Italian ( italiano (help·info) [itaˈljaːno] or lingua
italiana [ˈliŋɡwa itaˈljaːna]) is a Romance language. Italian is
by most measures, together with the Sardinian language, the closest
tongue to vulgar
Latin of the Romance languages. Italian is an
official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino,
Vatican City and
Slovenia and Croatia). It used to have official
status in Albania,
Malta and Monaco, where it is still widely spoken,
as well as in former
Italian East Africa
Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa
regions where it plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian
is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and
Australia. It has official minority status in Bosnia and
Slovenia and Romania. Many speakers are
native bilinguals of both standardized Italian and other regional
languages. Italian is a major European language, being one of the
official languages of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
Europe and one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It
is the third most widely spoken first language in the European Union
with 69 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and it is
spoken as a second language by 16 million EU citizens (3%).
Including Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as
Switzerland and Albania) and on other continents, the total number of
speakers is around 90 million.
Italian is the main working language of the Holy See, serving as the
lingua franca (common language) in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as
well as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of
Malta. Italian is known as the language of music because of its use in
musical terminology and opera. Its influence is also widespread in the
arts and in the luxury goods market. Italian has been reported as the
fourth or fifth most frequently taught foreign language in the
Italian was adopted by the state after the Unification of Italy,
having previously been a literary language based on Tuscan as spoken
mostly by the upper class of Florentine society. Its development
was also influenced by other
Italian languages and to some minor
extent, by the
Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders. The
incorporation into Italian of learned, or "bookish" words from its own
ancestor language, Latin, is arguably another form of lexical
borrowing through the influence of written language and the liturgical
language of the Church. Throughout the
Middle Ages and into the early
modern period, most literate Italian speakers were also literate in
Latin; and thus they easily adopted
Latin words into their
writing—and eventually speech—in Italian. Its vowels are the
Latin after Sardinian. Unlike most other
Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and
long consonants. As in most Romance languages, stress is
1.3 Modern era
1.4 Contemporary times
3 Geographic distribution
3.1 Europe and the Mediterranean Region
3.3 Immigrant communities
3.4 Number of speakers by country
3.6 Influence and derived languages
3.7 Lingua franca
6 Writing system
8.2 Question Words
8.5 Days of the week
8.6 Months of the year
8.7 Sample texts
9 See also
13 External links
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During the Middle Ages, the established written language in Europe was
Latin. With the great majority of people illiterate, however, only a
handful were well versed in the language. In Italy, as in all other
countries, the majority would instead speak the vernacular (native
tongue) of their region. These dialects (as they are commonly referred
to as) were derived from Vulgar
Latin over the course of centuries,
evolving naturally unaffected by formal standards and teachings. These
Italy are not truly "dialects" of Standard Italian,
evolving independently (and alongside) of the predecessor of Standard
Italian. They are often mutually unintelligible and are better
classified as distinct languages.:13
Italian language has a poetic and literary origin in the
writings of Tuscan writers of the 12th century, and, even though the
grammar and core lexicon are basically unchanged from those used in
Florence in the 13th century, the modern standard of the language
was largely shaped by relatively recent events. However, Italian as a
language spoken in
Italy and some surrounding regions have a longer
history. In fact, the earliest surviving texts that can definitely be
called Italian (or more accurately, vernacular, as distinct from its
predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae known as the Placiti
Cassinesi from the Province of Benevento that date from 960–963,
although the Veronese Riddle, probably from the 8th or early 9th
century, contains a late form of Vulgar
Latin that can be seen as a
very early Italian dialect. What would come to be thought of as
Italian was first formalized in the early 14th century through the
works of Tuscan writer
Dante Alighieri, written in his native
Florentine. Dante's epic poems, known collectively as the Commedia, to
which another Tuscan poet
Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title
Divina, were read throughout
Italy and his written dialect became the
"canonical standard" that all educated
Italians could understand.
Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language. In
addition to the widespread exposure gained through literature, the
Florentine language also gained prestige due to the political and
cultural significance of
Florence at the time and the fact that it was
linguistically an intermediate between northern and southern
dialects.:22 Thus the dialect of
Florence became the basis for
what would become the official language of Italy.
Italian often was an official language of the various Italian states
predating unification, slowly replacing Latin, even when ruled by
foreign powers (such as the Spanish in the Kingdom of Naples, or the
Austrians in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia), even though the masses
spoke primarily vernacular languages and dialects. Italian was also
one of the many recognised languages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city because the
cities, until recently, were thought of as city-states. Those dialects
now have considerable variety. As Tuscan-derived Italian came to be
used throughout Italy, features of local speech were naturally
adopted, producing various versions of Regional Italian. The most
characteristic differences, for instance, between Roman Italian and
Milanese Italian are the gemination of initial consonants and the
pronunciation of stressed "e", and of "s" in some cases: e.g. va bene
"all right": is pronounced [va ˈbːɛne] by a Roman (and by any
standard-speaker), [va ˈbene] by a Milanese (and by any speaker whose
native dialect lies to the north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line); a
casa "at home" is [a ˈkːasa] for Roman and standard, [a ˈkaza] for
Milanese and generally northern.
In contrast to the Gallo-
Italic languages of northern Italy, the
Neapolitan language and its dialects were largely
unaffected by the Franco-Occitan influences introduced to
by bards from
France during the Middle Ages, but after the Norman
conquest of southern Italy, Sicily became the first Italian land to
adopt Occitan lyric moods (and words) in poetry. Even in the case of
Northern Italian languages, however, scholars are careful not to
overstate the effects of outsiders on the natural indigenous
developments of the languages.
The economic might and relatively advanced development of
the time (Late Middle Ages) gave its language weight, though the
Venetian language remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial
life, and Ligurian (or Genoese) remained in use in maritime trade
alongside the Mediterranean. The increasing political and cultural
Florence during the periods of the rise of the Banco
Medici, Humanism, and the
Renaissance made its dialect, or rather a
refined version of it, a standard in the arts.
