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Twin Medieval Towers of Bologna

Twin Medieval Towers of Bologna

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Italian is spoken in Italy, as well as parts of Switzerland and a tiny little part of Slovenia. It was not too long ago that Italian was declared a single language (ca. 1840), and the differences between local varieties are tremendous, both in pronunciation and grammar alike. Still, the 'standard Italian' should help you get around throughout the country.

Italian is characterised by a strictly romance grammar with very few foreign influences; if you're a speaker of Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian or French, you should have little difficulty understanding it.




The Italian alphabet has 21 letters: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, z. The letters j, k, w, x, y only occur in foreign words.




Italian makes a distinction between long and short consonants. Stress is normally on the penultimate syllable.


Italian consonants that have a pronunciation different from English are mentioned below.

/c/When followed by -i or -eAs English /ch/ in beachbaciokiss
/c/All other circumstancesAs English /c/ in catfuoco, fuochifire, fires
/cc/When followed by -i or -eAs English /ch/ in beachcacciahunt
/cc/All other circumstancesAs English /c/ in catbocca, macchinamouth, car
/g/When followed by -i or -e or -gAs English /j/ in jumpgiorno, soggiornoday, stay
/g/All other circumstancesAs English /g/ in gapriga, righeline, lines
/gl/In all circumstancesA bit like English /lli/ in medallionmogliewive
/gn/In all circumstancesNo English equivalent. Sounds like /nj/ in rapid successionbagnotoilet
/r/In all circumstancesPronounced with the tip of the tongue
/v/In all circumstancesPronounced almost like /w/
/z/In all circumstancesNo English equivalent. Sounds like /dz/ in rapid successionzerozero
/zz/In all circumstancesNo English equivalent. Sounds like /dz/ in rapid successionragazzagirl


  • Vowels /a/, /e/, /i/ and /o/ have different qualities than in English. It is hard to give examples, but listening to a few italians speaking should give you a good idea how they are pronounced
  • /u/ sounds like /ou/ as in English 'you'
  • Italian has no 'schwa' (the sound pronounced as the English article 'a')
  • Italian has no diphthongs




Noun phrases

Italian has two genders, masculine and feminine. They show up in the inflection of articles, adjectives and participles. Besides several series of exceptions, the general situation is as follows.

Masculine nouns and their articles and adjectives end in -o when singular, and in -i when plural.

  • un / il ragazzo cattivo - a/the naughty boy
  • i ragazzi cattivi - the naughty boys

Feminine nouns and their articles and adjectives end in -a when singular, and in -e when plural.

  • una / la bella macchina - a/the beautiful car
  • le belle macchine - the beautiful cars

Most adjectives are placed after the noun; bello, 'beautiful' above is one of the exceptions that precedes it.


Italian has a distinction between subject and object pronouns like English. Subject pronouns are usually dropped, because the person performing the action can be retrieved from the ending on the verb. Italian also has a locative pronoun ci, which you will hear a lot, but is very tricky to use. It is omitted from the list below.

  • I/me - io / me
  • You - tu / te
  • He/him; she/her; it - lui/lo; lei/la; lo (lei/la are also used formally, both for masculine and feminine singular)
  • We/us - noi / ci
  • You - voi / vi
  • They/them - loro / li (M); loro / le (F)


Italian has a typical romance verb conjugation system, featuring a large number of distinct forms for different persons, numbers, modes, tenses and aspects. Rough estimates have been made that Italian has over 2.16 million verb forms! The language has four distinct conjugated classes, for verbs in -are, -ire, -ere and -rre. A decent overview can be found here. Since the majority of verbs end in -are, the present-tense paradigm is given below for one example. The majority of verbs you are likely to encounter behaves similarly.

  • to sing - cant-are
  • I sing - cant-o
  • you sing - cant-i
  • he/she sings - cant-a
  • we sing - cant-iamo
  • you sing - cant-ate
  • they sing - cant-ano


Italian word order is affirmative clauses is the same as in English. Subject pronouns can be dropped, because the person doing the action can be retrieved from the ending of the verb:

  • (GiovanniSbj) raccontaVerb una favolaObj - 'Giovanni tells a fairy tale'

The easiest way to form a question is not by changing the word order, but the intonation.



