One of the main problems for those who study the Italian language is the correct use of double consonants. It is not always easy, also because in Italian the sound can change depending on the dialect! And you? Do you know how to recognize when to use the doubles?
DOUBLE CONSONANT in ITALIAN
First of all, to recognize whether a consonant doubles or not, it takes time, exercise and “a lot of ear”. So, unless you see a word in writing, you will need to talk and listen a lot!
Unfortunately, there is no precise rule that establishes when a consonant must double. But there are a number of rules that can help you avoiding the most frequent mistakes. Let’s see them together!
1. Words with prefixes
When a word is composed of a prefix, plus a word of complete meaning (that is, that makes sense as a single word), the initial consonant of the latter doubles.
Conjunctions e, ne, se, o:
e+pure = eppure (yet)
ne+meno = nemmeno (not even)
ne+pure = neppure (not even)
se+care = seccare (to dry)
se+bene = sebbene (though)
se+tanta = settanta (seventy)
o+vero = ovvero (that is)
Prepositions a, da, fra, su:
a+prendere = apprendere (to learn)
a+rendere = arrendere (to surrender)
a+salire = assalire (to assault)
da+prima = dapprima (initially)
da+bene = dabbene (decent)
fra+tempo = frattempo (meanwhile)
fra+mento = frammento (fragment)
su+cedere = succedere (to happen)
su+porto = supporto (support)
su+dito = suddito (subject)
Adverbs là, più, sì, così:
la+giù = laggiù (over there)
la+su = lassù (up there)
così+detto = cosiddetto (so called)
Prefixes sopra, sovra, contra, ra
sopra+nome = soprannome (nickname)
sopra+tutto = soprattutto (above all)
sovra+carico = sovraccarico (overloaded)
contra+dire = contraddire (to contradict)
contra+passo = contrappasso (retaliation)
contra+bando = contrabbando (smuggling)
ra+cogliere = raccogliere (to collect)
ra+presentare = rappresentare (to represent)
2. The suffix “iere”
The words that end in “iere” always want the double “z” (which normally does not double).
Ex: corazziere (cuirassier), tappezziere (upholsterer), biscazziere (gambler).
So far it all seems pretty simple, right? But now let’s see when to NOT use the doubles!
3. Do not double
- the consonant b of the suffix a / e / i-bile.
Ex: incredibile (incredible), adorabile (adorable), indelebile (indelible).
- the c in front of vowel u + other vowel, a part from the exception of the word taccuino (notebook)!
Ex: acuire. (to increase)
- the g and the z followed by -ione.
Ex: stagione (season), colazione (breakfast)
- the words containing -zia, -zio e -zie, a part from the exceptions: pazzia (folly), razzia (looting).
Ex: egiziano (Egyptian), pazienza (patience), spazioso (spacious).
- compound words when preceded by the prefixes prefissi contro, sotto e tra.
Ex: controvoglia (reluctantly), sottovoce (quietly), trascorrere (to spend).
- the compound words in which the second word begins with s + consonant.
Ex: sovra+stare = sovrastare (to overpower), contra+stare = contrastare (to contrast)
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Yes, there are so many rules to remember. So maybe you’re wondering: why ever worry so much about one more or less consonant?
Well, the answer is that doubles are really important, because they often completely change the meaning of a word! Any examples?
Nono (ninth) – nonno (grandpa)
Pala (shovel) – palla (ball)
Caro (expensive) – carro (wagon)
Tono (tone) – tonno (tuna)
Rosa (rose) – rossa (red)
Casa (house) – cassa (case)
Mese (month) – messe (harvest)
Sono (I am) – sonno (sleep)
Coro (chorus) – corro (I run)
So when there is a double consonant, remember to mark it with more emphasis in the pronunciation, in order to not create misunderstandings!
Now, to do some training, here’s an exercise!
Can you find all the mistakes in the nursery rhyme?
Nella stalla della nona
c’è una muca con la gonna
c’è un vitello col capello
ed un toro col mantelo.
Nel polaio di zia Lietta
tre galline in bicicleta
e poi un’oca col tachino
che si allenano un pocchino,
mentre atorno a casa mia
c’è soltanto fantasia
per cantare più felici
per giocare con gli amici.
And, if you really want to make sure you understood everything about this lesson, we have created a test on the Italian doubles which you can take for free!