Better spelling—English letter combinations that don’t exist in Italian

Never say never; someone will come up with an exception to almost any broad statement like this one.
But there are certain letter combinations that just don’t happen in Italian.

Part of this is due to the fact that there are fewer letters in the Italian alphabet. Have you noticed that the letter “K” on your keyboard is rather ignored while you are on Duolingo?
Italians have the sound of the letter K but not the letter itself. CH will do the trick for them.
An English word with a K in it will often be changed to the letter G (lake = lago) or just a whole other “new” word exists for it (cake = torta; make = fare).

Likewise the letter X. Not seen in the daily Italian vocabulary.
When you see an X in an English word, it is going to be replaced by the letter S in the Italian one:
Example = Esempio. Exercize = Esercizio.

Speaking of tricks, you’re never going to to see the the fairly common English combination of CK in an Italian vocabulary. Most of the time there wil be an entirely different word for English equivalents. Duck =Anatra. Back = Schiena. Quick = Veloce.

That isn’t the case for other combinations of letters, though. You’ve already figured out that the English “tion” ending is simply changed to “zione” in Italian, right?
Combination = Combinazione

You’ve likely also been able to adapt to English words with PH in them. Turn them into an F and keep going as normal.
“telefono”; “elefante”; “filosofia”

The combination of CT is an interesting one. The C normally gets dropped and it is often changed into a second T (October = ottobre; doctor = dottore; actor = attore).
In other cases, when CT leads into a “TION” word—such as friCTION, or aCTION, or produCTION—then the rule about swapping the T for a Z takes precedence.
“frizione”, “azione”, “produzione”.
I can’t think of an Italian word that leaves the C and T together.

Then there are several 3-consonant combinations in English that will get changed up.
Italians seem to be fine with SCR or SCH or STR (e.g. “scrive” or “schermo” or “straniera”) but for some reason they won’t use NST.
English words like “institute” or “instruction” always have the letter N removed from them in Italian. They use “isitute” or “istruzione”.

So an English word like “construction” has a couple of issues to an Italian speaker. The STR would be fine if it didn’t also include the N leading it in, so they drop the N, and also change “TION” to “ZIONE” and “coNSTruCTion” becomes “costruzione”.
Notice that it really is the full NST combination that makes the difference; they will use NS (“pensare” or “tenso”) and even CON (“conservare” or “contenere”), so you can’t automatically change CON to COS. Only words with “coNST”.
For that matter, NSP or NSL are not done either. TraNSPort becomes "Trasporto". TraNSLation goes to "Traduzione"!

Add your own examples to the comments, if you’d like to.
What other common English letter combinations have a different Italian way of presentation?

December 13, 2016


Another one I just thought of-- English words ending in BLE.
Always add an I:
Possible = Possibile; Responsible = Responsabile; Desirable = Desiderabile.

December 13, 2016

This is a quality post. thanks for writing

December 13, 2016

Speaking of the NST or NSP clusters, not only these two are never found in Italian words, but any trigraph including a consonant + S + a consonant (except rare compounds formed by the prefix traNS + another word, e.g. traNSGenico ).
Up to some 30-40 years ago, when a preposition ending with a consonant came before a word beginning with S + consonant, a rule provided that an extra 'i' (called a prosthetic 'i') was to be added, in order to avoid the sound of consonant + S + consonant. For instance:

in Spagna → in Ispagna

in Svizzera → in Isvizzera

in specie → in ispecie

per scherzo → per ischerzo

in strada → in istrada

and so on.

In contemporary Italian this rule has been almost completely abandoned, so these spellings would now appear somewhat obsolete. But the prosthetic 'i' still lingers in the expression per iscritto  ('in writing', 'in written form'), which is never spelt per scritto .

December 13, 2016

interessantissimo -ti ringrazio CR.

December 18, 2016

Replying just to say that "these spellings would now appear somewhat obsolete" is an understatement. Using those spelling (or saying them) will only earn you weird looks, like you just came back from the '40s. They are so, so obsolete they're in the anacrhonistic league. As you said, "per iscritto" is the proverbial exception.

December 17, 2016

Knowing a language is not only a matter of speaking, but also of understanding a written text. And in a novel (or any other written source) dating to the first half of the 1900s, or earlier, these words are not a rare finding. If you Google in iscuola  (using quotation marks) you still get some 11,000+ results.
A reader unaware of why the 'i' is there would have to guess the meaning of these words, because no dictionary lists them with an initial 'i'.
Obviously, if the final goal of a learner is to be able to say 'the pen is on the table', or ask the time, there is absolutely no need to worry about these linguistic intricacies.

December 17, 2016

I wholeheartedly agree with you, I hope it's clear that what I meant is: if you want to actively use these expressions now, in 2016, know that you're going to sound outdated and, as I said, anachronistic. Reading them or finding them in any form of media that comes from when it was common to use them, that's another story!

December 17, 2016

w, y, j

December 13, 2016

The vowels: we have so-called long and short sounds, and a few more. When our vowels are long, they are formed by moving the mouth, creating a continuum of sound.

English - long a - Italian equivalent e....i.
Long o - Italian o....u.

When producing Italian vowels, the mouth remains in one position. If you mouth is moving, you definitely have an accent.

Oggi not ouuuuggi.

December 14, 2016

good point, English long form vowels are usually diphthongs

December 18, 2016

Then there are those combos one doesn't find in English such as SV (sviluppo), SB (sbagliata), and SF (sforzo).

December 18, 2016

Wow! U da brain! All your observations? Anyhow: Fun to read! (Do you have more?)

December 14, 2016
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Thank you, very enlightening

December 15, 2016

As an italian speaker i can tell you that this small changes come basically from the different way we pronounce singular letters. using italian rules for reading, a word like "construction" or "transport" will inevitably be horrible to hear and difficult to spell. I personally have to slow down in order to pronounce them properly, or rather pronounce them like separates words (con-struCtion [still bad], trans-port)

January 9, 2017

You are right that X and CT are not 'native' Italian, but you can find them in words stemming from other languages.

A word with X that you will find commonly nowadays is 'xenofobo'; the CT combination, it appear in 'ctonio'. Both words comes from ancient Greek.

In general, you will rarely find three or more consonant in a row because they will destroy the music.

There are some interesting sounds that are not in Italian but in some regional languages/dialects. E.g. Venetian has the SCI that is very peculiar: it sounds S-CI not SC-I (S like in "six" and C like in "church"). There is famous word with that sound: S-CIAO that in Italian drops the initial and now many other languages pronounce simply CIAO.

January 26, 2017

bd > dd (addome)

bj > gg (oggetto)

bs, ps, x > ss (osservare, eclisse, sesso)

bsC, nsC > sC (astratto, istituto)

bt, ct, pt > tt (ottenere, fattura, adatto)

bv, dv > vv (ovvio, avvertire)

ctiV > ziV (azione)

dm > mm (amministrare)

mn > nn (condannare)

mpt, nct > nt (tentare, distinto)

rct > rt (artico)

x (in ex- prefix) > s (esame)

In general Italian syllables can only end in a vowel, l, r, n/m, s, or the same consonant as the next one.

March 4, 2018
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