Travel words and phrases

Greeting and pleasantries

hellosalvehow are you?come vai?
goodbyeciao / arrivederciI'm fineva bene
goodbye (formal)arrivederLaexcuse mescusa / scusi (formal)
good morningbuon giorno / arrivedercipleaseper favore
good afternoonbuona serathank yougrazie
good nightbuona serayou're welcomeprego
see you soona prestocheers!cin-cin!
congratulationscomplimentigood luck!in bocca al lupo!

Basic phrases and questions

yeswatch out!attenzione!
nono / arrivedercihelp!aiuto!
maybeforsego away!vattene!
where is the bath room?dov'è il bagno?I don't understandnon capisco
what time is it?che ora è?please waitun attimo per favore
where is the hotel?dov'è l'hotel / l'albergo?do you speak English?si parla Inglese?
where can I find a telephone?dove si trova un telefono pubblico?can you speak a bit slower?si può parlare più lento per favore?
when does the train arrive?a che ora arriva il treno?can you show me on the map?Si può indicarmelo sulla pianta per favore?
how much does this cost?quanto è / quanto costa?


coachpullmanbicyclebicicletta / bici
car parkparcheggiostationstazione
(bus) stopfermatadelayritardo
one-wayandata semplicereturnandata e ritorno

Finding your way

streetstrada / corsoroadvia
highwayautostradacornerangolo/ bici
traffic lightsemaforo
parkgiardinomapmappa / pianta



Calendars and clocks

thursdaygiovedìAprilaprilenext monthil mese prossimo
fridayvenerdìMaymaggiolast yearl'anno passato
saturdaysabatoJunegiugnoOctober 10thil dieci ottobre
sundaydomenicaJulyluglioon October 10thal dieci ottobre
weekendfine settimanaAugustagostowhat day is it?che giorno è?
week daygiorno ferialeSeptembersettembrewhat's the date?che data è oggi?
holidaygiorno festivoOctoberottobre
new year's daycapodannowinterl'inverno
Good FridayVenerdì santospringla primavera
Saint Mary's assumption (8/15)ferragostoautumnautunno

Telling time

  • hour – ora
  • minute – minuto
  • hh:mm AM - [hh:mm] (di mattina)
  • hh:mm PM - [hh:mm] del pomeriggio
  • at hh:mm sharp - alle [hh:mm] in punto
  • 1:00 – l'una / l'una di mattina
  • 2:05 – le due e cinque
  • 3:15 – le tre e quindici / le tre e quarto
  • 4:30 - le quattro e trenta / le quattro e mezzo
  • 5:35 - le cinque e trentacinque
  • 6:45 - le sette meno quindici/quarto
  • 11:55 - mezzogiorno meno cinque
  • 12:00 – mezzogiorno
  • 13:00 - le tredici / l'una del pomeriggio
  • 0:00 – mezzanotte

Question words

  • Who? - chi?
  • What? – che?
  • Where? - dove?
  • When? - quando?
  • Why? - perché?
  • How? - come?
  • How much? – quanto?

Prepositions and directions

  • At - a
  • By (me) - da (me)
  • With - con
  • From - da
  • To - a
  • For - per
  • Here/There - qui / qua
  • Inside/Outside - adentro/ fuori
  • In front of/behind - avanti/ indietro
  • Next to - accanto
  • Opposite - opposto (di)
  • Up/Down - su/giù
  • Left/Right - sinistro/destro
  • In the middle of - in mezzo a / al centro di
  • North/South/East/West - norte/sud/est/ovest
  • Centre - centro

Words for persons

  • Person - persona
  • Man - uomo
  • Woman - donna
  • Child - bambino
  • Boy/girl - ragazzo/-a
  • Mr/Mrs - signor/-a
  • Father - babbo
  • Mother - mamma
  • Brother - fratello
  • Sister - sorella
  • Cousin/niece - cugino/-a
  • Grandfather/grandmother - nonno/-a
  • Uncle/aunt - zio/-a
  • Foreigner - straniero


  • White - bianco
  • Black - nero
  • Red - rosso
  • Orange - arancione
  • Yellow - giallo
  • Green - verde
  • Blue - azzurro
  • Purple - viola
  • Brown - marrone
  • Pink - rosa


as well as Hien (<1%)

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This is version 67. Last edited at 8:07 on Aug 4, 10 by bentivogli. 15 articles link to this page.

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