You too can learn Italian!


This page is being provided to me, Tyler Jones, by Lucio Chiappetti to hopefully be of value to people using the Web. These pages are provided by Lucio Chiappetti in his spare time, more or less following the template and cadence of the Spanish pages by Tyler Jones. However the author does not guarantee to provide compilation of new pages regularly. This page is only meant to be viewed through Mosaic, for Mac, Windows, or X. Foreign language characters will not show up correctly under a text-based viewer like Lynx. I'm still working this thing out, so the format may change in the future. Any comments, requests, or problems may be mailed to me, Tyler Chambers.


My name is Lucio Chiappetti. I saw the Spanish pages by Tyler Jones, and thought I could provide some basic Italian for this Web-course. Italian is my mother language, so I do know enough to be giving these basic lessons. For the first few weeks, I plan on only using nouns and simple phrases, words that you're likely to run into (and should know what they mean). Later, I'll get into verbs and sentence structure.

Lesson 1

This Week's New Words:

  • ciao - hello, goodbye (familiar)
  • salve - hello
  • addio - goodbye
  • bene - well
  • egli - he (literary)
  • lui - he (common speech), him
  • ella - she (literary)
  • lei - she (common speech), her
  • esso - it (masculine)
  • essa - it (feminine)
  • essi - they (persons or things)
  • loro - them (persons or things), they (common speech, persons)
  • grazie - thank you
  • spiacente - I'm sorry
  • noi - us, we (plural)
  • signore - sir, mister, mr.
  • signora - madame, mrs.
  • signorina - miss
  • tu - you (informal)
  • voi - you (plural, formal and informal)
  • io - I
  • Numbers 1-10
  • 0 zero
  • 1 uno
  • 2 due
  • 3 tre
  • 4 quattro
  • 5 cinque
  • 6 sei
  • 7 sette
  • 8 otto
  • 9 nove
  • 10 dieci
  • Pronunciation

    The Italian alphabet is fairly similar to our own (English, or depending on where you're from, American). The letters K,J,W,X,Y occur only in foreign origin words. Each lesson will explain a few more letters. This week, I'll explain the interesting letters (or combinations thereof) from this week's words (above).
    The gli (followed or not by another vowel) in Italian is pronounced more or less as ll in Spanish

    However there are words like glicine (flower name), negligente, anglicano in which, for etymological reasons, g and l are pronounced as two separate sounds as in English.

    Thus, the Italian word coniglio (rabbit) is pronounced like conihlyo. and the word conigli (rabbits) is pronounced like conihli.

    The gn is the same sound as Spanish ñ i.e. is the same sound as the ny pair in the word canyon.

    Thus, signore is pronounced like sin-yore.

    The Italian h is always silent and as such an Italian speaker won't pronounce it when it occurs in foreign origin words (e.g. hotel). Moreover the letter h in Italian occurs only in the groups ch and gh (see below) and in the present tense of the verb "to have". Thus, ho ( [I] have ) is pronounced o and hanno ( [they] have) is pronounced anno, the same as the word anno (year).
    a, e, i, o, u
    The Italian vowels have only one sound, regardless of what letters they precede or follow, or accent marks on the vowel, with the (minor) exception of e and o.
    The a is always pronounced as in the English word car.
    The e has the sound of the e in bed.
    Actually there are two sounds of e : Note however that such accents are NOT normally written (unless they are required for tonic reasons), and appear only in dictionaries. Moreover, dictionaries report an "ideal" Tuscan pronunciation which is subject to ample regional variations. For instance the words perché (why) and stélla (star) are usually pronounced in the North as perchè and stèlla. In general a mispronunciation at this level won't be noticed, or if it is noticed (for instance méla (apple) is pronounced everywhere like that, and if you pronounce mèla it will sound funny) you will be understood.
    There are words in which a difference in accent causes a different meaning, as in pèsca (peach) and pésca (fishing), but in the North we pronounce both words as the first one and are understood everywhere.

