Last Updated on November 9, 2018 by Katty
Learn How to Use Accents and Apostrophes in Italian
In the Italian language accents (accenti) are used to indicate where the voice should fall with more force when pronouncing a word; therefore in Italian words we distinguish tonic syllables (where the accent falls) and atonic syllables. In Italian accent marks are used for vowels only.
You may have observed that in many cases accented vowels in Italian have a grave accent that is slanted to the left (perciò, sarà, però, più), while other words have accents slanted in the opposite direction (perchè, nè, sè), which are known as acute accents. In these cases the accent lets the reader know that the last syllable is to be stressed when pronouncing the word.
Examples of Grave Accents
Examples of Acute Accents
- Perché » why, because
- Poiché » because
- Benché » despite
- Giacché » since
- Sicché » so, therefore
Some words have completely different meanings depending on which word carries the accent.
- àncora “ahnkohrah” (anchor – noun) OR ancòra “ahnkohrah” (again, more – adverb)
- règia “rehjah” (royal – adjective) OR regìa “rehjyhah” (direction of a movie or a play – noun)
- capitàno “kahpytahnoh” (captain – noun) OR càpitano “kahpytahnoh” (it/things happen – verb)
- làvati “lahvahtih” (wash yourself) OR lavàti “lahvahtih” (masculine plural of washed)
These types of subtle differences often cause problems for those learning Italian, because a simple thing like the placement of an accent can change both the pronounciation and the meaning of a word.
In dictionaries accents are always written on the stressed syllables, but this is not done in common writing. In most Italian words where no accent is noted the penultimate syllable is stressed when pronouncing the word:
Lampadìna = light bulb
Supermercàto = supermarket
Aereoplàno = airoplane
There is no need to use an accent on monosyllabic words like re (“king”) or fu (“he was”), although accents are used on some monosyllabic words to distinguish their pronounciation from other words with the same spelling and no accent.
When reading words with accents remember to pronounce the vowel that is accented with a broad, emphatic sound.
The Apostrophe in Italian
In Italian an apostrophe is an elision which occurs when a word that ends with a vowel and a word that begins with a vowel are used together in a sentence. In such a case the first word loses its final vowel, which is replaced with an apostrophe For example:
- L’albero instead of Lo albero
- L’amica instead of La amica
- Un grand’uomo instead of Un grande uomo
- L’anima instead of La anima
- C’incontrammo instead of ci incontrammo
All Italian words except for il, un, in, per, con, and non (“the,” “a” or “an,” “in,” “for,” “with,” and “not”) end with vowels a, e, i, o, u. The end vowel indicates the gender, number and verbal inflection of the word.
The demonstrative adjectives questo and quello indicate the status of someone or something from the point of view of the speaker (ie: This movie is interesting = Questo film è interessante) and are used with masculine nouns. When the noun that follows begins with a vowel the “o” at the end of these words is dropped (ie: Quest’anno andiamo al mare = This year we’ll go to the sea.)
The demonstrative adjectives of quella and quelle are used in the same way but before feminine nouns, singular and plural, respectively (ie: Quella ragazza = That girl or Quelle pere = Those pears). If the noun that follows begins with a vowel the “a” or “e” is dropped.
We are obliged to use the elision with:
- Articles LO, LA, UNA (l’arte, l’instto, un’idea)
- DI, (usi d’oggi, macchia d’inchiostro)
- Pronouns (m’incontrò, se n’andò, l’ho detto)
- GLI used before words that start with “i” (gl’inglesi, gl’insetti)
- Ci (c’ingannò, c’andai)
- LE and DELLE (l’erbe, l’eriche)
- UNO, NESSUNO, ALCUNO, CIASCUNO: Before masculine words the last vowel is dropped, but no apostrophe is used. Before feminine words the elision is used (un’anima, alcun’idea, ciascun’alunna, un albero, un uomo, un insetto.)
- Santo/Santa – Names of Saints (San’Antonio, Sant’Anna)
In Italian the apostrophe is sometimes used as a substitute for a grave accent after a final vowel. For example: Niccolò
Put the elision/apostrophe in the correct place:
- Ho accolto di buono animo la osservazione che mi hai fatta.
- Mi sono comperato uno bello abito per lo inverno.
- Santo Tommaso di Equino è il patrono degli studenti.
- Quale è il tuo paese di origine?
- Molti sono gli insetti nocivi alla agricoltura.
- Quello lavoro è di tale entità che mi spaventa.
- La lettura è uno utile esercizio di lingua.
- Di estate uno bello bicchiere di acqua fresca è gradito.
- Buon’animo – l’osservazione
- Bell’abito – l’inverno
- San Tommaso
- Qual è
- Quel lavoro
- D’estate – bel bicchiere – d’acqua
By Elisa Bressan