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Italian language

Italian is a Romance language spoken by about 62 million people, most of whom live in Italy. Standard Italian is based on Tuscan dialects and is somewhat intermediate between the languages of Southern Italy and the Gallo-Romance languages of the North. Italian has double (or long) consonants, like Latin (but unlike most modern Romance languages, e.g. French and Spanish). As in most Romance languages (with the notable exception of French), stress is distinctive.

Italian is an official language in Italy, San Marino and in the Ticino canton of Switzerland. It is also the second official language in Vatican City and in some areas of Istria in Slovenia and Croatia with Italian minority.

Some people claim that Tuscan[?] became the standard language because it's so close to Latin, but other languages spoken in Italy are even closer to Latin (e.g. sardo logudorese as well as some Southern Italian idioms). It was also not the beauty of Dante's language but rather the economic power that Tuscany had at the time, specially considering Pisa's influence. Also, the increasing cultural relevance of Florence in the period of Umanesimo[?] (before Rinascimento) made its vulgare become a standard in art, quickly imported to Rome.

Table of contents

Pronouns Pronouns are generally unnecessary in Italian unless required to disambiguate the meaning of a sentence. Usually, the verb ending provides information about the subject.

Singular Plural
1st Person io - I noi - we
2nd Person tu - you (one person, familiar) voi - you (plural, familiar)
3rd Person lei - she
Lei - you (one person, polite)
lui - he
loro - they
Loro - you (plural, polite)

Lei and Loro (written with a capitalized L) have special meaning in addition to their meanings as "she" and "they". Lei is the polite form of tu (which is only used for individuals one is familiar with, or for children), and similarly, Loro is the polite form of voi.

Verbs Italian verb infinitives have one of three endings, either -are, -ere, or -ire. Most Italian verbs are regular.

Questions are formed by a rising intonation at the end of the sentence, as in most European languages, possibly with the reversal of the subject and verb also (see examples below).

Present Indicative Regular Conjugation Patterns

This is the basic conjugation pattern used to indicate that something is occuring now.

-are Singular Plural
1st Person -o -iamo
2nd Person -i -ate
3rd Person -a -ano

Example: mangiare, "to eat".

Io mangio. (or just Mangio.) I eat.
Antonio mangia. Antonio eats.
Antonio mangia? Does Antonio eat?
Mangia Antonio? Does Antonio eat?

guardare, "to watch"

Noi guardiamo la televisione. (or just Guardiamo la televisione.) We watch television.

-ere Singular Plural
1st Person -o -iamo
2nd Person -i -ete
3rd Person -e -ono

Example: leggere, "to read"

Leggono i libri. They read books.
Leggo il giornale. I read the newspaper.

Some regular -ire verbs conjugate normally, and some conjugate according to the -isco pattern. There is no way to tell other than to memorize which are which.

-ire (normal form) Singular Plural
1st Person -o -iamo
2nd Person -i -ite
3rd Person -e -ono

Example: partire, "to leave"

Partite. You leave. (plural; used if talking to two or more persons one is familiar with.)
Parti. You leave. (singular; used if talking to only one person one is familiar with.)
Partono. Depending on context, could mean either You leave (if addressing more than one person formally), or could also mean They leave.

-ire (-isco form) Singular Plural
1st Person -isco -iamo
2nd Person -isci -ite
3rd Person -isce -ono

Example: capire, "to understand".

Io capisco or just Capisco. "I understand."
Capisci? "Do you understand?"

Graphemes and Phonemes of Italian

i /i/

e, /e/

e, /E/

a /a/

o /o/

o /O/

u /u/


p /p/

b /b/

t /t/

d /d/

c before velar vowels, ch- before palatal vowels, q before u in some words, k in foreign words /k/

g- before velar vowels, gh- before palatal vowels /g/


z /ts/

z /dz/

c- before palatal vowels; ci- before velar vowels /tS/

g- before palatal vowels, gi- before velar vowels /dZ/


f /f/

v /v/

s /s/

s /z/

sc- before palatal vowels, sci- before velar vowels /S/

sg- before palatal vowels, sgi- before velar vowels /Z/ ?


m /m/

n /n/

gn /n_j/ palatal [n]


l /l/

gl(i) /l_j/ palatal [l]


r /r/

Minimal pairs

/'fato/ - /'fatto/

/'kade/ - /'kadde/

/'kasa/ - /'kassa/

/'pala/ - /'palla/

/'karo/ - /'karro/

/'pena/ - /'penna/

Length is distinctive for all consonants except /ts, dz, S, z, n_j, l_j/.

Some common phrases

  • Italian: italiano /i ta li a no/ (ee-tah-lee-AN-oh)
  • hello: ciao /tSaw/ (chow) (informal); buon giorno (bwon JOR-noh) (good morning), buona sera (BWO-na SAY-ra) (good evening)
  • good-bye: arrivederci /a r:i ve der tSi/ (a-ree-veh-DARE-chi)
  • please: per favore /per fa vo re/ (per fa-VOAR-ay)
  • thank you: grazie /gra tsi e/ (GRAT-zee-eh)
  • that one: quello /kwe l:o/ (KWEL-low)
  • how much? quanto /kwan to/ (KWAN-tow)
  • English: inglese /in gle se/ (in-GLAY-say)
  • yes: /si/ (see)
  • no: no /no/ (no)
  • sorry: scusa /s'kuza/ (skoo-zuh)
  • I don't understand: non capisco (known-cup-ees-kow)
  • where's the bathroom?: dov' il bagno? (dow-vay-eel-ba-"spanish n"-ow)
  • generic toast: salute /sa lu te/ (sall-OO-teh)

  • cara or cara mia (feminine); caro or caro mio (masculine) - approximately means my darling or my dear; common term of endearment.

See Common phrases in different languages and Italian proverbs.

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