Italian Pronunciation Challenge: C / CH / CC

Although Italian has gained the reputation of being a “phonetic language” – meaning that there is a direct relationship between the spelling and sounds – there are a few pesky letters that aren’t always pronounced in the same way. One such letter is C.

In today’s article, we’re going to discover the different ways in which the letter C can be pronounced in Italian. Let’s dive straight in! 🙂

italian pronunciation of c ch cc

The first important rule about the letter C in Italian is that it represents two distinct phonemes in Italian, or in other words, it can be pronounced as a hard or soft sound.

Hard C

IPA symbol: /k/

In Italian, the hard C, which sounds just like the C in car or the K in kite, can be represented by the letters C or CH depending on the vowel that follows. C is used before the vowels A, O and U, while CH appears before the vowels E and I.

  • C + A: casa (house), oca (goose)
  • C + O: cosa (thing), bianco (white)
  • C + U: cucina (kitchen), cucù (cuckoo clock)
  • CH + E: anche (also), bruschetta (bruschetta)
  • CH + I: chilo (kilo), chimico (chemical)

Casa – Cosa – Cucina – Anche – Chilo


Be aware that if CH + I is followed by another vowel, such as O or A, and they are contained within the same syllable, the letter I becomes a [j] sound, similar to the letter Y in “yes”. For example:

  • the CHIO in chiodo (nail) is pronounced KYO, not KEE-OH
  • the CHIA in macchia (stain) is pronounced KYA, not KEE-AH

Chiodo – Macchia


If CHI and the following vowel aren’t contained within the same syllable (i.e. anarchia – AN-AR-CHI-A), they are pronounced separately.

If C is followed by another consonant, namely R or L, it is always hard. For example:

CrescitaClienteClimaCroce

Growth – Client – Climate – Cross


cozy modern kitchen with served table and chairs
Una bella cucina in una bella casa. = A beautiful kitchen in a beautiful house.

Soft C

IPA symbol: /tʃ/

The Italian soft C is represented by a C followed by an E or an I. It sounds exactly like the English CH, as in the words child or chess.

  • C + E: cena (dinner), oceano (ocean)
  • C + I: cigno (swan), acido (acid)

Cena – Oceano – Cigno – Acido


If C + I is followed by another vowel, such as O or A, and they are contained within the same syllable, the letter I becomes silent. For example:

  • the CIO in micio (cat) is pronounced like the CHO in “chosen” (not CHI-OH)
  • the CIA in pancia (tummy) is pronounced like the CHA in “chance” (not CHI-AH)

Micio – Pancia


If CI and the following vowel aren’t contained within the same syllable (e.g. farmacia – FAR-MA-CI-A), they are pronounced separately.

Cute little kitten sleeping on soft bed.
Il micio dorme con la pancia all’insù. = The kitten sleeps with his tummy facing upwards.

Double CC

Sometimes you will encounter words that contain a double CC. To pronounce this double consonant, all you have to do is hold the C a bit longer than you normally would, almost as if you were taking a very brief pause before finishing the word. Have a listen to the examples below:

CucciaCucchiaioMacchinaAccipicchia!

Dog basket – Spoon – Car/Machine – Gosh!


Beautiful modern cars at luxury dealership salon
Accipicchia che belle macchine! = Wow, what beautiful cars!

What about SC words?

The presence of an S before the letter C can influence its pronunciation. More precisely, if S comes before the soft CI or CE, the pronunciation of SC becomes [ʃ] like the SH in the English word “sheep”.

Scienza – Pesci – Scegliere – Scena

Science – Fish – To choose – Scene


If SHI and the following vowel are contained within the same syllable, then the I becomes silent (e.g. sciarpa – SHAR-PA). If they aren’t, the I is clearly pronounced (e.g. sciare – SCI-A-RE).

Sciarpa – Sciare

Scarf – To ski


Loanwords with C

The pronunciation of loanwords, or words adopted from another foreign language, can vary in Italian. More often than not, however, the original pronunciation of the C is preserved, as in the case of the French imports cyclette and chic, and the English check-in and chewing gum.


Sign up for a free trial of LingQ (affiliate link), the app I use to improve my Italian vocabulary, and receive an additional 100 LingQs which can be used before needing to upgrade!

Read our full review of LingQ and find out why we love it so much!


Leave a Comment