Double consonants in Italian
Learning to pronounce double consonants in Italian is one of the biggest challenges when studying Italian.
Double consonants in Italian have a different pronunciation than single consonants and can sometimes change the meaning of a word.
Therefore, it is always good to practice and learn how to pronounce and spell words with double consonants.
However, don’t worry too much about your pronunciation. In a normal conversation, the context helps people to understand you.
But things change if you have to take an Italian exam or if you have to learn to write well in Italian, whether for work or another reason.
Rules for pronouncing double consonants in Italian
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to master pronouncing double consonants in Italian. So, it all boils down to learning which words have double consonants. Trying to get your ear used to recognizing them and then pronouncing them correctly.
The best way to achieve this goal is to read a lot, listen to native speakers and do lots and lots of exercises.
However, some grammar rules can help us:
“Doppie esplosive” (“exploding doubles”)
To understand the differences in the pronunciation of double consonants in Italian, we must divide the letters of the alphabet into two groups.
The first group is what linguists call “occlusive or explosive consonants.”
They are called exploding doubles because of how they form in our vocal folds. The process starts with a brief interruption of the airflow from the vocal folds, followed by a sudden burst of air.
The explosive consonants in Italian are:
B, C, D, G, P, Q, T, Z.
When an explosive consonant is double, it must be pronounced longer and made to sound louder than we would in any other circumstance.
Here are some examples for you to practice exploding doubles:
Rabbia – Anger
Bocca – Mouth
Gatto – Cat
Mazzo – Deck
“Doppie non esplosive” (“non-explosive doubles”)
When the rest of the Italian consonants are double, the pronunciation will also last longer. However, there is not any other form of emphasis beyond this.
The following consonants in Italian are non-explosive:
F, L, M, N, R, S, V.
Here are some examples for you to practice non-exploding doubles:
Soffio – Blow
Callo – Cock
Mamma – Mom
Sasso – Rock
Other rules for double consonants in Italian
In most cases, a vowel follows double consonants.
Here are some examples:
Dubbio – Doubt
Bello – Nice
Espresso – Espresso
Spaghetti – Spaghetti
Ragazzo – Boy
In other cases, the letter R follows double consonants.
Here are some examples:
Labbra – Lips
Attrito – Friction
Attributo – Attribute
Before a double consonant, we will never find another consonant.
In Italian, you will never find cases like the English word newsstand.
The consonants J, K, W, X, and Y do not belong to the Italian alphabet.
Thus, if you happen to see them doubled, you should check the grammar rules of the foreign language to which these words pertain.
You will not find the consonant H duplicated because it is always silent.
When it is found together with the letters C and G (chi, che, ghi, ghe), the doubling can only refer to the pronunciation of the C and G, but not of the H.
The only Italian word with a double Q is “soqquadro.”
This word means disorder, chaos, or confusion. But watch out for the combination of the letters CQ. When these are together, they sound like a double Q. Here are some examples. Note that these examples derive from “aqua” (water).
acquazzone – downpour
acquerelli – watercolors
Learn to pronounce double consonants in Italian with this tongue twister
A way to learn how to pronounce double consonants in Italian is to practice with tongue twisters.
One of the most popular ones to practice pronouncing double consonants is one that tells the story of Apelle, son of Apollo.
Apelle figlio di Apollo
Fece una palla di pelle di pollo
Tutti i pesci vennero a galla
Per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo
Fatta da Apelle figlio di Apollo.
Here is the translation:
Apelles son of Apollo
He made a ball of chicken skin
All the fish came to the surface
To see the ball of chicken skin
Made by Apelles son of Apollo.
Would you like to learn other tongue twisters in Italian? Click here to check them out. Or maybe you would like a course that intuitively teaches these rules. Click here to read more about it.