Do you know how the stress of the Italian words works? It is not easy to understand how to pronounce words in this language, right?
I know and that’s why today I want to talk about the Italian accents. In this article called “Gli Accenti Italiani”, you’ll find out that we have several kinds of words according to the stress we use with them!
The Italian language, as you know, may seem complicated especially as it relates to grammar. However, in reality, it is not so complicated. In fact, it has pretty clear rules with few exceptions.
Even the pronunciation of words in Italian is not particularly difficult and, once you memorize the alphabet, the sounds of the letters of which this language is composed, as well as the pronunciation of some groups of words, that’s it! You’ll be able to say every word in Italian.
Now you might be asking: Is it really that simple? Isn’t there anything that could hinder my acquisition of this language? Is it really possible to pronounce all words in Italian without any effort?
To tell the truth my answer is Ni (yes and no)! Ni, as I explained in a previous article, is a word often used in answers to indicate indecision. It is basically the middle ground between yes and no.
But why did I decide to answer in such a bizarre way? Because it is a fact that the pronunciation of Italian words, with the exception of those formed by several vowels perhaps, is not that difficult. On the other hand, one of the trickiest things for my students (which often comes up during reading exercises) is figuring out where the accent of Italian words goes.
Stress in Italian Words
I’m sure that you all know that in written Italian, accents are not shown. The only one that is marked visually is the accent on the last letter, which makes its pronunciation very very short, as in papà, però, Perù, tribù…
Now I’d like to share with you a question that the majority of my students ask me: Is there any way of figuring out where the accent goes in Italian? Unfortunately, my answer is: not exactly!
Although in the majority of Italian words the stress is placed on the second last syllable as in arcobaléno, pensiéro, passeggiàta, spaghettàta, in Italian there are many types of words, of which the pronunciation depends on the position of the stress. Let’s take a look at them together:
- Plain stress
Words with the accent on the penultimate syllable, that is, the ones we mentioned a few moments ago: arcobaléno, pensiéro, passeggiàta, spaghettàta, but also the verbs andàre or venìre, the adjectives brillànte or generòso… In short, in general, most Italian words belong to this category, but it is not the only one.
- Truncated stress:
Words with the accent on the last vowel, that is, those whose accent, as already said, is always shown because it is actually visible, for example comò, sognerò, purè, trentatré.
- Stress on the third to last syllable:
As in tàvolo, zùcchero, èpico, visìbile, interminàbile..
We still have other types of words, which, however, as pointed out by the prestigious Treccani, are much rarer, namely:
- Stress on the fourth-last syllable:
As in ricòrdatelo, chiamàtemelo, còmpraglielo!
- Words with stress on the fifth-last syllable:
As in órdinaglielo, dimènticatelo…
That being said, how can we find our way in this sea of stresses if in fact most of the time there is no accent visible?
First of all, remember to make use of an Italian dictionary, since it contains the famous division into syllables, the joy and pain of all Italian children…
Let’s take the word italiano as an example. In the dictionary will appear not only its division into syllables [i-ta-lià-no] but also and above all what we are interested in understanding: the position of the accent.
Let’s take a look at other examples with words that are almost always a problem:
- Young in Italian, whose division into syllables becomes [gió-va-ne], with the accent on the first syllable and not on the second, giovàne, as I often hear in my classes.
- To read in Italian, whose division into syllables becomes [lèg-ge-re], with the accent on the first syllable, and never leggère, with the accent on the second, which in Italian means not heavy.
Regarding the word leggère, remember: in the Italian dictionary you will always find the masculine and singular form, as well as rarely finding the various forms of verbs.
So how do we solve this problem?
First of all, listen as much as possible. The sooner you can familiarize yourself with as many words as possible, the sooner you will eliminate or at least limit your doubts.
Secondly, remember that today technology gives us a great helping hand, and we have very few excuses to avoid finding solutions to problems. Use it. Use tools that allow you to hear the pronunciation of words, such as online dictionaries and translators. Even though the resulting pronunciation may sound a bit too robotic, it doesn’t matter. Remember that what you need at the moment is to identify the position of the accent; naturalness and fluency will come with time and practice.
In this article, I thought it appropriate to share with you one of the questions I am most often asked by my students.
The accent in Italian is not something to be underestimated, because as I have already explained, only in rare cases is it actually visible, so this means that you have to work hard to familiarize yourself with more and more words, so that you feel more and more confident in their pronunciation, both when you speak and when you read
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