Renaissance era, known as il Rinascimento in Italian, was seen as
a time of "rebirth", which is the literal meaning of both renaissance
(from French) and rinascimento (Italian).
During this time, long-existing beliefs stemming from the teachings of
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church began to be understood from new a
perspectives as humanists—individuals who placed emphasis on the
human body and its full potential—began to shift focus from the
church to human beings themselves.
Humanists began forming new
beliefs in various forms: social, political, and intellectual. The
ideals of the
Renaissance were evident throughout the Protestant
Reformation, which took place simultaneously with the Renaissance. The
Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther's rejection of the
selling of indulgences by
Johann Tetzel and other authorities within
the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in Luther's eventual break-off
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church in the Diet of Worms. After Luther was
excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, he founded what was
then understood to be a sect of Catholicism, later referred to as
Lutheranism. Luther's preaching in favor of faith and scripture
rather than tradition led him to translate the
Bible into many other
languages, which would allow for people from all over Europe to read
the Bible. Previously, the
Bible was only written in Latin, but after
Bible was translated, it could be understood in many other
languages, including Italian. The
Italian language was able to spread
even more with the help of Luther and the invention of the printing
press by Johannes Gutenberg. The printing press facilitated the spread
of Italian because it was able to rapidly produce texts, such as the
Bible, and cut the costs of books which allowed for more people to
have access to the translated
Bible and new pieces of literature.
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church was losing its control over the population,
as it was not open to change, and there was an increasing number of
reformers with differing beliefs.
Dante Alighieri (top) and
Petrarch (bottom) were influential in
Tuscan dialect as the most prominent literary
language in all of
Italy in the Late Middle Ages.
Pietro Bembo was an influential figure in the development of the
Italian language from the Tuscan dialect, as a literary medium,
codifying the language for standard modern usage.
Italian became the language used in the courts of every state in the
Italian peninsula. The rediscovery of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia
and a renewed interest in linguistics in the 16th century, sparked a
debate that raged throughout
Italy concerning the criteria that should
govern the establishment of a modern Italian literary and spoken
language. This discussion, known as "questione della lingua" (i. e.,
the problem of the language), ran through the Italian culture until
the end of the 19th century, often linked to the political debate on
achieving a united Italian state.
Renaissance scholars divided into
three main factions:
The purists, headed by Venetian
Pietro Bembo (who, in his Gli Asolani,
claimed the language might be based only on the great literary
classics, such as
Petrarch and some part of Boccaccio). The purists
Divine Comedy was not dignified enough because it used
elements from non-lyric registers of the language.
Niccolò Machiavelli and other Florentines preferred the version
spoken by ordinary people in their own times.
The courtiers, like
Baldassare Castiglione and Gian Giorgio Trissino,
insisted that each local vernacular contribute to the new standard.
A fourth faction claimed the best Italian was the one that the papal
court adopted, which was a mix of Florentine and the dialect of Rome.
Eventually, Bembo's ideas prevailed, and the foundation of the
Accademia della Crusca
Accademia della Crusca in
Florence (1582–1583), the official
legislative body of the
Italian language led to publication of Agnolo
Latin tome Floris italicae linguae libri novem in 1604
followed by the first Italian dictionary in 1612.
The continual advancements in technology plays a crucial role in the
diffusion of languages. After the invention of the printing press in
the fifteen century, the number of printing presses in
rapidly and by the year 1500 reached a total of 56, the biggest number
of printing presses in all of Europe. This allowed to produce more
pieces of literature at a lower cost and as the dominant language,
An important event that helped the diffusion of Italian was the
conquest and occupation of
Napoleon in the early 19th century
(who was himself of Italian-Corsican descent). This conquest propelled
the unification of
Italy some decades after and pushed the Italian
language into a lingua franca used not only among clerks, nobility,
and functionaries in the Italian courts but also by the bourgeoisie.
Italian literature's first modern novel, I Promessi Sposi (The
Betrothed), by Alessandro Manzoni, further defined the standard by
"rinsing" his Milanese "in the waters of the Arno" (Florence's river),
as he states in the Preface to his 1840 edition.
After unification, a huge number of civil servants and soldiers
recruited from all over the country introduced many more words and
idioms from their home languages ("ciao" is derived from Venetian word
"s-cia[v]o" (slave), "panettone" comes from Lombard word "panetton"
etc.). Only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak the Italian
standardized language properly when the nation was unified in
Italian is a Romance language, and is therefore a descendant of Vulgar
Latin (the spoken form of non-classical Latin).[note 1] Standard
Italian is based on Tuscan, especially its Florentine dialect, and is
therefore an Italo-Dalmatian language, to which Sicilian and the
extinct Dalmatian also belong, among a few others.
Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast
between short and long consonants. As in most Romance languages,
stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages,
Italian is the closest to
Latin in terms of vocabulary. Lexical
similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian,
82% with Spanish, 78% with Ladin, and 77% with Romanian.
One study analyzing the degree of differentiation of Romance languages
in comparison to
Latin (comparing phonology, inflection, discourse,
syntax, vocabulary, and intonation) estimated that among the languages
analyzed the distance between Italian and
Latin is only higher than
that between Sardinian and Latin.
Use of the
Italian language in Europe
Use of the
Italian language in Europe and former use in Africa
Europe and the Mediterranean Region
Italian is an official language of
San Marino and is spoken
fluently by the majority of the countries' populations. Italian is
official, together with French, German and Romansch in Switzerland,
with most of the 0.5 million speakers concentrated in the south of the
country, in the cantons of
Ticino and southern Graubünden
(predominately in Italian Grigioni). Italian is the third most spoken
Switzerland (after German and French), and its use has
modestly declined since the 1970s. Italian is also used in
administration and official documents in Vatican City.
