Double Consonants

In Italian, all consonants except h can be doubled. Double consonants (i consonanti doppie) are pronounced much more forcefully than single consonants. With double f, l, m, n, r, s, and v, the sound is prolonged; with double b, c, d, g, p, and t, the stop is stronger than for the single consonant. Double z is pronounced almost the same as single z. Double s is always unvoiced.

In most cases they are followed by a vowel, as in:

  • Dubbio » doubt
  • Albicocca » apricot
  • Gatto » cat
  • Bello » beautiful
  • Babbo » dad
  • Filetto » filet
  • Evviva » hurrah.
  • Anno » year.
  • Bistecca » beefsteak.
  • Basso » short.
  • Espresso » espresso coffee.
  • Tavolozza » palette.
  • Spaghetti » spaghetti.
  • Ragazzo » boy.
  • Mamma » mama.

However, in some cases they may be followed by r, as in:

  • Labbra » lips.
  • Attrito » friction, etc.

Instead, another consonant can never come before a double consonant.

Only one word exists with a double q, soqquadro (disorder, confusion, muddle).

The consonants j, k, w, x, y do not belong to the Italian alphabet, therefore they can only be double in foreign words.

The consonant h is never doubled, because it is always soundless. When it belongs to a cluster (chi, che, ghi, ghe), a doubling may concern the c or the g, but not the h:

  • ...cchi, as in occhi (eyes).
  • ...cche, as in bocche (mouths).

Double vowels are uncommon in Italian, though possible in a few words. They are always pronounced as the ordinary individual ones, but in these cases a longer sound should be heard:

  • Cooperare  »  to cooperate.
  • Zii  »  uncles.
  • Veemenza  »  vehemence.
  • Riinserire  »  to insert again.

When you encounter double consonants in Italian, you have to pronounce each instance of the consonant or lengthen the sound. The difficult part is that you don’t pause between the consonants. Doubling the consonant usually changes the meaning of the word. So, to make sure that your Italian is understandable, emphasize doubled consonants well. Examples:

  • Nono » ninth
  • Capello » hair
  • Nonno » grandfather
  • Cappello » hat

Don’t worry too much about your pronunciation of double consonants, though, because in a conversation, the context helps people understand you.