1 How to spell words that have a hard k or g sound
- In Italian the [k] sound you have in the English words kite and car is spelled in two different ways, depending on the following vowel:
- c before a, o and u
- ch before e and i
- This means that the Italian word for singer is spelled cantante (pronounced [kan-tan-tay]; the word for necklace is spelled collana (pronounced [kol-la-na]), and the word for cure is spelled cura (pronounced [koo-ra]).
- However, the Italian word for that is spelled che (pronounced [kay]) and the word for chemistry is spelled chimica (pronounced [kee-mee-ka].
TipRemember that the Italian words for kilo and kilometre are spelled with ch:
|due chili||two kilos|
|cento chilometri||a hundred kilometres|
- In the same way, the hard [g] sound that you have in the English word gas is also spelled two ways in Italian:
- g before a, o and u
- gh before e and i
- This means that the Italian word for cat is spelled gatto (pronounced [ga-toe]; the word for elbow is spelled gomito (pronounced [go-mee-toe]), and the word for taste is spelled gusto (pronounced [goos-toe]).
- However, the Italian word for leagues is spelled leghe (pronounced [lay-gay]) and the word for lakes is spelled laghi (pronounced [lah-ghee].
2 How to pronounce c + a vowel
- As we have seen, the Italian letter c is pronounced like a [k] when it’s followed by a, o, or u.
- When c is followed by e or i it is pronounced like the [ch] in children. This means that centro (meaning centre) is pronounced [chen-tro] and città (meaning city) is pronounced [chee-tah].
3 How to pronounce g + a vowel
- The Italian letter g is pronounced like the [g] in gas when it’s followed by a, o, or u. When an Italian g is followed by e or i, however, it’s pronounced like the [j] in jet. This means that gente (meaning people) is pronounced [jen-tay] and giorno (meaning day) is pronounced [jor-no].
4 How to spell verb endings which have c or g + vowel
- When an Italian verb has a hard [k] or [g] sound before the infinitive ending, for example cercare (meaning to look for) and pagare (meaning to pay), you have to change the spelling to ch and gh in forms of the verb that have endings starting with e or i.
- Here are the present and future tenses of cercare and pagare, showing how the spelling changes.
|Vowel that follows c/g||Present of cercare||Meaning||Present of pagare||Meaning|
|o||cerco||I look for||pago||I pay|
|i||cerchi||you look for||paghi||you pay|
|a||cerca||he/she looks for||paga||he/she pays|
|i||cerchiamo||we look for||paghiamo||we pay|
|a||cercate||you look for||pagate||you pay|
|a||cercano||they look for||pagano||they pay|
|Vowel that follows c/g||Future of cercare||Meaning||Future of pagare||Meaning|
|e||cercherò||I’ll look for||pagherò||I’ll pay|
|e||cercherai||you’ll look for||pagherai||you’ll pay|
|e||cercherà||he/she will look for||pagherà||he/she will pay|
|e||cercheremo||we’ll look for||pagheremo||we’ll pay|
|e||cercherete||you’ll look for||pagherete||you’ll pay|
|e||cercheranno||they’ll look for||pagheranno||they’ll pay|
|Cosa cerchi? – Cerco le chiavi.||What are you looking for? – I’m looking for my keys.|
|Pago io. – No, paghiamo noi.||I’ll pay. – No, we’ll pay.|
- When an Italian verb has a [sh] or [j] sound before the infinitive ending, for example lasciare (meaning to leave) and mangiare (meaning to eat), you drop the i of the stem before endings starting with e or i.
- This means that you spell the tu form of the present tense of these verbs lasci
|Lasci la finestra aperta?||Are you leaving the window open?|
|Cosa mangi?||What are you eating?|
- The futures of the two verbs are spelled lascerò, lascerai, lascerà, lasceremo, lascerete, lasceranno and mangerò, mangerai, mangerà, mangeremo, mangerete, mangeranno.
|Fa caldo, lascerò a casa il maglione.||It’s hot, I’ll leave my jumper at home.|
|Domani mangeremo meno.||We’ll eat less tomorrow.|
TipAlthough the spelling of some verb endings changes, the pronunciation stays the same.
5 How to spell plurals of nouns and adjectives ending in –ca or –ga
- When a feminine noun or adjective has a hard [k] or [g] sound before the singular ending –a, you add an h to the plural ending.
|una sua amica ricca||a rich friend of hers|
|le sue amiche ricche||her rich friends|
|una riga sotto le parole||a line under the words|
|Ne ho letto solo poche righe.||I just read a few lines of it.|
TipFeminine nouns and adjectives always keep their hard [k] and [g] sounds in the plural.
6 How to spell plurals of nouns and adjectives ending in –co or –go
- There is not a fixed rule for the sound of the consonants c and g in the plural of masculine nouns and adjectives ending in –co and –go.
- Some words keep the hard sound of their c or g in the plural, and add an h to the spelling.
|È un albergo per ricchi.||It’s a hotel for rich people.|
|Ho i capelli lunghi.||I’ve got long hair.|
- The plurals of many other words, however, change from the hard [k] sound to the [ch] sound, or from the hard [g] to [j]. This means their plurals are not spelled with an added h.
|un astrologo greco||a Greek astrologer|
|i miei amici e i loro problemi psicologici||my friends and their psychological problems|
7 How to spell plurals of nouns ending in –io
- When the i of the –io ending is stressed, as it is in zio (meaning uncle) and invio (meaning dispatch), the plural is spelled with double i: zii, invii.
|Ho sei zii e sette zie.||I’ve got six uncles and seven aunts.|
- If the i of the –io ending is not stressed you spell the plural ending with only one i, for example figlio → figli; occhio → occhi.
|Ha gli occhi azzurri.||He’s got blue eyes.|
8 How to spell plurals of nouns ending in –cia and –gia
- The spelling of the plurals of these words also depends on whether the i of the ending is stressed.
- In some words, such words as farmacia (meaning chemist’s) and bugia (meaning lie), the stress is on the i, and the plurals keep the i: farmacie; bugie.
|Non dire bugie.||Don’t tell lies.|
- In others, such as faccia (meaning face) and spiaggia (meaning beach) the i of the singular ending is not stressed, and the plural is not spelled with i: facce; spiagge.
|le nostre spiagge preferite||our favourite beaches| PreviousNext
9 How to use accents
- Accents have two main uses: one is to show that a word is stressed on the last syllable, which is not normal in Italian, for example città (meaning city), università (meaning university), perché (meaning why/because), cercherò (meaning I will look for).
- For more information on Stress, see Stress.
- The second use of accents is to distinguish between words that have identical pronunciations and spellings.
|Without an accent||With an accent|
|Mettila là.||Put it there.|
|Non so se l’ha fatto da sé.||I don’t know if he made it himself.|
TipThe words può, già, ciò, più and giù are spelled with an accent.
- Spelling changes are sometimes necessary to keep the consonants c and g hard.
- Accents show that the last syllable of a word is stressed.