Italian is widely spoken in Malta, where nearly two-thirds of the
population can speak it fluently. Italian served as Malta's
official language until 1934, when it was abolished by the British
colonial administration amid strong local opposition. Italian is
also recognized as an official language in
Istria County, Croatia, and
Slovenian Istria, where there are significant and historic Italian
It is used as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of
Malta, a Roman Catholic chivalric order which, while not a nation per
se, is still recognized as a sovereign subject of international law.
In Albania, it is one of the most spoken languages. This is due to the
strong historical ties between
Albania but also the Albanian
communities in Italy, and the 19,000
Italians living in Albania.
It is reported as high as 70% of the Albanian adult population has
some form of knowledge of Italian. Furthermore, the Albanian
government has pushed to make Italian a compulsory second language in
schools. Today, Italian is the third most spoken language in the
country after Albanian and Greek.
Italian is also spoken by a minority in
in the southeast region of the country).
Due to heavy Italian influence during the Italian colonial period,
Italian is still understood by some in former colonies. Although it
was the primary language in
Libya since colonial rule, Italian greatly
declined under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who expelled the Italian
Libyan population and made Arabic the sole official language of the
country. Nevertheless, Italian continues to be used in economic
sectors in Libya. In Eritrea, Italian is at times used in commerce and
the capital city
Asmara still has one Italian-language school.
Italian was also introduced to
Somalia through colonialism and was the
sole official language of administration and education during the
colonial period but fell out of use after government, educational and
economic infrastructure were destroyed in the Somali Civil War.
Italian is still understood by some elderly and other people. The
official languages of the Somali Republic are Somali (Maay and
Maxaatiri) and Arabic. The working languages during the Transitional
Federal Government were Italian and English.
Although over 17 million Americans are of Italian descent, only a
little over one million people in the United States speak Italian at
home. Nevertheless, an
Italian language media market does exist in
the country. On the other hand, although technology allows for the
Italian language to spread globally, there has been a decrease in the
number of Italian speakers in the United States. According to the U.S.
Census Bureau, the number of Italian speakers in 1980 was 1,614,344.
In 1990, the number of Italian speakers in the United States dropped
to 1,308,648. In 2000, the number of speakers decreased to 1,008,370,
and finally, in 2010, the number of Italian speakers plummeted to
725,223. The percent change from 1980–2010 was a negative 55.2.
In Canada, Italian is the second most spoken non-official language
when varieties of Chinese are not grouped together, with over 660,000
speakers (or about 2.1% of the population) according to the 2006
In Australia, Italian is the second most spoken foreign language after
Chinese, with 1.4% of the population speaking it as their home
Italian immigrants to
South America have also brought a presence of
the language to that continent. Italian is the second most spoken
language in Argentina after the official language of Spanish, with
over 1 million (mainly of the older generation) speaking it at home,
and Italian has also influenced the dialect of Spanish spoken in
Argentina and Uruguay, mostly in phonology, as well as the Portuguese
prosody of the Brazilian state of São Paulo which itself has 15
million Italian descendants. This form of Spanish is known as
Rioplatense Spanish. Italian bilingual speakers can be found in
the Southeast of
Brazil as well as in the South. In Venezuela, Italian
is the second most spoken language after Spanish, with around 200,000
speakers. Smaller Italian-speaking minorities on the continent are
also found in
Paraguay and Ecuador.
In Costa Rica, Central America, Italian is one of the most important
immigration community languages, after English. It is spoken in the
southern area of the country in cities like San Vito and other
communities of Coto Brus, near the south borderline with Panama.
Number of speakers by country
Number of speakers
Knowledge of Italian according to EU statistics
Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely
as the first foreign language. Italian is the fourth most
frequently taught foreign language in the world. In the 21st
century, technology also allows for the continual spread of the
Italian language, as people have new ways for one to learn how to
speak, read, and write languages at their own pace and at any given
time. For example, in 2017 the free website and application Duolingo
had 22.3 million English speakers learning the Italian language.
According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, every year there
are more than 200,000 foreign students who study the Italian language;
they are distributed among the 90 Institutes of Italian Culture that
are located around the world, in the 179 Italian schools located
abroad, or in the 111 Italian lecturer sections belonging to foreign
schools where Italian is taught as a language of culture.
In the United States, Italian is the fourth most taught foreign
language after Spanish, French, and German, in that order (or the
American Sign Language
American Sign Language is considered). In central-east
Europe Italian is first in Montenegro, second in Austria, Croatia,
Slovenia, and Ukraine after English, and third in Hungary,
Russia after English and German. But throughout the world, Italian
is the fifth most taught foreign language, after English, French,
German, and Spanish.
European Union statistics, Italian is spoken as a native
language by 13% of the EU population, or 65 million people, mainly
in Italy. In the EU, it is spoken as a second language by 3% of the EU
population, or 14 million people. Among EU states, the percentage of
people able to speak Italian well enough to have a conversation is 66%
in Malta, 15% in Slovenia, 14% in Croatia, 8% in Austria, 5% in France
and Luxembourg, and 4% in the former West Germany, Greece, Cyprus, and
Romania. Italian is also one of the national languages of
Switzerland, which is not a part of the European Union. The
Italian language is well-known and studied in Albania, another
non-EU member, due to its historical ties and geographical proximity
Italy and to the diffusion of Italian television in the
Influence and derived languages
See also: Italian diaspora
From the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, thousands of
Italians settled in Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and
Venezuela, where they formed a physical and cultural presence.
In some cases, colonies were established where variants of regional
Italy were used, and some continue to use this regional
language. Examples are Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where
used, and the town of
Chipilo near Puebla, Mexico; each continues to
use a derived form of Venetian dating back to the nineteenth century.
