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See also: The Italian Language


1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One – Grammar and Spelling

1. Accents: are used on upper case letters. It is incorrect to use apostrophes after vowels to represent accents.

2. Gender: Italian has noun genders, but it does not have cases like Latin or German.

The two genders are feminine and masculine.

As a general rule singular feminine nouns end with the letter a or e and are preceded by the article la or una, e.g. la ditta, la stampante, una ditta, una stampante. There are some exceptions however: moto and Gestapo are both feminine.

Singular masculine nouns normally end with the letter o or e and are preceded by the article il, lo, un, uno, e.g. il libro, il bicchiere, lo zaino, lo scaffale, un bambino, un bicchiere, uno zaino, uno studente. The use of the appropriate article depends on the initial letters of the noun; for example, sc always requires lo.

Plural feminine nouns end with the letter e or i, and are preceded by the article le, e.g. le bambine, le stampanti.

Plural masculine nouns end with the letter i and are preceded by the article gli or i, e.g. gli amici, i bambini.

3. Plurals: plural words normally end with e or i and are preceded by the articles i, gli, le, e.g. i signori, gli amici, le amiche.

4. One-letter words: These include a ('at' or 'to'), e ('and'), è and È ('is', also a capital letter at the start of a sentence), i ('the' - plural), o ('or').

5. Capitalisation: Capital letters in polite forms of address are used as follows: In correspondence, both for the Lei (you) form and the Voi (you) form (Lei if the letter is sent to a specific person, Voi if the letter is sent to an entity or a company): for example '…la Vostra lettera' (your letter), '…per Voi' (for you), '…per porgerVi' (to give you), '…inviarLe' (to send you).

General capitalisation rules: Italian does not use capitals as often as English.

· As a rule, proper names (Carlo, Paolo), town names (Cagliari, Napoli), countries, etc. are written with a capital. A capital letter is always inserted at the beginning of a sentence.
· In headings/titles normally only the first word has a capital letter and the rest of the title is in lower case.
· Days of the week/seasons/months are always in lower case. Words such as English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. which in English are always in upper case, are always written with lower case letter in Italian: inglese, italiano, spagnolo.
· A capital letter is only used in Italian in expressions such as gli

Inglesi, gli Italiani, i Romani, etc. to mean the English people, the Italian people, etc.

Please note: the word paese can mean 'country' OR 'village/town'. To prevent misinterpretation, when the meaning 'country' is intended, Paese within a sentence can be written with a capital 'P'.

Section Two Punctuation

1. Colons and semi-colons: Punctuation is normally the same as in English although, generally speaking, Italian makes less frequent use of colons and semi-colons than English.

2. Speech marks: As in English, the use of « ... » instead of inverted commas is not permitted.

3. Full stops: These are not used at the end of headings and titles. Bullet points do not normally have full stops.

Section Three Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurements: Metric measurements are used throughout, with the rare exception of the following which retain the imperial measurement:

· TV screens and computer monitors which are measured diagonally in pollici (inches)
· inner diameter of pipes and tubes (measured in inches according to the international standard)
· nautical miles
· size of computer discs (measured in inches)

Time: the 24 hr clock is used in Italy and indication of am or pm is therefore unnecessary, e.g.
10 am = ore 10:00
3 pm = ore 15:00
In a written context very often the time follows the word alle, meaning 'at', e.g. alle 10:00, alle 15:00 or even alle quattro.

Date: the date 25/8/04 can be written as:
25 agosto 2004
25 agosto '04
Please note that when the date is, for example, 1st April 2000, in Italian 1° aprile 2000 is used. 1° = primo, 2° = secondo, etc.

Numbers over 999 are separated by a dot: 1.000, 2.233, 145.000.

Decimal: Italian uses a decimal comma.

Square metres and square centimetres are abbreviated both as m² and mq and cm² and cmq, respectively.

A space is normally left between numbers and the measurement abbreviation such as 25 cm, 48 g, 2 bar. However NO space is left before °C: 25°C.

