Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Silent I in Italian Words with Soft C and G

Animal names showing hard and soft C and G sounds
Animal names showing hard and soft C and G sounds

I was reading the book Parlare Scrivere Comunicare Meglio (2010) by Roberto Tresoldi and had an ah-ha moment about how the pronounciation of some Italian words. (Yeah, every so often reading a grammar book can be fun.) In the book, I saw this section about how the letter I works in front of C and G. Later that evening, I went to say something about the sky (cielo) and pronounced the I as in “ci – el – o" and it should be “cie – lo”. An Italian friend cringed and corrected me. How could I’ve have been so wrong for so long?

I’ve always had this nagging doubt about whether to pronounce the I in some words, in particular those where the letter I follows C and G. In short, you don’t pronounce the I if it follows C or G.

It's all albout understanding why the I is used and that is to soften the C or G sound. 

Soft C and G

  • cesto, gesto, circolo, ceci
  • gelato, giro, giglio
  • NOTE 1: Add I to soften, but the I is not pronounced.
    • cialtrone, ciocca, ciurma, ceci, ciao, ciò, ciuco
    • giostra, gioco, giacca, giù, giuramento
Hard C and G
  • cane, cosa, culla, crisi, cacao, cucù, cocco
  • gatto, goccia, guerra, gusto, gas
  • choc, frac (hard at the end of words with exceptions)
  • NOTE 2: Add H to harden the sound when C and G followed by E or I.
    • chi, che, parcheggio
    • ghianda, ghetto, ghiro

NOTE 1: This was where the ah-ha moment happened. The letter I in these words is not pronounced. Using the letter “I” indicates that the C or G is softened when C and G are followed by A, O, or U.

C and G followed by E are already softened by the letter E so the letter I is not needed. Of course, there are exceptions, see NOTE 3.

NOTE 2: To harden a C and G followed by the letter E or I, add the letter H.

NOTE 3: Exceptions where the letter I appears after C or G but still is not pronounced:
  • Words with a Latin origin: efficienza, effigie, igiene, superficie, specie and derived words.
  • Subjects that end in IERA or IERE: crociera, paciere, raggiera, pasticciera.
  • The words: cielo and cieco.
  • Plural of nouns ending in CIA: cieliega/ciliegie, camicia/camicie, valigia/valigie.
  • Plural of nouns ending in CÌA or GÌA (last syllable stressed): farmacia/farmacie, bugia/bugie.
What I wrote above is simplification because we just talk about hard and soft sounds and it’s a little more complex thatn that. But it should be enough to get you thinking about it. Here are some more resources: C dolce, G dolce, C dura, G dura, International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), Voiceless velar plosive (hard), Voiced alveolo-palatal affricate (soft).

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