Another example is Cocoliche, an Italian–Spanish pidgin once spoken
Argentina and especially in Buenos Aires, and Lunfardo.
Rioplatense Spanish, and particularly the speech of the city of Buenos
Aires, has intonation patterns that resemble those of Italian
Argentina has had a continuous large influx of
Italian settlers since the second half of the nineteenth century:
initially primarily from northern Italy; then, since the beginning of
the twentieth century, mostly from southern Italy.
See also: Mediterranean Lingua Franca
Starting in late medieval times in much of Europe and the
Latin was replaced as the primary commercial language
Italian language variants (especially Tuscan and Venetian). These
variants were consolidated during the
Renaissance with the strength of
Italy and the rise of humanism and the arts.
During that period,
Italy held artistic sway over the rest of Europe.
It was the norm for all educated gentlemen to make the Grand Tour,
Italy to see its great historical monuments and works of art.
It thus became expected to learn at least some Italian. In England,
while the classical languages
Latin and Greek were the first to be
learned, Italian became the second most common modern language after
French, a position it held until the late eighteenth century when it
tended to be replaced by German. John Milton, for instance, wrote some
of his early poetry in Italian.
Within the Catholic church, Italian is known by a large part of the
ecclesiastical hierarchy and is used in substitution for
Latin in some
Italian loanwords continue to be used in most languages in matters of
art and music (especially opera), in the design and fashion
industries, in some sports like football and especially, in
Main article: Regional Italian
See also: Languages of Italy
Geographical distribution of major Italian dialects
Throughout Italy, regional variations of Standard Italian, called
Regional Italian, are spoken. In Italy, almost all Romance languages
are spoken as the vernacular—other than standard Italian and
Romance languages spoken in border regions or
among immigrant communities—are often imprecisely called "Italian
dialects", even though they are quite different, with some
belonging to different branches of the
Romance language family. The
only exceptions to this are Sardinian, Ladin and Friulian, which are
officially recognized as distinct minority languages by the law. On
the other hand, Corsican (a language spoken on the French island of
Corsica) is closely related to Tuscan, from which Standard Italian
derives and evolved.
The differences in the evolution of
Latin in the different regions of
Italy can be attributed to the presence of three other types of
languages: substrata, superstrata, and adstrata. The most prevalent
were substrata (the language of the original inhabitants), as the
Italian dialects were most likely simply
Latin as spoken by native
cultural groups. Superstrata and adstrata were both less important.
Foreign conquerors of
Italy that dominated different regions at
different times left behind little to no influence on the dialects.
Foreign cultures with which
Italy engaged in peaceful relations with,
such as trade, had no significant influence either.:19-20
Regional differences can be recognized by various factors: the
openness of vowels, the length of the consonants, and influence of the
local language (for example, in informal situations the contraction
annà replaces andare in the area of
Rome for the infinitive "to go";
and nare is what Venetians say for the infinitive "to go").
There is no definitive date when the various Italian variants of
Latin—including varieties that contributed to modern Standard
Italian—began to be distinct enough from
Latin to be considered
separate languages. From a linguistic perspective, two language
variants are considered separate languages (rather than variant
dialects of a single language) when they are no longer mutually
intelligible. For the Italian Romance languages, the first extant
written evidence of varieties that can be considered no longer to be
Latin comes from the ninth and tenth centuries C.E. These written
sources demonstrate certain vernacular characteristics and sometimes
explicitly mention the use of the vernacular in Italy. Full literary
manifestations of the vernacular began to surface around the 13th
century in the form of various religious texts and
poetry.:21Although these are the first written records of Italian
varieties separate from Latin, the spoken language had likely diverged
long before the first written records appear, since those who were
literate generally wrote in
Latin even if they spoke other Romance
varieties in person.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of Standard Italian
became increasingly widespread and was mirrored by a decline in the
use of the dialects. An increase in literacy was one of the main
driving factors (one can assume that only literates were capable of
learning Standard Italian, whereas those who were illiterate had
access only to their native dialect). The percentage of literates rose
from 25% in 1861 to 60% in 1911, and then on to 78.1% in 1951. Tullio
De Mauro, an Italian linguist, has asserted that in 1861 only 2.5% of
the population of
Italy could speak Standard Italian. He reports that
in 1951 that percentage had risen to 87%. The ability to speak Italian
did not necessarily mean it was in everyday use, and most people
(63.5%) still usually spoke their native dialects. In addition, other
factors such as mass emigration, industrialization, and urbanization,
and internal migrations after
World War II
World War II contributed to the
proliferation of Standard Italian. The
Italians who emigrated during
Italian diaspora beginning in 1861 were often of the uneducated
lower class, and thus the emigration had the effect of increasing the
percentage of literates, who often knew and understood the importance
of Standard Italian, back home in Italy. A large percentage of those
who had emigrated also eventually returned to Italy, often more
educated than when they had left.:35
The Italian dialects have declined in the modern era, as
under Standard Italian and continues to do so aided by mass media,
from newspapers to radio to television.:37
Main article: Italian phonology
Luke 2, 1–7 of the
Bible being read by a speaker of Italian from
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead
Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see
Between two vowels, or between a vowel and an approximant or liquid
(/l r/ or /w j/), consonants can be either single or geminated.
Geminated consonants shorten the preceding vowel (or block phonetic
lengthening) and the first geminated element is unreleased. For
example, /fato/ [ˈfaː.to] ~ /fatto/ [ˈfat.to] (first one means
"fate, destiny" and the second means "fact", see "fato" and "fatto").
However, /ɲ/, /ʃ/, /ʎ/, are always geminated word-internally.
Similarly, nasals, liquids, and sibilants are pronounced slightly
longer before medial consonant clusters.
/z/ is the only consonant that cannot be geminated.
