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Words from Italian

English vocabulary owes Italian a big debt in two categories that provide a lot of enjoyment for many people: music and food. During the 17th century, when the idea first started catching on of giving some instructions to performers of musical scores, many of the important composers were Italian—and it was natural for them to use their own language. The result is that the standard terms for musical expression today are Italian. Many Italian food terms made their way into American English particularly as a result of 19th-century immigration, but chances are we might have adopted them anyway: Who doesn't like Italian food?

Now You Try

Officially, Italian uses only 21 of the 26 letters in the Roman alphabet. The letters it doesn't use (j, k, w, x, and y) do appear in Italian books and newspapers—but usually only to spell foreign words. Young Italians think it's cool to use these foreign letters, so they may eventually be accepted into the language. But for now, official Italian finds other ways to spell the sounds we normally associate with these letters. In light of that information, see if you can answer these puzzlers!

  1. 1. One word on the list of Challenge Words has a \w\ sound. How is it spelled?

    That's Correct! The \w\ sound is spelled u in segue.

  2. 2. One of the sounds we normally associate with j appears in a word on the Challenge Words list. What letter is used to spell it?

    That's correct! A sound we associate with j is spelled with g in adagio.

  3. 3. The Italian word from which we get cavalry is cavalleria. The Italian word from which we get balcony is balcone. Why do you think these words ended up with a y on the end in English?

    The reason is probably simply that many words in English, representing all parts of speech, end with y.

  4. 4. Il Messico is the Italian name of a country. What country do you think it is?

    That's Correct! Il Messico is the Italian name for Mexico.

Spelling Tip

Long e (\ē\) at the end of a word from Italian is usually spelled with i as in confetti, graffiti, zucchini, fantoccini, cappelletti, and many other words on the list. In Italian, a final i usually indicates a plural form. This is not always true, however, of Italian words in English.

Spelling Tip

Long o (\ō\) at the end of an Italian word is spelled with o as in incognito, stucco, virtuoso, concerto, prosciutto, pizzicato, vibrato and many other words on the list.

Spelling Tip

A long e sound (\ē\) at the end of a word from Italian can be spelled with e as in provolone, finale, and one pronunciation of vivace, although this spelling of the sound is less common than i.

Spelling Tip

The \sh\ sound has various spellings in words from Italian; a spelling it usually doesn't have is sh! It can be spelled sc as in crescendo and prosciutto or ch as in charlatan and pistachio. The spelling of the \sh\ sound in capricious is also seen in words that come from Latin—the ancestral language of Italian.

Spelling Tip

The \k\ sound can be spelled cc when it comes before long o (\ō\) as in stucco or when it comes before \\ as in staccato.

Spelling Tip

Another Italian spelling of \k\ is ch as in scherzo.

Spelling Tip

The sound \ē-nē\, common at the end of Italian words (it forms diminutives), is usually spelled ini (as in zucchini and fantoccini).

Spelling Tip

The double consonant zz is typically pronounced \ts\ in words from Italian, as in paparazzo, mozzarella, pizzicato, and one pronunciation of piazza.