2. Abbreviations:

N/a = n/p (non pertinente) [= not relevant]
No. = N.; n.; N°
e.g. = ad es.; es.; per es.
Q&A = the abbreviation should be D&R, although occasionally it is left as Q&A
WxLxHxD = Lar x Lun x H x Prof (larghezza x lunghezza x altezza x profondità)

All. (allegato) = Enc. (enclosure)
CEE (Comunità economica europea) = EEC
CA (corrente alternata) = Alternate Current
C.A. (cortese attenzione) = 'FAO' in letters
CAP (codice di avviamento postale) = English postcode and American zipcode
c.s. (come sopra) = as above
ecc., etc. = etc.
IVA (imposta valore aggiunto) = V.A.T.
Ns. or ns (nostro) = our
OMS (Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità) = WHO (World Health Organisation)
pag. (pagina) = page
pagg. (pagine) = pages, e.g. from page 4 to page 5 = pagg. 4-5
pag. seg. (seguente) = following page
pagg. segg. (pagine seguenti) = following pages
UE = Unione Europea = EU (European Union)
u.s. = ultimo scorso (as in nella lettera del 15 u.s. = in our letter of the 15th last)
v. (vedi) = see
ved. (vedere) = see
vs. or Vs. = vostro (your)
v.s. (vedi sopra) = see above

Section Four – Hyphenation

Hyphenation is only used to split words over a line.

Words are hyphenated by syllables (a syllable is normally made up of one consonant followed by one or two vowels e.g. 0-ro-lo-gio)

When two similar or different consonants appear, they are split, e.g. il-lu-mina-zione, an-ti-co, stam-pan-te, par-te-ci-pa-zio-ne, cap-pel-lo

The following consonants must not be split: sp, sc, gn, gl, st, ch, gh, q, cq (a-spet-ta-re, di-sco, ci-co-gna, Ca-glia-ri, a-stan-ti)

The following vowels must not be split: ai, io, oi, ie, ia, eo (geo-gra-fia, astro-lo-gia, poi-ché)

In Italian hyphenation is logical and never guessed.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Use of the apostrophe instead of a vowel: for example instead of la altra we say and write l'altra, instead of lo amico we say and write l'amico, instead of dove è we say and write dov'è.

Use of the apostrophe in front of some words which begin with h (h is a silent letter in Italian): for example l'hanno visto.

Double consonants are very common and change the meaning of a word e.g. anno = year, ano = anus

Accented words:

- words which end with an accented a have a grave accent = à
- words which end with an accented u have a grave accent = ù
- words which end with an accented o have a grave accent = ò
- perché, cosicché, affinché, poiché only have acute accents é (never grave)

È should be used instead of E' (the latter is often used by typists who do not know how to call up the symbol or to key in the ASCII character on the keyboard - or lazy ones!).

Use of foreign words in Italian: words such as il computer (the computer) and i computer (computers) are common usage. The same word is used for both singular and plural.

In letters sent to a company, there is generally no equivalent to 'Dear Sirs' in Italian. The subject of the letter is stated first, normally followed by the body text of the letter. Many greener agencies will come back and say that the translation of this term has been missed out or forgotten, not realising that the convention is different in Italian.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

Italian is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the world's languages. As the transmitter of the great culture of the Renaissance, its influence on the other languages of Western Europe has been profound.

Besides being spoken in Italy, it is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, and is also widely spoken in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. All told there are about 60 million speakers of Italian. Italian is one of the Romance languages, and has remained closer to the original Latin than any of the others. Its dialects, however, vary tremendously, often to the point where communication becomes a problem.

Italian is spoken/used in the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Holy See (Vatican City), Italy, Monaco (Principality of), San Marino, Slovenia, Somalia, Switzerland, United States of America.

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Romance

Source: - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a à [0224] A À [0192]
b B
c C
d D
e è [0232] é [0233] E È [0200] É [0201]
f F
g G
h H
i ì [0236] î [0238] í [0237] I Ì [0204] Î [0206] Í [0205]
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
o ò [0242] ó [0243] O Ò [0210] Ó [0211]
p P
q Q
r R
s S
t T
u ù [0249] ú [0250] U Ù [0217] Ú [0218]
v V
w W
x X
y Y
z Z


The Italian Language

By Richard Brooks,
General Manager,
*K International plc*


Where is Italian spoken?

