Rules about the Italian Z.

One of my friends name is Ezio. He pronounces it Eh-ts-io. (He is Italian, so i am imagine he is saying it correct;) But i am confused about the z in Italian. In a word like Dizionario the z is silent, right? But when it is doubled like in pizza it sounds like a Ts. So what are the rules about the Z? And why does his name, even though the z is not doubled, sound like a Ts? Thanks.

April 17, 2019


Unfortunately there are no fixed rules for predicting whether z in a word is unvoiced (/ts/) or voiced (/ds/).
The guidelines provided by some grammars and some diction courses (see links below) are complicated and full of exceptions, so I recommend to learn the sound of the z when learning a new word (a good dictionary should indicate the correct pronunciation).

In the -anza and -enza endings of words like speranza, importanza, distanza, scienza, coerenza, pazienza, etc. the z is always unvoiced.

In words that begin with z, when the third letter is a voiced consonant ("b", "d", "g", "l", "m", "n", "r", "v"), also z is always voiced, as in zebra, zona, zero.
In other cases the pronunciation varies, but in some words z can be pronounced in both ways, e.g. zucchero (either /tsukkero/ or /dsukkero/), zio (/tsio/ or /dsio/), zucca (/tsukka/ or /dsukka/).

When the z is double, it is unvoiced (/tts/) in a majority of cases, as in pizza, pezzo, tazza, pozzo, as well as in the -ezza ending of words like altezza, lunghezza, bellezza, etc.
Instead in other words it sounds like a voiced double z (/dds/), e.g. mezzo, razzo, rozzo.

Several verbs end with -zzare, but the vowel that comes immediately before makes a difference.
In the ending -azzare the zz always sounds unvoiced, e.g. ammazzare, schiamazzare, strapazzare, etc.
In the ending -ezzare it varies (carezzare unvoiced; dimezzare voiced; apprezzare unvoiced; battezzare voiced, etc.).
In the ending -izzare it almost always sounds voiced, e.g. analizzare, realizzare, localizzare, normalizzare, with very few exceptions such as rizzare or raddrizzare, unvoiced.

The word razza pronounced with an unvoiced double z means "race" (people belonging to similar ethnic groups), pronounced with a voiced double z it means "ray fish".

April 18, 2019

I guess I'm a bit confused as to the sound of 'voiced' and 'unvoiced'.

Ok, I'll study that subject :

voiced consonants are made by vibrating your vocal chords, while unvoiced consonants do not require any such vibration. An unvoiced “s” is pronounced like “mouse;” a voiced s is pronounced like “dozen”. An unvoiced “z” is pronounced like “pizza;” a voiced “z” is pronounced like “ds” like “pads”.

April 18, 2019

Hey, wow, I'm getting this now!

April 18, 2019

Yes, that's it!

April 18, 2019

Thank you!

April 18, 2019

Good question, Kaysar. Thanks for asking and CivisRomanus, thanks so much for your answer. Snipping a copy of that to add to my notes for future reference.

April 18, 2019

In several parts of the country variant pronunciations of the z can be heard, which depend on the local dialect, whose sounds often affect the pronunciation also when speaking standard Italian.
In Rome and in many parts of the south the z in the common ending -[vowel]zione (e.g. azione, stazione, direzione, promozione, etc.) sounds stronger, as if it were double.
In Emilia-Romagna region the z takes a peculiar sound, which immediately identifies the provenance of a speaker.
In Abruzzo region some unvoiced z's are pronounced as voiced, e.g. calza pronounced /kaldsa/ instead of /kaltsa/.
In all northern regional dialects, most z's turn into s's, but when locals speak standard Italian this change affects their pronunciation much less than the previous changes.

April 18, 2019

In all northern ... Thanks too good Civis :-) In some of our dialects (deep north), the z can also become a h !

April 18, 2019

Excellent point!
I'm not an expert of northern dialects, I just mentioned the common changes that came to my mind. :-)

April 19, 2019

Hello Civis

In all northern regional dialects, most z's turn into s's

I was just going to mention the sound change. From what I remember hearing when I was little, but it was the opposite for Southern. I heard s's turn into z's, and C's turning into G's. so house - casa would sound like the hard g in garden + za like in pizza, gah-zah. And sometimes the C kept the kha sound in other words. dice sounding like di-shay or di-shhh. come sounding like english words go + may. Capicollo - gaba-gool (or ghoul). Capisci - ah Ga-pee-shh. R's being left out completely from the words Sempre (sounded like semba), and Perché. Cosa sounding like english go + za, like the za in pizza. T into D. O's sounding like U. Just a small amount of things I remember of napulitano over here.

With so many Italians from different regions coming over here (America), and huddling together (as a security blanket), it was very mixed. At one house I would hear "trill your r's!", and at a different one... "don't trill". Was quite confusing at the time, haha.

April 18, 2019

I heard s's turning into z's

Voicing consonants that are usually unvoiced (mostly P and T), especially when they follow L, M, N (e.g. ponte pronounced as "pondə", simpatico pronounced "simbadichə", etc.) is a common southern trait, which is difficult to localise precisely, as it spans across the many dialects belonging to the lingua napoletana (but not the lingua siciliana dialects).
Also the sound of s can sometimes change, but never into z (an Italian z), because this would mean adding either a "t" or a "d" before this sound.

casa would sound like gaza

"gaza" (with this spelling) would sound either like "gatsa" or "gadsa".

April 19, 2019

My mistake. I just went and cleaned it up (tried to). Explaining sounds... non è il mio forte : )

April 19, 2019

You probably spelt "gaza" with an English "z". That would correspond to "gasa", which is how it is pronounced.

April 20, 2019

I'm interested, but cannot help much.

I thought it was always a 'ts' or even 'tz' sound. When you get a double consonant you just pronounce it more.

Perhaps before an 'i' it's different, but I have no idea. I'll be waiting for an answer to your question too :)

April 18, 2019
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