/t d t͡s d͡z s z/ are denti-alveolar, while /l n/ are
The trill /r/ is sometimes reduced to a single vibration when not
geminated, but it is not a flap *[ɾ][clarification needed].
Nasals assimilate to the point of articulation of whatever consonant
they precede. For example, /nɡ/ is realized as [ŋɡ].
The distinction between /s/ and /z/ is neutralized before consonants
and at the beginning of words: the former is used before voiceless
consonants and before vowels at the beginning of words; the latter is
used before voiced consonants (meaning [z] is an allophone of /s/
before voiced consonants). The two are only contrasted between two
vowels within a word. According to Canepari, though, the
traditional standard has been replaced by a modern neutral
pronunciation which always prefers /z/ when intervocalic, except when
the intervocalic s is the initial sound of a word or a morpheme, if
the compound is still felt as such: for example, presento
/preˈsɛnto/ ('I foresee', with pre meaning 'before' and sento
meaning 'I see') vs. presento /preˈzɛnto/ ('I present'). There
are many words in which dictionaries now indicate that both
pronunciations with /z/ and with /s/ are acceptable. The two phonemes
have merged in many regional varieties of Italian, either into /z/
(Northern-Central) or /s/ (Southern-Central). Geminate /ss/ can be
pronounced as single [s].
Italian has a seven-vowel system, consisting of /a, ɛ, e, i, ɔ, o,
u/, as well as 23 consonants. Compared with most other Romance
Italian phonology is conservative, preserving many words
nearly unchanged from Vulgar Latin. Some examples:
Italian quattordici "fourteen" <
Latin quattuordecim (cf. Romanian
paisprezece/paișpe, Spanish catorce, French quatorze /kaˈtɔʁz/,
Catalan and Portuguese catorze)
Italian settimana "week" <
Latin septimāna (cf. Romanian
săptămână, Spanish and Portuguese semana, French semaine
/s(ə)ˈmɛn/, Catalan setmana)
Italian medesimo "same" < Vulgar
Latin *medi(p)simum (cf. Spanish
mismo, Portuguese mesmo, French même /mɛm/, Catalan mateix; note
that Italian usually uses the shorter stesso)
Italian guadagnare "to win, earn, gain" < Vulgar
< Germanic /waidanjan/ (cf. Spanish ganar, Portuguese ganhar,
French gagner /ɡaˈɲe/, Catalan guanyar)
The conservativeness of
Italian phonology is partly explained by its
origin. Italian stems from a literary language that is derived from
the 13th-century speech of the city of
Florence in the region of
Tuscany, and has changed little in the last 700 years or so.
Tuscan dialect is the most conservative of all
Italian dialects, radically different from the Gallo-Italian languages
less than 100 miles to the north (across the La Spezia–Rimini Line).
The following are some of the conservative phonological features of
Italian, as compared with the common
Western Romance languages
(French, Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan). Some of these
features are also present in Romanian.
Little or no lenition of consonants between vowels, e.g. vīta >
vita "life" (cf. Romanian viață, Spanish vida [biða], French vie),
pedem > piede "foot" (cf. Spanish pie, French pied /pje/).
Preservation of doubled consonants, e.g. annum > anno "year" (cf.
Spanish año /aɲo/, French an /ɑ̃/, Portuguese ano /ˈã.nu/).
Preservation of all
Proto-Romance final vowels, e.g. pacem > pace
"peace" (cf. Romanian pace, Spanish paz, French paix /pɛ/), octō
> otto "eight" (cf. Romanian opt Spanish ocho, French huit
/ɥi(t)/), fēcī > feci "I did" (cf. Spanish hice, French fis
Preservation of most intertonic vowels (those between the stressed
syllable and either the beginning or ending syllable). This accounts
for some of the most noticeable differences, as in the forms
quattordici and settimana given above.
Slower consonant development, e.g. folia > Italo-Western /fɔʎʎa/
> foglia /ˈfɔʎʎa/ "leaf" (cf. Romanian foaie /ˈfo̯aje/,
Spanish hoja /ˈoxa/, French feuille /ˈfœj/; but note Portuguese
Compared with most other Romance languages, Italian has a large number
of inconsistent outcomes, where the same underlying sound produces
different results in different words, e.g. laxāre > lasciare and
lassare, captiāre > cacciare and cazzare, (ex)dēroteolāre >
sdrucciolare, druzzolare and ruzzolare, rēgīna > regina and
reina, -c- > /k/ and /ɡ/, -t- > /t/ and /d/. Although in all
these examples the second form has fallen out of usage, the dimorphism
is thought to reflect the several-hundred-year period during which
Italian developed as a literary language divorced from any
native-speaking population, with an origin in 12th/13th-century Tuscan
but with many words borrowed from languages farther to the north, with
different sound outcomes. (The La Spezia–Rimini Line, the most
important isogloss in the entire Romance-language area, passes only
about 20 miles to the north of Florence.)
Some other features that distinguish Italian from the Western Romance
Latin ce-,ci- becomes /tʃe, tʃi/ rather than /(t)se, (t)si/.
Latin -ct- becomes /tt/ rather than /jt/ or /tʃ/: octō > otto
"eight" (cf. Spanish ocho, French huit, Portuguese oito).
Latin -cl- becomes cchi /kkj/ rather than /ʎ/: oclum >
occhio "eye" (cf. Portuguese olho /oʎu/, French oeil /œj/ <
/œʎ/); but Romanian ochi /okʲ/.
Final /s/ is not preserved, and vowel changes rather than /s/ are used
to mark the plural: amico, amici "male friend(s)", amica, amiche
"female friend(s)" (cf. Romanian amic, amici,amică, amice, Spanish
amigo(s) "male friend(s)", amiga(s) "female friend(s)"); trēs, sex
→ tre, sei "three, six" (cf. Romanian trei, șase, Spanish tres,
Standard Italian also differs in some respects from most nearby
Perhaps most noticeable is the total lack of metaphony, though
metaphony is a feature characterizing nearly every other Italian
No simplification of original /nd/, /mb/ (which often became /nn/,
Italian phonotactics do not usually permit verbs and polysyllabic
nouns to end with consonants, excepting poetry and song, so foreign
words may receive extra terminal vowel sounds.
