Main IndexItalian ResourcesPart A: Pronunciation Guide

Pronunciation 4 - Trilled R

The trilled r is undoubtedly the Italian sound that is most foreign to the majority of English speakers. It is nothing like the r in most English accents. It is produced by vibrating the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, just behind the teeth. Here are some Italian words in which this sound stands out.


 ItalianEnglish
burrobutter
ferroiron
guerrawar
sorrisosmile

In normal speech, however, most instances of this sound consist of just a “single” vibration, or rather a single tap of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. This reduced sound is actually heard in some varieties of English as a substitute for a “t” or “d” that’s separated by two vowels, such as in the following English words.


 English Similar Italian SoundMeaning
betterbereto drink
cheddarcerawax
yetiieriyesterday
lottolorothem
powderpaurafear

This single tap is always sufficient for pronouncing a single r (and it is usually preferred), however the full trill is usually required to pronounce a double r. Here are some more examples, showing the r in different positions relative to other letters. This list includes some of the most difficult rs to pronounce in Italian. If you can consistently pronounce all of these words correctly then you have mastered the Italian r.


 ItalianEnglish
ranafrog
risatalaugh
apertoopen
barcaboat
circaapproximately
birrabeer
sdraiodeckchair
nostroour
padrefather
carodear
carrocart
seraevening
serragreenhouse
protrarreto prolong
riprodurreto reproduce
ripercorrereto go over again

Note that in some cases (such as with the words caro, carro, sera and serra in the previous list) the difference between a quick tap and a long trill can change the meaning of a word. This is a special case of the distinction between single and double consonants, which we covered in Lesson 3.

Exercise

The following exercise contains all the example Italian words from this lesson. You should focus on the pronunciation of the rs in each word and not be too concerned about the pronunciation of any sounds that we haven’t covered yet.

Next Lesson: Pronunciation 5 - Soft and Hard C and G

Main IndexItalian ResourcesPart A: Pronunciation GuidePronunciation 4 - Trilled R