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Ultimate Guide to the Italian Alphabet: Letters, Pronunciation, and Stress

From correct pronunciation to how to spell your name, here's everything you need to know to sound 'Italiano'

by Michele
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Ultimate Guide to the Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation
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Learning the Italian alphabet is one of the most important steps for beginners of Italian.  Per fortuna, (fortunately) it’s easy to learn how to pronounce words in Italian too! Why? Because Italian is a phonetic language, meaning when see any Italian word you’ll know exactly how to pronounce it. Plus, when you hear a word you know how to spell it too! Once you’ve learned a few basic rules you’ll be confident enough to pronounce each word correctly.  

Pronti? Ready? Cominciamo! Let’s get started!

The Italian Alphabet

Learning the Italian alphabet is easy. In fact, it only has 21 letters since the letters j, k, w, x and y are not officially part of the Italian alphabet. However, you will come across these letters in words that have been borrowed from other languages (mainly English) and usually maintain the same pronunciation as the original language. Here are some examples:

  • il jazz – jazz
  • il weekend – weekend
  • lo yacht – yacht
  • il karate – karate
  • la babysitter – babysitter
  • il computer – computer

It’s essential to learn how to correctly pronounce the Italian alphabet so that you’ll be able to correctly pronounce all of the new words you will be learning.

When spelling something out for someone, especially over the telephone, Italians will use the names of Italian towns, not the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (eg. Alfa, Bravo, Charlie) to make the letter clear.

Here are the letters of the Italian alphabet, their phonetic pronunciation, and the town name usually used. Watch the video below this table and repeat the audio as many times as you need to in order to learn and be able to produce the sounds correctly.

Italian alphabet and how to spell using town names

Letter Pronunciation Town Name Letter Pronunciation Town Name
a ah Ancona b bee Bologna/Bari
c chee Como d dee Domodossola
e eh Empoli f effe Firenze
g jee Genova h acca hotel
i ee Imola j i lungo/a  
k cappa   l elle Livorno
m emme Milano n enne Napoli
o oh Otranto p pee Pisa
q cu   r erre Roma
s esse Savona t tee Torino
u oo Udine v vee / voo Venezia
w voo doppia/o; doppia/o voo   x ics  
y i greca/o, ipsilon   z zeta Zara

Again, the following are not considered Italian letters and are used mainly in foreign words:

  • j pronounced i lungo/a
  • k pronounced cappa
  • w pronounced voo doppio/a or doppio/a voo
  • x pronounced ics
  • y pronounced i greco/a, ipsilon

Here is an example of how I spell my name, especially over the phone:

  • Milano, Imola, Como, hotel, Empoli, Livorno, Empoli = Michele
  • Firenze, Roma, Otranto, Livorno, Livorno, Ancona = Frolla

Notice how I repeat Livorno twice. If I were to say the actual letter, it would be doppia elle (double L).

Italian is a gendered language, this means that all nouns, articles, pronouns and adjectives can either be maschile (masculine) and femminile (feminine). This is called grammatical gender which shouldn’t be confused with the biological terms ‘male’ and ‘female’. So, how do you know if a word is feminine or masculine in Italian? And why are Italian words feminine or masculine? Find out more about gender in Italian with my step by step guide.

I mentioned this because Italian letters are also considered either masculine or feminine, so some people will say either i greca rather than i greco. Letters aren’t usually made plural either, so the combination ss is due esse (two s’s); also doppio esse (double S) or doppia esse (double S).

Now let’s take a closer look at some of these letters.

Consonants and Diphthongs

Italian Alphabet - Restaurant sign in RomanescoItalian has the same consonants that English does. You pronounce most of them in exactly the same way in Italian as you pronounce them in English, but there are some important differences.

  • b: as in bene (well)
  • d: as in dare (to give)
  • f: as in fare (to make)
  • l: as in ladro (thief)
  • m: as in madre (mother)
  • n: as in no (no)
  • p: as in padre (father)
  • t: as in treno (train) Note: When there is a double ‘t’ make sure you double it when you pronounce it. For example, spaghetti.
  • v: as in vino (wine)

The Italian ‘C’

Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation - Coffee SignThe spellings and pronunciation of c and ch can be a little confusing at first. But there is a simple rule that will ensure you get it right every time. For example, the c in ciao (hi/hello) sounds like ‘cheh’, but c in che (what) sounds like ‘keh’. Ma perché? (But why?)

One rule to remember is that c followed by e or i makes it a soft ch sound. For example:

  • ciao (cha-ow) (hello)
  • cena (chay-na) (dinner)
  • città (cheet-tah) (city)

But c followed by a, o, u has a hard k sound. For example:

  • carne (kar-neh) (meat)
  • cane (kah-neh) (dog)
  • cucina (koo-chee-nah) (kitchen)

If you think about it, we have a similar rule in English, although you probably haven’t noticed! When the English c is followed by an e or i, we get a soft s sound. For example, city, centre, cinnamon. But when c is followed by a, o, u we get a hard k sound. For example, cat, car, cupboard.

So, whenever you’re trying to remember how to pronounce an Italian word with the letter c, just think of this rule in English, which will be more familiar to you, or think of the word ciao and how it’s spelled to help you recall this rule.

