Hard and Soft Vowels

Italian hard and soft vowels
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Vocali

Italian vowels are divided into two categories: hard and soft.

1) Hard vowels (A, O, U) cause the consonant that precedes them to be pronounced with a hard sound (HS).

2) Soft vowels (E, I) are preceded by a soft sound (SS).

The consonants affected by this hard/soft distinction are C, SC, and G.

C SC G

HS

A

O

U

Cons.

[k]

caffè

cosí

cugino

stanco

[sk]

pesca

scontrino

scuro

scrive

[g]

gambero

prego

auguri

grazie

    

SS

E

I

[ch]

cena

città

[sh]

pesce

angosciato

[j]

gennaio

giorno

Consonant hardening

Some Italian words need a hard sound in front of a soft vowel, in which case it’s necessary to change the spelling in order to maintain the desired pronunciation. This is the reason behind many Italian spelling changes in nouns, adjectives, and verbs:

C –> CH   stanco –> stanchi
  meccanica –> meccaniche
SC –> SCH   tedesca –> tedesche
    affrescare –> tu affreschi
G –> GH   lungo –> lunghi
  pagare –> paghiamo

Consonant softening

Less commonly, Italian words may need a soft sound in front of a hard vowel:

C –> CI   cucire –> cucio

 The normal rules of regular –ire verb conjugations would conjugate the io form of cucire (to sew) as "cuco."

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Hard vowels and soft vowels - Italian pronunciation