Main IndexItalian ResourcesPart A: Pronunciation Guide

Pronunciation 7 - The Letters S and Z

The Letter Z

The letter z has two possible pronunciations: a voiced pronunciation and an unvoiced pronunciation. The voiced pronunciation sounds like the English combination dz and the unvoiced pronunciation sounds like the English combination ts.

Normally the voiced pronunciation occurs at the beginning of a word and the unvoiced pronunciation occurs in the middle of a word, as in the following examples.


 voiced z unvoiced z unvoiced z
zerograziepizza
zonasenzacanzone
zoosilenziodistanza
zainoalzarecalzino
zebramarzoforza

However there are many exceptions, so generally you’ll need to learn the correct pronunciation of each word individually.


 unvoiced z voiced z
zioazzurro
zuppapranzo
zuccherobenzina
zampabarzelletta

When the letter z appears between two vowels, whether it is voiced or unvoiced, it is always pronounced as though it were a doubled consonant. In other words, the preceding vowel is short and the consonant itself is elongated (see Lesson 3). It follows, therefore, that a single z and a double z have exactly the same pronunciation - in this regard the letter z is unlike all the other Italian consonants.


 single z double z
azioneragazzo
direzionealtezza
spaziotazze
aziendamezzo

The Letter S

Like the letter z, the letter s has two possible pronunciations: a voiced pronunciation and an unvoiced pronunciation. The voiced pronunciation sounds like the English s in rose. The unvoiced pronunciation sounds like the English s in base.

When the letter s comes before another consonant, it’s pronunciation depends on that other consonant. The s is voiced if it comes before a voiced consonant (b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v) and it is unvoiced if it comes before an unvoiced consonant (c, f, k, p, q, t).


 voiced s unvoiced s
sbaglioscuro
sdraiotasca
disgraziasfera
traslocoeskimo
turismoaspetto
bisnonnosqualo
sregolatostoria
svegliaposto

When a single s appears between two vowels it can be either voiced or unvoiced. Unfortuately there is no way to work out the correct pronunciation from the spelling so you’ll need to learn the pronunciation for each individual word.


 voiced s unvoiced s
lasagnecasa
vasonaso
esattopesante
chiesadifesa
franceseinglese
disagiorisata
visoriso
rosacosa
usochiuso

In all other situations, s is unvoiced.


 unvoiced s unvoiced s unvoiced s
sanoclassegas
setepersonagratis
similepensoananas
solefalsoautobus
sugopsicologochips

Exercise

The following exercise contains all the example Italian words from this lesson.

Main IndexItalian ResourcesPart A: Pronunciation GuidePronunciation 7 - The Letters S and Z