Italian Pronunciation – How to Pronounce the Harder Words

Blessed cherubs! No doubt you’ve passed with flying colors my other lessons – now, let’s get cracking on some of the harder words you’ll come across in the course of your delightful stay in Italy.

(A note about the vowel, “e” – in my pronunciation guides, I write it more like “ay” than the “eh” it might sound like to your ears. That is because we as American English speakers tend to make the soft “e” sound like “ih” as in “hit” to Italian ears. So, I’m giving you the automatic overcompensation.)

gnocchi = nyaw-key
A hearty pasta, also known as “belly bombs” in my circle; best eaten in winter.

sfogliatella = sfole-ya-tell-ah
A pastry from Napoli, crunchy yet flaky with cream inside. Do not eat when wearing black, as the powdered sugar will be your demise.

Termini = TAIR-mee-nee
Rome’s train station. The emphasis is on the first syllable. Yes, really.

un’uovo = oon-wo-vo
le uova = lay-wo-va
Eggs, plural. This is one of those words that does not follow the usual singular/plural agreement in terms of the vowels on the end of the word.

olio = ohl-yo
Oil. As I learned to my dismay during a particularly heated political discussion, this is not the same as war-causing oil – that’s petrolio (pay-troll-yo).
aglio = ahl-yo
Garlic. Aglio e olio? Best pasta dish ever. (And no, people from my family: not pronounced “eye-yoy” unless you’re in our great-grandfather’s town.)

pesce = pay-shay
Fish, singular. Plural is pesci (pay-shee).
pesca = pay-scah
Peach. Plural is pesche (pay-skay). Do not confuse fish and peaches when ordering juice – the waiter will look at you funny. Trust me on this one.

ceci = tchay-tchee
Chickpeas. You’ll see this word more than you expect.

stazione = stahtz-YO-nay
Station. In Rome, if you pronounce the “z” as in fizz instead of as in “pizza” they will think you are from up north and give you wrong directions.

tiramisu = teer-ah-mee-SOO
The dessert we all know and love. Yes, the emphasis is on the last syllable.

cena = tchay-na

lo sci = low-shee
Skiing. No, you will never get used to saying this word. It just plain sounds weird.

Il Papa = eel-PAH-pa
The pope.
Papa = pa-PAH
pappa = pohp-ah
Baby food.

Yes, I learned that the hard way.

spiaggia = spee-YA-jah

I think I’ve given you enough for today. Check back soon for more! And remember, if you’ve forgotten the basics, simply go to my earlier posts for more pronunciation fun!


9 thoughts on “Italian Pronunciation – How to Pronounce the Harder Words

  1. Wow! I am pleased to know that there are truly people out there who want to butcher the Italian language. Italian is so easy to pronounce too. It’s written how you pronounce it, I mean you do need to know the Italian alphabet, but that’s easy.

  2. I love the culture italian…..its actually a romance language so it makes me want to learn it even more…my dad opened up a pizza italian place and ever since it got closed down i’ve been inspired to learn the language…plus if you get mad at someone you can curse at them and they won’t even know…lol

  3. My wife’s family is Italian and makes aglio e olio every Christmas. It’s flippin delicious. For some reason they pronounce it “eye-yoy” too. Now I can pronounce it correctly and get made fun of by them. Sweet.

    • Sicily does indeed have its own pronunciation for many, many words. For my (admittedly very informal) guides, I worked with my Italian friends (from Rome, Veneto, and Bologna) to capture the vocal formations that Americans tend to do; as I wrote to another commenter, as an example, Americans really tend to flatten the “a” sound (as in the word, “flat”), whereas when you hear an Italian say an “a” sound, to the American ear it sounds more like the o in “pot.” The same goes for the “e” sound; Americans tend to use the schwa (, which sounds ridiculous to the Italian ear; so in telling people to pronounce it more like the a sound in “may,” it forces them out of the schwa and into a more distinct sound.

  4. “bruschetta” is another one. i am not sure of regional variations, but i am best friends with a fellow from perugia and lived with a girl from rome for 2 years, and both of them (and all other italians i have ever heard) pronounce it “broo-SKET-ta” (more or less) but never “broo-SHET-ta” as people in the UK/US/Canada seem to like to pretend is correct!

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