Main article: Italian alphabet
Italian alphabet is typically considered to consist of 21 letters.
The letters j, k, w, x, y are traditionally excluded, though they
appear in loanwords such as jeans, whisky, taxi, xenofobo, xilofono.
The letter ⟨x⟩ has become common in standard Italian with the
prefix extra-, although (e)stra- is traditionally used; it is also
common to use of the
Latin particle ex(-) to mean "former(ly)" as in:
la mia ex ("my ex-girlfriend"), "Ex-Jugoslavia" ("Former Yugoslavia").
The letter ⟨j⟩ appears in the first name Jacopo and in some
Italian place-names, such as Bajardo, Bojano, Joppolo, Jerzu, Jesolo,
Jesi, Ajaccio, among others, and in Mar Jonio, an alternative spelling
of Mar Ionio (the Ionian Sea). The letter ⟨j⟩ may appear in
dialectal words, but its use is discouraged in contemporary standard
Italian. Letters used in Foreign words can be replaced with
phonetically equivalent native Italian letters and digraphs: ⟨gi⟩,
⟨ge⟩, or ⟨i⟩ for ⟨j⟩; ⟨c⟩ or ⟨ch⟩ for ⟨k⟩
(including in the standard prefix kilo-); ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩ or ⟨v⟩
for ⟨w⟩; ⟨s⟩, ⟨ss⟩, ⟨z⟩, ⟨zz⟩ or ⟨cs⟩ for
⟨x⟩; and ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ for ⟨y⟩.
The acute accent is used over word-final ⟨e⟩ to indicate a
stressed front close-mid vowel, as in perché "why, because". In
dictionaries, it is also used over ⟨o⟩ to indicate a stressed back
close-mid vowel (azióne). The grave accent is used over word-final
⟨e⟩ to indicate a front open-mid vowel, as in tè "tea". The grave
accent is used over any vowel to indicate word-final stress, as in
gioventù "youth". Unlike ⟨é⟩, a stressed final ⟨o⟩ is always
a back open-mid vowel (andrò), making ⟨ó⟩ unnecessary outside of
dictionaries. Most of the time, the penultimate syllable is stressed.
But if the stressed vowel is the final letter of the word, the accent
is mandatory, otherwise it is virtually always omitted. Exceptions are
typically either in dictionaries, where all or most stressed vowels
are commonly marked. Accents can optionally be used disambiguate words
that differ only by stress, as for prìncipi "princes" and princìpi
"principles", or àncora "anchor" and ancóra "still/yet". For
monosyllabic words, the rule is different: when two identical
monosyllabic words with different meanings exist, one is accented and
the other is not (example: è "is", e "and").
The letter ⟨h⟩ distinguishes ho, hai, ha, hanno (present
indicative of avere "to have") from o ("or"), ai ("to the"), a ("to"),
anno ("year"). In the spoken language, the letter is always silent.
The ⟨h⟩ in ho additionally marks the contrasting open
pronunciation of the ⟨o⟩. The letter ⟨h⟩ is also used in
combinations with other letters. No phoneme [h] exists in Italian. In
nativized foreign words, the ⟨h⟩ is silent. For example, hotel and
hovercraft are pronounced /oˈtɛl/ and /ˈɔverkraft/ respectively.
(Where ⟨h⟩ existed in Latin, it either disappeared or, in a few
cases before a back vowel, changed to [ɡ]: traggo "I pull" ← Lat.
The letters ⟨s⟩ and ⟨z⟩ can symbolize voiced or voiceless
consonants. ⟨z⟩ symbolizes /dz/ or /ts/ depending on context, with
few minimal pairs. For example: zanzara /dzanˈdzaːra/ "mosquito" and
nazione /natˈtsjoːne/ "nation". ⟨s⟩ symbolizes /s/
word-initially before a vowel, when clustered with a voiceless
consonant (⟨p, f, c, ch⟩), and when doubled; it symbolizes /z/
when between vowels and when clustered with voiced consonants.
Intervocalic ⟨s⟩ varies regionally between /s/ and /z/, with /z/
being more dominant in northern
Italy and /s/ in the south.
The letters ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ vary in pronunciation between plosives
and affricates depending on following vowels. The letter ⟨c⟩
symbolizes /k/ when word-final and before the back vowels ⟨a, o,
u⟩. It symbolizes /tʃ/ as in chair before the front vowels ⟨e,
i⟩. The letter ⟨g⟩ symbolizes /ɡ/ when word-final and before
the back vowels ⟨a, o, u⟩. It symbolizes /dʒ/ as in gem before
the front vowels ⟨e, i⟩. Other
Romance languages and, to an
extent, English have similar variations for ⟨c, g⟩. Compare hard
and soft C, hard and soft G. (See also palatalization.)
The digraphs ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨gh⟩ indicate or preserve hardness (/k/
and /ɡ/) before ⟨i, e⟩. The digraphs ⟨ci⟩ and ⟨gi⟩
indicate or preserve softness (/tʃ/ and /dʒ/) before ⟨a, o, u⟩.
Before back vowel (A, O, U)
Before front vowel (I, E)
caramella /karaˈmɛlla/ candy
china /ˈkiːna/ India ink
gallo /ˈɡallo/ rooster
ghiro /ˈɡiːro/ edible dormouse
ciambella /tʃambɛlla/ donut
Cina /ˈtʃiːna/ China
giallo /ˈdʒallo/ yellow
giro /ˈdʒiːro/ round, tour
Note: ⟨h⟩ is silent in the digraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨gh⟩; and
⟨i⟩ is silent in the digraphs ⟨ci⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ before ⟨a,
o, u⟩ unless the ⟨i⟩ is stressed. For example, it is silent in
ciao /ˈtʃaː.o/ and cielo /ˈtʃɛː.lo/, but it is pronounced in
farmacia /ˌfar.maˈtʃiː.a/ and farmacie /ˌfar.maˈtʃiː.e/.
Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished
by length and intensity. Length is distinctive for all consonants
except for /ʃ/, /dz/, /ʎ/, /ɲ/, which are always geminate, and /z/,
which is always single. Geminate plosives and affricates are realized
as lengthened closures. Geminate fricatives, nasals, and /l/ are
realized as lengthened continuants. There is only one vibrant phoneme
/r/ but the actual pronunciation depends on context and regional
accent. Generally one can find a flap consonant [ɾ] in unstressed
position whereas [r] is more common in stressed syllables, but there
may be exceptions. Especially people from the Northern part of Italy
(Parma, Aosta Valley, South Tyrol) may pronounce /r/ as [ʀ], [ʁ], or
Of special interest to the linguistic study of Italian is the gorgia
toscana, or "Tuscan Throat", the weakening or lenition of certain
intervocalic consonants in the Tuscan language.
The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ is only present in loanwords:
for example, garage [ɡaˈraːʒ].
Main article: Italian grammar
See also: Italian verbs
Italian grammar is typical of the grammar of
Romance languages in
general. Cases exist for personal pronouns (nominative, oblique,
accusative, dative), but not for nouns.
There are two genders (masculine and feminine). Masculine nouns end in
-o, which changes to -i in the plural, and feminine nouns ends in -a,
which changes to -e in the plural. With few exceptions, masculine
nouns refer to male people or animals, and feminine nouns refer to
female people or animals. A last class of nouns end in -e in the
singular and -i in the plural, and are arbitrarily assigned masculine
or feminine. These nouns often denote inanimate objects. This is fixed
by the grammar of Italian, and a dictionary would need to be consulted
to figure out the gender. There is a number of nouns that change
their gender from the singular to plural, having a masculine singular
and a feminine plural, and thus are sometimes considered neuter (those
are derived from neuter
Latin nouns). An instance of neuter gender
also exists in pronouns of the third person singular.
Nouns, adjectives, and articles inflect for gender and number
(singular and plural).
Like in English, common nouns are capitalized when occurring at the
beginning of a sentence. Unlike English, nouns referring to languages
(e.g. Italian), speakers of languages, or inhabitants of an area (e.g.
Italians) are not capitalized.
There are three types of adjectives: descriptive, invariable and
form-changing. Descriptive adjectives are the most common, and their
endings change to match the number and gender of the noun they modify.
Invariable adjectives are adjectives whose endings do not change. The
form changing adjectives "buono (good), bello (beautiful), grande
(big), and santo (saint)" change in form when placed before different
types of nouns. Italian has three degrees for comparison of
adjectives: positive, comparative, and superlative.
The order of words in the phrase is relatively free compared to most
European languages. The position of the verb in the phrase is
highly mobile. Word order often has a lesser grammatical function in
Italian than in English. Adjectives are sometimes placed before their
noun and sometimes after. Subject nouns generally come before the
verb. Italian is a null-subject language, so that nominative pronouns
are usually absent, with subject indicated by verbal inflections (e.g.
amo 'I love', ama 's/he loves', amano 'they love'). Noun objects
normally come after the verb, as do pronoun objects after imperative
verbs, infinitives and gerunds, but otherwise pronoun objects come
before the verb.
There are both indefinite and definite articles in Italian. There are
four indefinite articles, which vary based on the gender and first
letter of the noun they modify. Uno is used before a masculine
singular noun beginning with z, s+consonant, gn, or ps. Un is used
before masculine singular nouns beginning with any other letters. Una
is used before a feminine singular noun beginning with any consonant.
Un' is used before a feminine singular noun beginning with any vowel.
There are seven definite articles, both singular and plural. In the
singular: lo, which corresponds to the uses of uno; il, which
corresponds to the uses of un, la, which corresponds to the uses of
una; l', used before both masculine and feminine nouns and corresponds
to un' in the feminine and un in the masculine. In the plural: gli,
the plural of lo and l'; i, the plural of il; and le, the plural of la
and l'. If an adjective also precedes the noun, the article used
corresponds with the adjective.
There are numerous contractions of prepositions with subsequent
articles. There are numerous productive suffixes for diminutive,
augmentative, pejorative, attenuating etc., which are also used to
There are 27 pronouns, grouped in clitic and tonic pronouns. Personal
pronouns are separated into three groups: subject, object (which take
the place of both direct and indirect objects), and reflexive. Second
person subject pronouns have both a polite and a familiar form. These
two different types of address are very important in Italian social
distinctions. All object pronouns have two forms: stressed and
unstressed. Unstressed object pronouns are much more frequently used,
and come before the verb. Stressed object pronouns come after the
verb, and are used when emphasis is required or to avoid ambiguity.
Aside from personal pronouns, Italian also has demonstrative,
interrogative, possessive, and relative pronouns. There are two types
of demonstrative pronouns: relatively near (this) and relatively far
(that). Demonstratives in Italian are repeated before each noun,
unlike in English.
