Chiesa": we follow the theology or the theologists?), you write "princìpi" ('principles') and "prìncipi" ('princes')).


ee also

*Alphabets derived from the Latin
*Italian phonology

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