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Are Accents Important?

Some of you may already have begun experimenting with the new Scribe game. Although Italian is relatively easy to pronounce and spell, there are a few typical stumbling blocks. Let's talk about one in particular.

 

Let's say you are playing Scribe. You feel like you've have written all the words correctly but the game doesn't let you go on to the next caption. It can be quite frustrating.

 

This often happens because you have neglected to insert an accent.

 

In English, we are not used to writing accents, but in Italian, it’s something we have to pay attention to whether we're playing Scribe or not. Be patient with yourselves. It's just something you have to learn little by little.

 

So where do we usually find these accents? If we know a bit more about them, we can be prepared for them in the Scribe game and elsewhere, so let's have a look.

 

Perhaps the most frequent error is the accent on the i of  (yes). It certainly sounds about the same with or without the accent, and it’s not always easy to see. But if we omit the accent when writing, we can mean any number of other things, from the note si (B), to the personal pronoun si (himself/herself/itself). In the following example, the si with no accent is part of the reflexive verb allontanarsi (to leave).

, non era la prima volta che Giada si allontanava di casa senza avvertirmi.
Yes, it wasn't the first time Giada left home without letting me know.
Caption 49, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un morto di troppo Ep. 10 - Part 3 

 

In two-syllable words, the accent usually falls on the first syllable, so when that is not the case, there will generally be an accent on the second syllable to let us know.

 

Let’s take the word però (however, but). The accent is there to signal that the accent falls on the second syllable, a departure from the basic rule about accenting the first syllable. The accented version of the word però is the one you’ll usually see because it’s such a common word.

Sembra banale, però mi aiuta.
It seems banal, but it helps me.
Caption 25, Amiche: Filosofie

Però is one word you’ll use often in casual conversation. And with that long ò at the end, you can buy yourself some time while thinking of what to say next.

 

Without the accent, we’re talking about un pero (a pear tree)! Note that names of fruit trees frequently end in o (with no accent) whereas the fruit itself ends in a, like la pera (the pear), la mela (the apple), la ciliegia' (the cherry). proposito (speaking of which), Marika explains this here and here.

 

We also have to pay attention to which way an accent is facing, but fortunately, this applies primarily to accents on “e.” On “o,” “ a,” “i,” and “u,”  the accent is almost always “grave,” meaning down-facing from left to right. One of the most basic accents to remember is the grave accent on è, the third person conjugation of the basic verb essere (to be). This particular conjugation is extremely commonbut for foreign ears, can easily be confused with e with no accent. Hearing and pronouncing the difference between e (and) and è (to be) is one thing, but writing it is another, so Scribe is a great chance to assimilate this aspect of Italian spelling.

 

Another important word that has an accent is perché (because, why). This is an acute or upward facing accent from left to right, which indicates a closed e. However you pronounce the é in perché, people will usually understand you, but if you’re writing, you need to get it right. Think of perché in its question form: why. The accent goes up (to the right), just like the inflection of a question.

 

The other place accents crop up is in the future tense. There will usually be an accent on the last vowel of the word in the first and third person singular. Let’s look at the irregular but very common verb venire (to come).

lui/lei verrà (he/she/it will come)
io verrò (I will come)

the verb andare (to go):

io andrò  (I will go)
lui/lei andrà (he/she/it will go)

And essere (to be):

io sarò (I will be)
lui/lei sarà (he/she/it will be)

 

Be on the lookout for these accents when playing Scribe and when watching videos in general. You'll start to recognize them and become more comfortable with them sooner than you think. 

See part 2 of this lesson here.

 

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