From a linguistic viewpoint Italian belongs to the group of Romance or Neo-latin languages, together which includes French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. It is spoken mainly in Italy, but it is also one of the four official languages in Switzerland, in the Ticino and Grigioni Cantons, also known as Italian Switzerland. It is also the official language of Vatican City, San Marino and some areas of Slovenia, Croatia and Albania. In Brazil, it is the second official language of Villa Veha and Santa Teresa, and is also spoken in the former Italian colonies in Africa, such as Libya, Somalia and Eritrea and also within the immigrants’ communities in the United States, Canada, Australia and Latin America.

Early days of Italian…

Coliseum photoDespite its halo of poesy and refinement, the Italian language finds its cradle on the lips of common people. It has such a long and complex history, where different cultures and populations made their contribution to the development of a language that still today is one of the most intricate and fascinating ones.

Like all romance languages it has its roots in the Latin language, which was the official language of the Roman Empire. Close to classical Latin which was the language of literature, the one used by Lucretius, Catullus, Ovid, Julius Caesar and Cicero, there was the Latin of common people, so-called Vulgar. This is an umbrella term covering all dialects as well as geographical and social variations of the language spoken by the people.

Among the most important influences worth mentioning are the pre-italic languages such as Osco-Umbrian, Etruscan and Greek, from which most of the scientific, philosophical and medical vocabulary is derived. An interesting example of this is the word tribolo which is a Graecism introduced by Christianity, which initially referred to a spiky plant. t then came to be used in everyday language with the meaning of physical and psychological sorrow. Later influences came from the barbarian populations, mainly from Longobards, with words such as palla, balcone, panca, bosco, foresta, guerra, stambecco, schiena.

Official Italian Language

The first official document ever written into Italian belongs to a series of four documents written between 960 and 963 known as the Placito Capuano. It is an official court proceeding relating to a quarrel where the monks from Montecassino monastery were reclaiming their land from a local feudatory.

Although this is considered the first official text in Italian, there is another fragment which dates back as early as 9th century, which is known as Indovinello Veronese (Veronese Riddle), written by a catholic monk from Verona.

Se pareba boves

alba pratalia araba

albo versorio teneba

negro semen seminaba

(In front of him he led cows

white fields he ploughed

a white plough he held

a black seed he sowed)

The explanation is quite interesting. “Him” is the person who is writing, cows symbolise his fingers drawing a quill (the white plow) on a white paper (white fields), leaving black ink marks (black seed). The verse is then a metaphor for the act of writing and it is related to the monks’ activity of copying old manuscripts.

…Straight from the heart

Italian art pictureThe roots of Italian literature date back to the 13th century in Sicily and a number of writers who belonged to the court of Frederick II. They drew inspiration from the troubadour poetry in Langue d’Oc from the south of France and they produced more than three-hundred poems chiefly dealing with courtly love.

Influenced by both Tuscan and Sicilian poetry, the most important literary movement of 13th century is the well-known Dolce Stil Novo, whose main poets are Guinizzelli, Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri. The Dolce Stil Novo is characterised by a superior quality and a more intellectual style than the previous literary movements, and the female beauty is refinedly depicted through the use of metaphors and symbolisms.

Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare

la donna mia quand’ella altrui saluta,

ch’ogne lingua deven tremando muta,

e li occhi no l’ardiscon di guardare

Ella si va, sentendosi laudare,

benignamente d’umiltà vestuta;

e par che sia una cosa venuta

da cielo in terra a miracol mostrare

(Such sweet decorum and such gentle grace

attend my lady’s greeting as she moves

that lips can only tremble into silence,

and eyes dare not attempt to gaze at her.

Moving benignly, clothed in humility,

untouched by all the praise along her way,

she seems to be a creature come from Heaven

to earth, to manifest a miracle.)

Thanks to the works of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Boccaccio, the Florentine dialect reached the status of official literary language and it soon became the official national language.


About the author

K International are a leading translation company specializing in providing language translation, interpreting and design solutions to some of the world’s largest organizations.

(URL of original article:

Published - November 2008

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