Phonetically speaking, the syllable is the smallest fraction of a word, pronounced as a single sound.
Most Italian syllables end in a vowel sound. All syllables must contain at least one vowel, which is their strong sound, while they do not necessarily need a consonant: syllables without vowels do not exist, while syllables without consonants do exist.
Grammatically, the division of a word into syllables follows these rules:
A single consonant goes with the following vowel.
- Casa (house) » ca-sa
- Matita (pencil) » ma-ti-ta
- Positivo (positive) » po-si-ti-vo
- Ruvido (rough) » ru-vi-do.
Any double consonant must be split into two subsequent syllables:
- Gatto (cat) » gat-to
- Carrozza (carriage, wagon) » car-roz-za
- Mappa (map) » map-pa
- Possessore (owner) » pos-ses-so-re
Two consonants, the first of which is l, m, n, or r, are divided.
- Trenta (thirty) » tren-ta
- Cantante (singer) » can-tan-te
- Perla (pearl) » per-la
- Contento (contented) » con–ten–to
Otherwise, a combination of two consonants belongs to the following syllable.
- Figlio (son) » fi–glio
- Vetrina (shop-window) » ve-tri-na
- Padre (father) » pa-dre
- Decreto (decree,bill) » de-cre-to
A vowel alone may form a syllable at the beginning of a word if followed by a consonant:
- Isola (island) » i-so-la
- Animale (animal) » a-ni-ma-le
- Odore (smell) » o-do-re
- Aratro (plough) » a-ra-tro
However, when the following consonant is either nasal or liquid and any further consonant comes after it, i.e. vowel + nasal or liquid consonant + any consonant (such as alt..., enc..., imp..., ond..., urg..., and so on), the first syllable binds to the vowel, to accomplish the previous rule:
- Intero(whole) » in-te-ro
- Urgente (urgent) » ur-gen-te
- Ultimo (last) » ul-ti-mo
- Imparare (to learn) » im-pa-ra-re
When three consonants are together the first goes with the preceding syllable, except s, which goes with the following syllable:
- Sempre (always) » sem–pre
- Entrare (to enter) » en-tra-re
- Membro (member) » mem–bro
- Inglese (english) » in-gle-se
However, with 3 consonant that are together with "s" at the beginning:
- Finestra(window) » fi–ne–stra
- Maestro(Master) » ma-e-stro
- Minestra(soup) » mi–ne–stra
- Strano(strange) » stra-no
- Spremere(to squeeze)»spre-me-re
Diphthongs and triphthongs are never divided.
- Buono (good) » buo - no
- Quadro (picture, painting) » qua - dro
- Viale (avenue) » via - le
- Miele (honey) » mie – le
- Chiodo (nail) » chio - do
- Lingua (language) » lin–gua
Diphthongs may occur in stressed or unstressed syllables. However, when a diphthong is broken by stress (the vowel i or u directly bears the stress), then the two vowels break into separate syllables.
- Mio (mine) » mi–o
- Terapia (therapy) » te–ra–pi–a
- Tuo (yours) » tu–o
- Allegria (joy) » al–le–gri–a
- Mania (mania) » ma–ni–a
- Farmacia (pharmacy) » far–ma–ci–a
There are many monosyllabic words, which cannot be split since they are made of only one syllable. The most common ones are:
- Definite articles (il, lo, la, i, gli, le);
- Simple prepositions (di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra);
- Several conjunctions (e, o, ma, sì, no, etc.);
- Most personal pronouns (io, tu, te, ti, lui, lei, gli, le, noi, ci, voi, vi, si etc.);
- Many indicative pronouns (quel, qui, qua, lì, là);
- Two numbers (tre, sei);
- Some short words of daily use (blu, più, già, giù, etc.).