falls on the penultimate syllable. Although the stress is carried by the whole syllable, it is much easier to remember which vowel carries it: for instance, in the word possibile (possible)
the stress is carried by the second syllable (-si-) (unlike in English), but it is easier to
remember that the first vowel, i.e.i, is stressed.
In the following examples accented vowels are used for the Italian spelling, to show
which is the vowel that carries the stress. However, keep in mind that it is very unusual for
Italian words to be spelt with accented letters, with very few exceptions discussed
further in this page.
To help the reader, the stressed syllables have also been marked in the "English spelling"
version by using bold letters, as explained at the end of the previous
A few examples:
But in some other words the stress is carried by an earlier syllable:
|mòbile||"mohbyhleh"||piece of furniture (as a noun); movable (as an adjective)|
|lìbero||"lyhbehroh"||free (from duty or restraint)|
Accented vowels have been used in the previous examples for the sake of an easier understanding.
In ordinary spelling they are allowed, but very seldom used.
Only in two cases accented vowels are commonly used:
- WORDS WHOSE LAST SYLLABLE CARRIES THE ACCENT
There are many words of this kind in Italian (nouns, verb inflections, adverbs, etc.),
and some are frequently used. An accent is compulsory in this case, otherwise the stress
would not be heard. Furthermore, in some cases the same word spelt without an accent
even has a different meaning (see further down). A few words with a similar spelling, but whose last syllable is not stressed, are shown on the right.
perché "pehrkeh" why, because sarà "sahrah" it will be Sara "sahrah" Sarah(a name) perciò "pehrchoh" therefore papà "pahpah" dad papa "pahpah" pope perÃ² "pehroh" but, however pero "pehroh" pear-tree farÃ² "fahroh" I'll do faro "fahroh" light-house più "pyw" more, plus
Some of these words have an accent on the last syllable because they dropped
the last part of the original word they derive from (usually Latin), or because they are
of French origin (most French words have an accent on the last syllable).
Also several compounds of che (pronounced "ke", meaning which, that)
are spelt with an accent:
perché (why, because)
sicché (so, therefore)
- WORDS THAT HAVE A DIFFERENT MEANING DEPENDING ON THE POSITION OF THE ACCENT
A few words have a different meaning when different syllables carry the accent:
àncora "ahnkohrah" anchor (noun) ancòra "ahnkohrah" again, more (adverb)
règia "rehjah" royal (adjective) regìa "rehjyhah" directionof a movie or a play (noun)
capitàno "kahpytahnoh" captain (noun) càpitano "kahpytahnoh" they happen, they occur (verb)
In this case, accents are not mandatory; in most cases they are not used, therefore the correct pronounciation of the word is understood only by the context of the phrase: for instance, considering the third couple of sample words,
in sentences such as "sometimes strange things happen" or "he is the captain of the ship", neither of the two words
could be mistaken with the other.
Now focus your attention on the second couple of words shown above: in the first noun (règia)
the syllables of the word are re - gia, thus the cluster gia represents one syllable: its pronounciation is "-jah", following the standard rules, as said inparagraph 1.2.
In the second word (regìa), instead, the syllables are re - gì - a; the
cluster gia does not form one syllable but two, so its sound splits into "jyh-ah", with stress carried by the gi syllable.
This part of the paragraph is not really fundamental for a beginner, who might want to skip it. However,
some readers may have noticed that in most cases the accented vowels bear a grave accent, i.e. slanted leftwards (perciò, sarà), while a few others are slanted
in the opposite direction (perché).
Modern Italian uses the following set of accented vowels:
|"grave" accents, slanted leftwards|
("wide" sound pronounciation)
|"acute" accent, slanted rightwards|
("narrow" sound pronounciation)
(eventually, read again paragraph 1.1 for the
different ways of pronouncing the vowel "e").
From the table above, you can see how only e has both forms, while
all the others take only the grave (leftwards) accent.
Very seldom, an ó (with acute accent) is also found
in printed texts, but its use is not mandatory, and most people prefer to spell
it as a normal o.
It has already been said in this page that when the accent is carried by the
last syllable, an accented vowel has to be used. Since most vowels
only take the grave accent, this is the only one that can be used:
andrÃ "ahndrah" he / she will go lÃ "lah" there
lunedÃ¬ "lwnehdyh" monday finÃ¬ "fyhnyh" it finished
falÃ² "fahloh" great fire, pire perÃ² "pehroh" but
laggiÃ¹ "lahjjw" down there, over there piÃ¹ "pyw" more - plus
Only the vowel e can take two different accents; according to the word, either one or
the other should be used.
These are examples of words whose final e bears a grave accent ("wide" sound):
è "eh" he / she / it is caffè "kah'ffeh" coffee orcoffee-bar frappè "frah'ppeh" milk shake
In other words, instead, the final e bears the acute accent ("narrow" sound):
perché "pehrkeh" why, because né "neh" not, nor, neither sé "seh" self, one's self
In very few cases, an accented e can be very useful to mark the stressed syllable, thus the correct sound of the vowel:
|pèsca ("wide" e)||= peach||pésca ("narrow" e)||= fishing|
Also in this case the accent is not mandatory; actually, many people spell both words pesca (i.e. with a normal e), because the context of the sentence is enough to understand which of the two makes more sense.
HOW TO TYPE ACCENTED VOWELS
Most people who do not use an Italian keyboard may wonder how to type accented vowels in a text, because a standard international keyboard does not have these letters among the keys. Since they belong to the ASCII set of characters, it is possible to enter them by typing their code numbers in the keyboard's number pad, while pressing the
Alt key: try them out yourself, in the box below.
ò = Alt+149 | ù = Alt+151 | é = Alt+130
To type an o with an acute accent use Alt+162, but remember that Ã³ is only found in dictionaries, as a reading aid.
Instead not all fonts have capital (uppercase) accented letters.
Times New Roman and Arial, among the most commonly used, have the following codes: try them out.
Ò = Alt+0210 | Ù = Alt+0217 | É = Alt+0201
Again, to type Ã use Alt+0211, for the same limited use as above.
If your computer or the standard font you are using does not have such vowels, you can still
use normal ones followed by an apostrophe:
Some Italian people too use apostrophes in place of accented vowels, but since this is not
very correct, and the two different e's cannot be told, the use of
accented vowels should be preferred, where available.