Translated by Alanna Quintyne

In this article called “How is the letter S pronounced?”, I talk about pronunciation, focusing on the Italian S.
Likely you know that in Italian, there are two different ways to pronounce the letter s. In the following lines, I will explain some basic rules so you can say this letter perfectly.

How is the letter S pronounced?

Is it always pronounced the same way or are there different ways to pronounce this letter?

All of you know that Italian can be considered a relatively simple language from a point of view of pronunciation. However, if you only recently started learning it and you still have doubts, don’t miss out on an article I wrote a little while ago which is called 3 consigli pratici per migliorare il tuo italiano, in which I give you some tips which will help you to speak Italian better if you follow them.

The topic today also concerns pronunciation, but in this case I would like to concentrate on one letter in particular: the letter S.

Why? Because to my surprise, I was met with a student whose level of Italian was quite advanced, who, despite this, found it difficult to pronounce the word “succo” – which he pronounced with a soft S.

Therefore, in this article I’d like to give you some lessons precisely on this letter. However, before proceeding, it is best that you know that I will be avoiding exploring this topic in depth, listing just the rules and some possible exceptions. After all, what you all are interested in is speaking Italian while having a good pronunciation of the words that comprise this language and not having a perfect diction like the actors!

Having said that, let’s not waste any more time and concentrate on this letter S.

In Italian, the letter S is pronounced in 2 ways – we can either have the hard or soft S,

Let’s start from the beginning: 

The hard S

S takes on this sound in the following cases:

1. When it is found at the beginning of a word followed by a vowel: 

E.g. sole, sale, silenzio, semaforo, sabato.

2. When preceded by a consonant:

E.g. orso, corso, polso, ascensore, comprensione.

3. When it is followed by the following consonants: “c”, “f”, “p”, “q”, “t”:

E.g. scala, sforzo, spazzola, squadra, astensione.

4. When there is a double S (ss): 

E.g. rosso, asso, tassa, assistenza, rassegna…

Speaking of double consonants…

If you have any problems with double consonants and you have a hard time understanding how to pronounce them or how and when to use them, take a look at two very interesting articles in which I disclosed all the secrets which relate to this topic.

The articles in question are: Le doppie in italiano (English version) e Le doppie in italiano: alcune regole (English version).

Soft S (like the letter z in English)

S takes on this sound in the following cases:

1. When it is located between two vowels

E.g. rosa, cosa, casale, chiesa, bisogno.

2. When it followed by the following consonants:  “b”, “d”, “g”, “l”, “m”, “n”, “r”, “v”

E.g. sbiadito, sdoganare, sgarbato, slitta, smania, snaturare, sradicare, svelto.

The information I have given you up until now is what I think would be worthwhile for you to know. Obviously, this topic is not completely finished, as there are many exceptions and many other rules.

Consider the fact that these same actors previously mentioned  study for years and years in order to manage to achieve such perfect diction, and very often, as was revealed to me by my old diction coach, when they have any doubts about any word, they take a look at their manuals to check and be sure that they pronounce the particular sound well.

Nevertheless, if you try to follow these few rules shown in this article, I guarantee you that you won’t have any more doubts and that you’ll achieve a perfect S!

ila firma

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