Word stress in Italian can be a source of confusion for novice students of this Romance language, especially if they come from an Anglophone background. Nevertheless, it is an essential aspect to master in order to be able to speak correctly and have rewarding conversations that are free from misunderstandings.
First of all, it is important to mention that the vowel, syllable or diphthong that is stressed will be pronounced louder and a bit longer than the rest of the word. To achieve, this you can imagine that the stressed syllable lasts twice as long. It is important to accentuate words correctly, since the same written word can sometimes have a different meaning when stressed differently.
Syllables are counted from the end of the word for improved clarity of this guide. In Italian, word stress most commonly falls on the second or third to last syllable. However, there are also some words that are stressed on the last syllable or on the fourth to last.
Words that are stressed on the last syllable are called “parole tronche” and they always carry a grave accent on the respective vowel. Some examples of such words are: città (city), lunedì (Monday), gioventù (youth), università (university), virtù (virtue), età (age), eternità (eternity), sarò (I will be), etc.
Words that are accentuated on the second to last syllable are called “parole piane” and are the most common ones in the Italian language. The stress is usually not graphically indicated in this case. Some examples include: ragazzo (boy), carta (letter), appendice (appendix), matita (pencil), Italia (Italy), vacanza (holiday), settimana (week), prudenti (cautious), etc.
Words that are stressed on the third to last syllable are called “parole sdrucciole” and are also very frequent in Italian. Some common examples are: zucchero (sugar), pallido (pale), antipatico (obnoxious), macchina (machine), sandalo (sandal), ecchimosi (bruise), arista (chine of pork) etc.
Finally, words that are stressed on the fourth to last syllable are called “parole bisdrucciole” and are quite rare. These are usually verbs that have absorbed a pronoun after being conjugated. Some examples are: lasciatemeli (leave it to me), ringraziare (to thank), scrivimelo (write it to me), capitano (captain), abitano (I inhabit), diteglielo (tell it to him/her) etc.
While word stress may not seem like a major issue affecting comprehension, if not properly mastered, it can easily become a source of unnecessary embarrassment when interacting with native speakers. Being aware of how different words are accentuated correctly is therefore a crucial part of becoming fluent speaker of Italian.