ACCENT in ITALIAN: Tonic and Written – Why & When Should you Use it?

In this lesson we will talk about a very  important and interesting subject, not just for those who are learning Italian as e foreign language, but for native speakers as well! It’s a subject that is usually taught in primary school, but is then left alone because it’s taken for granted. I’m talking about ACCENT! In this lesson we will at all the existing types of accent in Italian and how to use them correctly!

The Italian language and its accents

Some of you may not know this, but italians are the first ones making mistakes when it comes to accents. For this reason it’s very important to know them well and learn to use them properly, if you want to show your competence in Italian.

Accents and where to find them

The first essential rule that everyone should know is that in Italian the accent can only be on vowels (and never on cosonants)

With that being said, we can find two types of accents:

  • tonic accent;
  • graphic accent.

The tonic accent consists in highlighting a specific syllabe, so it’s the accent you CAN HEAR.

The written accent, on the other hand, is the sign you place on the vowel with the accent in a text, so it’s the one you CAN SEE.

Tonic accent

In Italian all the words have a tonic accent, meaning all the words have an accent on a syllabe, while only some have a written accent (specifically, only TRUNCATED words have an accent, meaning only those words in which the accent is at the end, like: perché, caffè, più, già, etc.).

Be careful though! Not all truncated words have a written accent: there are plenty of monsyllabic words (words with only one syllable) with no written accent! That’s the case for all preposizioni semplici (simple prepositions) (di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra) or words like me, te, no, non, etc.

Lastly, I have to say that some truncated words have an apostrophe instead of an accent. In these cases, the apostrophe signs the truncation of a part of the word: some examples are po’ from poco, be’ from bene, va’ from vai, di’ from dici and so on.

Written accent

But let’s go back to the written accent, which can be split into two types as well:

acute (it goes upward, and we find it in words like , perché, affinché, poiché, etcetera; it indicates that the E with the accent is a CLOSED vowel)

grave (it goes downward, we can find it in words like , caffè, è, etcetera; it indicates that the E with the accent is an OPEN vowel)

Anyway, as previously said, every word has a tonic accent, even if it isn’t written. This means that, in order to correctly pronounce Italian words, you have to know where is the accent! And that’s no easy task, because if a word doesn’t have a written accent, there’s no indication on the position of the tonic accent, the only option is to simply know it… or looking for the position in a dictionary!

One accent, many words

In Italian words can be divided into different groups depending on the position of the accent. So we will have:

 Tronche (Truncated)

When the tonic accent is on the last syllable (this is the only case the accent is also written). For example, some truncated words are: caffè, poiché, né…

– Piane 

When tha accent is on the penultimate syllable. For example, piane words are: matita, cartella, divano, gattino, televisione, mattiniero, mai, poi and so on.

– Sdrucciole 

When the accent is on the third last  syllable. For example, some sdrucciole words are: telefono, pirofila, manopola, fabbrica, ciotola, etcetera.

– Bisdrucciole 

When the accent is on the syllable before the third last. There aren’t many bisdrucciole words in Italian, but you’ll probably meet some. For example: edificano, lasciatemelo, telefonami, miagolano, compramelo and so on.

Alike, but not the same

It’s extremely important to point out that the accent, sometimes, allows you to differentiate between two apparently identical words. That’s tha case for:

– PRINCIPI (princes, plurale di principe) vs PRINCIPI (principles, plurale di principio).

– CAPITANO (captain, il comandante della nave) vs CAPITANO (“they happen”, ovvero “succedono”) vs CAPITANÒ (captained, “comandò, diresse”).

In these cases you cane distinguish the words thanks to the different position of the accent. However there are also words that you distinguish because of the presence of either an acute or a grave accent, on the same syllable. For example:

– PÈSCA (open E, meaning peach) vs PÉSCA (closed E, meaning fishing).

BÒTTE (open O, meaning hits or strikes in a beating) vs BÓTTE (closed O, meaning barrel).

Truth be told,, these words aren’t always pronounced with an open or closed E or O, as they should. I some Italian regions there is no difference between the words, so you have to guess the meaning from the context, like in a written text! Furthermore, we did use E and O with accent, but don’t let this trick you: we only used them to show you the difference, but noormally the accent isn’t written, because they are not truncated words.

Lastly, and this is the end, you put the accent on some words to distinguish them from others that otherwise would be the same: for example “dà” (he/she/it gives), third person singular of the present indicative of the verb dare (to give), on which you put an accent to differentiate it from the simple preposition “da” (from).

As you’ve seen, in Italian the accent is very important and it can be on any syllable in the word. So it’s very important to remember the correct position of the accent, so that you’ll never mispronounce a word.

Now that you know everything about accents, why don’t you improve your Italian vocabulary and stop constantly saying “DAVVERO“? We made a video in which we preset you all the alternatives: don’t miss it!

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

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