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The Italian Alphabet

The Italian alphabet (l'alfabeto) is based on the Latin alphabet, however, J, K, W, X and Y are not considered part of the contemporary Italian alphabet. These five letters have spelling substitutes. In Italian, "gi" represents "j", "c" or "ch" replaces "k", "u" or "v" alternates for "w", "s" or "ss" or "cs" takes the place of "x" and "i" is in lieu of "y". These letters may be found in commonly used words borrowed from other languages.

The Italian writing system has five vowels: a, e, i, o and u. All the vowels, with the exception of "a" have two sound values. "U" can also be pronounced as a "w" in some words. Pronunciation of vowels is distinct. They are not slurred. Genuine Italian words end in a vowel. If a word contains two paired vowels, the vowels are clearly articulated, with exception of "i" when it is followed by an "a", "o", "e" and "u".

A grave accent, for example, "è", indicates stress is to be placed on the final vowel of a word. The grave accent also indicates a front mid-open vowel. The acute accent, i.e." é", signifies a front mid-closed vowel. An "o" with a grave accent is not commonly found in Italian. The circumflex accent is rarely used, as it is considered old-fashioned.

Italian words do not begin with double consonants, i.e. "cc". If a word contains a double consonant, both consonants are pronounced audibly. The double consonant either augments an explosive consonant or extends a fricative consonant. Every consonant in the Italian alphabet can double with exception of "q".

The consonant "h" does not have a sound value in the Italian language and is usually silent. As well, it is not pronounced in the digraphs "ch" and "gh". A voiced "s" is never doubled and "ss" is never singular. The "s" and "ss" are always situated between two vowels. The voiced "s" can be pronounced with a "z" sound. A "z" can be either voiced or voiceless, depending on the frame of reference. The "r" can be articulated with a trill.

Italian has several digraphs. Commonly found digraphs are: "ch", pronounced "key", "sc" before an "e" or "i", pronounced "sh"; "gh" before an "e" or "i", pronounced as a hard "g"; "gli", pronounced as a double "ll"; "gn", pronounced as "nyoh"; and "sch", which is only found before an "e" or "I", pronounced "sk".

The next to last syllable in Italian words is usually stressed, except when an accent is placed to distinguish words with potentially more than one meaning. Accents are not always noted, which can render pronunciation uncertain. Three syllable words are rare.

Italian writing uses capital letters for proper names, commencement of sentences, personal and possessive pronouns and to specify events in Italian history.

Italian is a phonetic language spoken softly. The voice drops at the end of a sentence and rises for a question. Its sound values are distinct from other languages that share the Latin alphabet.