There are three regular sets of verbal conjugations, and various verbs
are irregularly conjugated. Within each of these sets of conjugations,
there are four simple (one-word) verbal conjugations by person/number
in the indicative mood (present tense; past tense with imperfective
aspect, past tense with perfective aspect, and future tense), two
simple conjugations in the subjunctive mood (present tense and past
tense), one simple conjugation in the conditional mood, and one simple
conjugation in the imperative mood. Corresponding to each of the
simple conjugations, there is a compound conjugation involving a
simple conjugation of "to be" or "to have" followed by a past
participle. "To have" is used to form compound conjugation when the
verb is transitive ("Ha detto", "ha fatto": he/she has said, he/she
has made/done), while "to be" is used in the case of verbs of motion
and some other intransitive verbs ("È andato", "è stato": he/she has
gone, he/she has been). "To be" may be used with transitive verbs, but
in such a case it makes the verb passive ("Ê detto", "è fatto": it
is said, it is made/done). This rule is not absolute, and some
exceptions do exist.
Certo! / Certamente! / Naturalmente!
/ˈtʃɛrto/ /ˌtʃertaˈmente/ /naturalˈmente/
Ciao! (informal) / Salve! (formal);
How are you?
Come stai? (informal) / Come sta? (formal) / Come state? (plural) /
Come va? (general, informal)
/ˌkomeˈstai/; /ˌkomeˈsta/ /ˌkome ˈstaːte/ /ˌkome va/
Buongiorno! (= Good day!)
Buonanotte! (for a good night sleeping) / Buona serata! (for a good
/ˌbwɔnaˈnɔtte/ /ˌbwɔna seˈraːta/
Have a nice day!
Buona giornata! (formal)
Enjoy the meal!
Arrivederci (general) / ArrivederLa (formal) / Ciao! (informal)
Buona fortuna! (general)
I love you
Ti amo (between lovers only) / Ti voglio bene (in the sense of "I am
fond of you", between lovers, friends, relatives etc.)
/ti ˌvɔʎʎo ˈbɛːne/; /ti ˈaːmo/
Benvenuto/-i (for male/males or mixed) / Benvenuta/-e (for
female/females) [a / in...]
Per favore / Per piacere / Per cortesia
(listen) /per faˈvoːre/ /per pjaˈtʃeːre/ /per korteˈziːa/
Grazie! (general) / Ti ringrazio! (informal) / La ringrazio! (formal)
/ Vi ringrazio! (plural)
(listen) /ˈɡrattsje/ /ti riŋˈɡrattsjo/
You are welcome!
Excuse me / I am sorry
Mi dispiace (only "I am sorry") / Scusa(mi) (informal) / Mi scusi
(formal) / Scusatemi (plural) / Sono desolato ("I am sorry", if male)
/ Sono desolata ("I am sorry", if female)
(listen) /ˈskuːzi/; /ˈskuːza/; /mi disˈpjaːtʃe/
Che cosa? / Cosa? / Che?
/kekˈkɔːsa/ /ˈkɔːsa/ /ˈke/
Why / Because
di nuovo / ancora
/di ˈnwɔːvo/; /aŋˈkoːra/
How much? / How many?
Quanto? / Quanta? / Quanti? / Quante?
What is your name?
Come ti chiami? (informal) / Qual è il suo nome? (formal) / Come si
/ˌkome tiˈkjaːmi/ /kwal ˈɛ il ˌsu.o ˈnoːme/
My name is ...
Mi chiamo ...
This is ...
Questo è ... (masculine) / Questa è ... (feminine)
/ˌkwesto ˈɛ/ /ˌkwesta ˈɛ/
Yes, I understand.
Sì, capisco. / Ho capito.
/si kaˈpisko/ /ɔkkaˈpiːto/
I do not understand.
Non capisco. / Non ho capito.
(listen) /noŋ kaˈpisko/ /nonˌɔkkaˈpiːto/
Do you speak English?
Parli inglese? (informal) / Parla inglese? (formal) / Parlate inglese?
(listen) /parˌlate iŋˈɡleːse/ (listen) /ˌparla iŋˈɡleːse/
I do not understand Italian.
Non capisco l'italiano.
/noŋ kaˌpisko litaˈljaːno/
Aiutami! (informal) / Mi aiuti! (formal) / Aiutatemi! (plural) /
/aˈjuːtami/ /ajuˈtaːtemi/ /aˈjuːto/
You are right/wrong!
(Tu) hai ragione/torto! (informal) / (Lei) ha ragione/torto! (formal)
/ (Voi) avete ragione/torto! (plural)
What time is it?
Che ora è? / Che ore sono?
/ke ˌora ˈɛ/ /ke ˌore ˈsono/
Where is the bathroom?
Dov'è il bagno?
(listen) /doˌvɛ il ˈbaɲɲo/
How much is it?
The bill, please.
Il conto, per favore.
/il ˌkonto per faˈvoːre/
The study of Italian sharpens the mind.
Lo studio dell'italiano aguzza l'ingegno.
/loˈstuːdjo dellitaˈljaːno aˈɡuttsa linˈdʒeɲɲo/
two thousand and eighteen (2018)
Days of the week
Months of the year
There is a recording of Dante's
Divine Comedy read by Lino Pertile
Vatican City portal
Italian edition of, the free encyclopedia
Languages of Italy
Accademia della Crusca
Guide to phonetic transliteration of Italian
The Italian Language Foundation (in the United States)
Italian language in Croatia
Italian language in Slovenia
Italian language in the United States
Italian language in Venezuela
Italian musical terms
Italian Sign Language
Italian-language international radio stations
Lessico etimologico italiano
Languages of the Vatican City
List of English words of Italian origin
^ It is debated, that the
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Latin for the free and
checked accented vowels of French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese,
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for modification in vowel quantity, ½ point for changes due to
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effect a normal change), there is a maximum of 77 change points for
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Italian (12%) and Sardinian (8%). Prof. Pei suggests that this
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also to all morphological and syntactical, phenomena.".
^ See Koutna et al. (1990: 294): "In the late forties and in the
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the divergence of each one from Classical Latin. The closest language
turned out to be Sardinian with 8% of change. Then followed Italian
— 12%; Spanish — 20%; Romanian — 23,5%; Provençal — 25%;
Portuguese — 31%; French — 44%."
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