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Pronunciation: Consonants

Most Italian consonant sound the same as in English. However, there are a few spelling peculiarities you should take notice of:

c before an e or an i is always pronounced soft
ch is always pronounced hard, as in the letter k
ca, co, and cu are always pronounced hard

For example: c soft in pace (peace) or cielo (sky), hard in caldo (hot), coda (tale), cucchiaio (tablespoon), chiesa (church), buche (holes).

g before an e or an i is always pronounced soft
gh is always pronounced hard (and it can only be followed by e or i)
ga, go, and gu are always pronounced hard

When g comes before a, o, and u and before consonants it sounds like the g in go. When g comes before e and i it sounds soft like the g in gelato.

For example: g is soft in gelato (icecream), giostra (carousel); it’s hard in garda, pagoda, gusto (taste), ghiro (dormouse), ghetto.

More examples:
sc like pesce, sciopero, and scempio is soft
Sch like scherzo, schettini, bruschetta is hard (like k)

Two other tricky sound combinations are gl and gn.

For example:

gn like gnomi is pronounced soft, as in gnocchi (where the g is soft but the ch is hard)

gl : maglia (sweater), aglio (garlic).

Another important difference is with double consonants. In English, it usually makes no difference but in Italian it does. A double consonant is pronounced over a longer period of time than a single consonant. You already know one example: the pronunciation of pizza.

For some consonants in particular: t, d, c, g, p and b there is no way to lengthen the consonant sound. Instead you stretch the holding period before you release the consonant – for instance there is a difference in Italian between fato (fate) and fatto (fact).

Some more examples:

eco (echo) and ecco (here is)
ala (wing) and alla (to the)
nono (ninth) and nonno (grandfather)
poso (I pose) and posso (I can)

 

More on R Pronunciation

Play the second recording to hear the pronunciation:

 

The most problematic double consonant is the Italian pronunciation of the letter r – The English language has nothing like that and only people really fluent in Italian can master.

Examples:
caro (dear) and carro (kart)

It can be difficult for beginners to pronounce words like:
birra (bear), chitarra (guitar), ramarro (green lizard), corro (I run), carro (cart), corrida, and many more…

 

Single R – R singola is relatively easy to pronunce

Most people already know how to pronounce:

Amore
Prosciutto
Presto
Pronto
Radio
Roma

 

Learn Italian: Consonant pronunciation

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1 year ago
Reply to  Carol Blatt

For example in “pasta” ? pesto, cesto, costo, pastello, pescare.
When followed by C and e-i the sound is soft.
Like in pesce, while pescare is hard. Pescare (fishing) and pesce (fish) have two different pronunciations.

Carol Blatt
1 year ago

When is ‘s’ pronounced as ‘z’ when is followed by a consonant? Which consonants?