Accent Addict

I recently got obsessed with accent marks in Italian.

I dug deep and did some research and watched a dozen or so youtube videos. And I really solidified some information that I only had a passing knowledge of before. I like to think my pronunciation in Italian is decent. However, you really can’t “zoom in” on your pronunciation if you don’t understand how the accent systems work. If you look up one lesson, it might leave out some info. However, by looking up a bunch of different articles/videos, I got the big picture. If you’re learning italian this is good information.

First off, we have these vowels, right? they’re similar to English vowels. A, E, I, O, U.
But then we throw a wrench into that, and say, E can have these two accent marks. Making it look like this: è (accento grave)
é (accento acuto).

This is super important. Why? because everyone knows the difference between ‘e’ and ‘è’ in Italian. It’s the first thing they teach you - but - they might not teach you the very proper way to pronounce it. It’s a very close, tight switch. You might not even be able to notice it. But Italians do.

The way I think about it is that ’ è ’ sounds like ‘ehhh’ to me (if I were to write the same sound in english, this is how I feel it would sound.) While é sounds closer to “Ay” to my ear.

So if you know this, you can pronounce a word correctly. “Perché” (because) sounds closer to “per-KAY” than “per-KEH”. Don’t stress the AY too hard. Just a bit less. There, you got it.

Throw another wrench into there. For some reason… They don’t write all the accent marks. Maybe, they got bored of writing them all the time, and decided collectively that everyone knew how to pronounce them anyway, so they stopped using them. Well, that’s good for them, who learned italian from when they were babies, but bad for me, a 33 year old canadian guy trying to learn a language.

Now, you also got O’s. O’s have two accents too - the same way E’s do. The rest of the letters - A, I, and U - they only have one form. They’re either open or closed. So the closed ó, with the grave accent sounds like “Oh” and the open one ò sounds closer to “Aw” to my ear.

So, you gotta look each word up again. Yup. even if you know it. Why? Because now, you’re not sure how to pronounce anything anymore. It’s probably not a big deal, because they swap accent marks in different cities - like Milan, for instance. So you won’t immediately sound stupid… but still. I looked up the word “Nonno”, and found out it’s really “Nònno”. I have never, ever pronounced it that way. I have always pronounced it “Nónno”. Incorrect. You think you know how to say grandpa in italian, and then one day, that dream is dead. And it’s back to square one. You’re all alone in a room, and you’ve been learning italian for 6-7 years, and you don’t know the right way to pronounce “Nonno”.

Then it clicks. This woman used to tutor me, and we wrestled over the word “Vuoi” for a good 10 minutes. Now, I’ve practiced the difference between “Vuoi” and “Voi”. The former, has a “w” sound in it. “VWOYEE” / “VOY”. Got it.

You don’t got though. Why? IT’S ACTUALLY… “Vuòi” and "Vói"

Not only is there a hidden W sound in there… but they’re different vowel sounds!!! This must be the reason she said I couldn’t pronounce it right. I think she mentioned the vowel too, now that I think of it.

So, please, if you take anything from my insane rant I’ve posted today - take this: If you are learning Italian, learn how to care about accent marks. Learn it early. Learn it before it’s too late. And if you don’t know it yet, learn it now. Or you could end up like me. An accent addict.

Anyways, here’s a few of the videos I watched. If they can help me, maybe they can help you.


I confess I’ve been consciously overlooking the nuances of the Italian vowels ever since I became aware of the subtleties. There are so many other aspects of the language that have always felt more pressing to learn, and now the task of going back to relearn the exact pronunciation of so many words seems too daunting, especially when I know I will never sound like a native however good I become. I’m happy as long as I get the stress right. :slightly_smiling_face:


Ciao @Vito89 Thoroughly enjoyed your “accent rant”. Like @morbrorper I like to get the stress right first but of late I’ve started realising that my e’s aren’t right and I’ve been putting an open e on everything such that I thought Carla e Giorgio were saying “i”.

Covidwise I haven’t been to Italy for so long it hurts, and speaking has slipped, so by the time I go again, hey, I might sound reasonable. When an Italian says to you “But you speak so well!” your day is made. It’s such a beautiful language I want to try and keep it beautiful.

Thanks for all the clips and ranting so helpfully :wink: Buona giornata eh!


An interesting take on Italian vowels and accents.
I never considered “Vuoi” to have a “w sound followed by an o”.
To us, we have 5 vowels (or 7 if you really want to distinguish the two e and o) and we think we pronounce them as they are written. When they are pronounced in the same syllable, we call them diphthongs and morph the first one in the other. What we write “uo” you would probably write “wo” in English, and “ie” would probably be “ye”. Sometimes two vowels are part of different syllables, for for example “bu-gi-a” and then you have to pronounce the vowels separately.

As for the “open” and “close” e and o sounds: I don’t feel they are the first thing you focus on; most Italian people are unaware of the “correct” way to pronounce them, and even if they pronounce them differently, it is more of a regional variation than anything else.

As an English speaker I would rather focus on pronounce vowels steadily; unless there are other vowels nearby, a vowels starts and ends the same. English speakers tend to pronounce vowels as in English:
“o” become “ou”, “a” become “ei” and so on.

Sometimes even otherwise good speakers are recognizable by their wobbly vowels.

About the tonic accent not being written: I agree it would be helpful to write it always, as in Spanish, but the rule is that it is mandatory only when it falls on the last syllable.

Most words have their tonic accent to the penultimate syllable, so if there is no accent mark, it is probably on the second-to-last syllable. Although it is not so rare to have it on the third-to-last and fourth-to last; I am afraid you’ll have to look the word up in a dictionary to check it.


@mike-lima You’re so right about vowels. Our singing group recently added “Signore delle Cime” to its summer concert and even after much nagging by our leader, “Dio del cielo” still came out as “Diow del caylow”. We sounded good though, so all was not lost;-)