Diphthongs & Triphtongs

Diphthongs (i dittonghi) are two vowels fused to emit a single sound. A diphthong is formed when an unstressed i or u combines with another vowel (a, e, o) or when the two vowels combine with each other, in which case either the i or u may remain unstressed. In diphthongs, unstressed i and u become semivowels approximating in sound the English consonants y and w, respectively. Examples:

  • Buono  »  good.
  • Chiuso  »  closed.
  • Fiore  »  flower.
  • Ieri  »  yesterday.
  • Invidia  »  envy.
  • Più  »  more.

Italian diphthongs are always pronounced maintaining the sound og the individual vowels, and the closed vowel plays the role of a semivowel or a glide. You should pronounce diphthongs as follows:

  • ai like 'i' in "fight"
  • au like 'ow' in "brown"
  • ei like 'ay' in "say"
  • eu doesn't exist in English, run 'e' and 'u' together
  • ia like "ya" in "yard"
  • ie like 'ye' in "yes"
  • ii not a diphthong but two syllables
  • io like "yo" in "Yorick"
  • iu like "ew" in "few"
  • oi like 'oy' in "boy"
  • uo like 'wo' in "won ton"

Triphthongs (Trittonghi)

Triphthongs also exist. These are sequences of three vowels with a single sound, usually a diphthong followed by an unstressed i. Examples:

  • Buoi  »  oxen.
  • Miei  »  mine.
  • Pigliai  »  (I) took.
  • Tuoi  »  yours

In the other hand, Italian has numerous words that contain sequences of vowels. The following words are not triphthongs (which are infrequent), but sequences of a vowel and a diphthong. Examples:

  • Noia  »  boredom.
  • Febbraio  »  February.
  • Baia  »  bay.
  • Fioraio  »  florist

Each of the words below has a sequence of two diphthongs:

  • Ghiaia  »  gravel.
  • Muoio  »  I die.
  • Acquaio  »  sink.
  • Gioiello  »  jewel.

Word Elision (Elisione)

Elision is the omission (leaving out) of letters in between words, usually to make pronunciation easier.

The final vowel of an Italian word will often be dropped before a word being with an initial vowel and, in some instances, replaced with an apostrophe. This linking is called elision and is done to make a smooth transition from one word to the text. The vowel pronunciation and stressing remain the same.

  • Lo amico => l’amico (the friend)
  • La automobile => l’automobile (the automobile)
  • Una università => un’università (a university)
  • Di Italia => d’Italia (of Italy)
  • Dove è => dov’è (where is)
  • Sarà al buono => sar’al buono (it will be good)
  • La amorosa => l’amorosa (the beloved)
  • Quelle aria => quell’aria (this air)
  • Tutto è silenzio => tutt’è silenzio (all is quiet)
  • Dove è mia amata => dov’è mi’amata (where is my beloved)

The infinitives and masculine nouns may drop the final e without writing an apostrophe, cf.:

  • Fare l'amore => far l'amore (to make love)
  • Dottore Nardi => dottor Nardi (Dr. Nardi)