    A note on accents : dictionaries indicate the tonic accent, i.e. put an accent on the vowel in the stressed syllable in the word (this is in the vast majority of cases the last but one, so called "plain" or "flat" words). This accent is not used and not required in normal writing. In normal writing the accent is required ONLY if the word ENDS with an accented vowel (i.e. the last syllable is accented, so called "truncated" words), e.g. perché. In handwriting do not bother to use the acute or the grave accent, just put any little sign over the vowel. On typewriters with Italian keyboards there are accented keys. On computer keyboards we usually prefer to use ASCII keyboards without accented keys, and just use an apostrophe instead of the accent, e.g. perche' : it is simpler and more portable.

    The Italian i is the same as the English long e or ee as in see.
    The o is always pronounced as the o in the word cold or dog.
    Here too actually there are two sounds of o : The same comments made above for the letter e hold.
    The Italian u has the sound of the English oo as in too or the English ue as in blue.
    As opposed to the English r, which is formed in the back of the mouth with the back of the tongue, the Italian r is formed using the tip of the tongue on the upper palate, behind the front teeth, more like the English d.

    Being the first lesson, this week you're just learning some of the basics. The main emphasis is on pronouns (io, lei) and numbers (zero through dieci). Also, you're being introduced to some of the most common greeting and short phrases, such as salve ("hello") and spiacente ("I'm sorry").

    Without knowing any verbs, there aren't many sentences to be made with the words we have, but here are some (short) examples with what we know:

    Salve, signorina. - Hello, miss.
    Spiacente, signore. - I'm sorry, sir.
    And yes, that's about all we can do right now, but these are still good examples of Italian grammatical structure. Notice how similar the above sentences are to English - salve comes first, and then the subject, signorina. You can form the same kinds of sentences using addio and grazie, and signora, in addition to the example sentences above. However, you can't make a sentence like this:
    Salve, lei.
    What the above sentence literally says is "hello, you", and while it may be possible to think of times in English when you might say that, in Italian the sentence is meaningless, and people will look at you funny if you say Salve voi! in the middle of a group of Italian-speaking people. You could however say Salve a voi! (literally "hello to you"), although it sounds slightly unusual.

    Numbers. Numbers, as you should all know, are important. That's why I've included some in the first lesson. For the moment, you only know the numbers between 0 (zero) and 10 (dieci), but that will change. What can you do with the numbers zero through dieci? Count your toes! Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci.. Recite your phone number! cinque, cinque cinque, otto, sei, zero, due (555-8602); note that however in Italian it is usual to pronounce phone numbers by group (i.e. as it were five-hundred-and-fifty-five eighty-six zero-two) but you'll wait for another lesson for that. Tell someone how many sisters you have (due). What you can't do with the numbers zero through dieci is make numbers bigger than dieci by stringing them together. Due zero is not the same as 20, although if you were in a pinch, you might be able to make someone understand that 20 was what you meant. Don't worry, we'll get to the rest of the numbers (1-1000) in the next few lessons.

    Pronouns. Pronouns (io, tu, Lei, egli, ella, noi, voi, essi, and loro) aren't anything that you can actually use yet, because I haven't given you any verbs. But as we progress, pronouns will be very important, so I'm introducing them now. The Italian pronouns are used almost always exactly the same way they are in English. In English, you would say

    I went to the store.
    In Italian, you would just substitute io for I in the sentence above (we'll pretend that the rest of the sentence is really in Italian) and end up with
    Io went to the store.
    Trust me, how one uses these pronouns will make much more sense when we learn some verbs.

    Well, I think that about wraps up Lesson 1. Learning any foreign language requires a lot of memorization, and unfortunately this course is no different. One thing that I find helpful is to mix in Italian words in my everyday English, so long as the situation can handle it (i.e. don't start calling the businesspeople in your board meeting voi next time you get together). So try and memorize the new words for this lesson, and how to pronounce them. When you're ready, you can go on to Lesson 2!
    original Spanish lesson by Tyler Chambers, 4-15-94 refurbished for Italian by Lucio Chiappetti,, 09-09-94
    Copyright Lucio Chiappetti 1994.