Also, a long time ago, some clever grammarians decided that the letter h would be silent. In this case, it was added to keep the c a hard k sound. For example:

  • chiesa (kee-ay-za) (church)
  • chiaro (kee-ah-roh) (clear, bright)

The Italian ‘G’

Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation - Cafe and Street signsThe Italian g behaves in a similar way to c. When followed by a, o, or u, the g will have a hard ‘guh’ sound, like garden. When followed by e or i, it will have a soft ‘juh’ sound like German. For example:

  • giorno (jor-no) (day)
  • gennaio (jen-na-yo) (January)


  • lago (lah-goh) (lake), and laghi (lah-gee) (lakes)

Just as we saw earlier, the letter h was added to keep the g hard. So, whenever you see the ch or gh combination in Italian, remember to make the c and g hard.

The Italian ‘H’

The consonant h basically has just one purpose in Italian: that is, to change the sound of the letters c and g when they are followed by the vowels e and i, as we saw earlier. You will also find the letter H in foreign expressions including hostess and hobby, and in some conjugations of the verb avere (to have), however, for the most part, it’s silent. For example:

  • Io ho (ee-oh oh) (I have)
  • Tu hai (too aiee) (You have)

Learn more about the most important verbs, including avere here and how to conjugate Italian verbs here.

The Italian ‘R’

Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation - FornoItalian has lots of R’s, so if you see one, you must pronounce it. In fact, roll it if you can! The Italian r is not pronounced with the tongue in the back, as it is in English, but trilled using the front part of your palate, right behind your front teeth. This will feel strange to do at first but start practising doing this right from the beginning and it will start to feel more natural. Here are some words to help you practice:

  • radio (rah-dee-oh) (radio)
  • per favore (pehr fah-voh-reh) (please)
  • prego (preh-goh) (you’re welcome/after you/please)

The Italian ‘Q’

The letter q is only used together with the letter u and followed by another vowel; that is, you will always find qu together. The q is pronounced like the English (k), and qu is, therefore, pronounced (kw). Here are some examples:

  • quattro (kwaht-troh) (four)
  • questo (kwehs-toh) (this)
  • quadro (kwah-droh) (picture)

The Italian ‘S’

Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation - Pasticceria SignS is sometimes pronounced like the English s, as in so. In other cases, it’s pronounced like the English letter z, such as in the word zero. For example:

  • pasta (pahs-tah) (pasta)
  • solo (soh-loh) (only)
  • gelosia (jeh-loh-zee-ah) (jealousy)

Similar to how the pronunciation of c and g is affected when followed by e, i or a, o, u, so too is the letter combination sc. For example:

sc + e or i = soft sh sound

  • sci (shee) (ski)
  • scenario (sheh-nah-ree-oh) (scenery, view, landscape)

sc + a, o or u = hard sk sound

  • scarpa (skar-pah) (shoe)
  • scala (skar-lah) (staircase)

The Italian ‘Z’

A single z is pronounced (dz), similar to the English z in zero, with a d added at the beginning, as in zero (dzehr-oh) (zero).

A single z can also be pronounced as the combination of t+s. For example, speranza (hope) or vacanza (vacation/holiday). In both words, the z sounds like a ts. Unfortunately, there is no specific rule to understand when a z is pronounced like dz and when it’s pronounced like ts.

Sometimes you’ll hear a word pronounced differently according to the region or dialect variety. For example, some people pronounce zucchina with a tz sound – which is the correct one according to the proper diction, but most people say it with a dz sound!

When you see a double z, most of the time you pronounce it more sharply, like t-ts. For example:

  • tazza (taht-tsah) (cup; mug).

When you see the letter z is followed by the letter i, it will have a ts sound. For example:

  • nazione (nah-tsyoh-neh) (nation).

Double vowels in Italian

Sometimes Italian has two distinctive vowel sounds right next to each other, such as ciao pronounced cha-ow. These sounds merge together so don’t separate them with a long pause.

When a sound is formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, it is called a diphthong. More specifically, a diphthong is when a sound begins as one vowel and moves towards another. This Greek word literally means ‘having two sounds’. Diphthongs also exist in English, for example, oil, coin, and loud.


Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation - Antico FornoIn addition to pronouncing each letter in Italian, you should also pay attention to where the stress or accent falls in each word. While the placement of the stress can vary, there are some general guidelines you can follow when in doubt.

As a general rule, most words are usually stressed on the next to last syllable. For example, in amico [ a – mi – co ] (ah-mee-ko) (friend), -mi- is the next to last syllable and therefore will receive the stress. This rule is also true for 2-syllable words such as vero (true), bravo (good), and corto (short).

Statistically speaking, it’s safe to assume that most words will follow this rule, however, pay attention to this as you learn new words and always check a good dictionary to be sure.

Some words also have an accent mark on the final vowel. This clearly shows you where the stress will fall. For example, in caffè [ caf – fè ] (kaf-feh) (coffee, coffee shop), the stress will fall on the final two letters. More examples of this include:

  • città (cheet-tah) (city)
  • lunedì (looh-neh-dee) (Monday)
  • perché (pehr-keh) (why)
  • però (peh-roh) (but)

Now that you’re learning the Italian alphabet, you’ll need to be able to learn how to ask, come si scrive, but also understand the response. So, let’s start with your name. If someone asks you Come si scrive il suo nome? (How do you write your name?), what will you say? Using the Italian alphabet and the names of towns you learned at the start of this guide, write your name in the comments! For more, don’t miss my guide on how to improve your Italian pronunciation and accent.

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Ultimate Guide to the Italian Alphabet - Accents, Stress, and Pronunciation

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