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Pronunciation tips for the letter E

In a previous lesson, we looked at the vowel, A. In this lesson, we'll focus on the vowel, E. 


We'll talk a little bit about this vowel from an English speaker's point of view, but the truth is that the best way to start pronouncing this vowel like a native is to listen carefully to the videos and then do each exercise except multiple choice. Each has its way of aiding you. Make it your mission to focus on E. 

Fill-in-the-blank. You hear a word and have to write it. Connecting the sound of E with the written E will set you on your way to getting it. 

The vocabulary review always provides you with the pronunciation of each word on your list. Listen for the E. So many words will contain one! One part of the vocabulary review entails writing the Italian word. 

Then we have Speak. This is an exercise you can do at any stage, and sometimes it's best to do it first. After all, you don't have to write anything. All you have to do is repeat what you hear. Then you will see it and be able to make the connections. And the best part is that you can play back what you've said and see how close it comes to the version you hear. This is good for any level!

Finally, there is Scribe. You listen and then write down what you hear, a dictation exercise, in short. 


As you might have heard, there are two different pronunciations of E's in Italian. One with no diacritical accent and one with an accent: è. The one with the accent is considered open and the plain e is considered closed. This is not always easy for English speakers to discern, so be patient with yourself, but try to listen and repeat. 


One of the shortest words in the Italian language is the word for "and." It's e, all by itself, no accent. Pick just about any video and you'll hear it (sometimes it goes by quickly). 

Sì, e noi facciamo su e giù da Roma a Pomezia con la moto,

Yes, and we go back and forth from Rome to Pomezia on the motorcycle,

Caption 26, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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When we see or hear two items, they are often connected by either e (and) or o (or). So this is a good way to practice this e. Find two things that go together, like fruits and vegetables. 

Qui, di solito, tutti i giorni si vendono frutta e verdura e anche altre cose.

Here, usually, every day, fruits and vegetables are sold, and other things, too.

Captions 27-28, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 2

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What other things go together? Prosciutto e melone or prosciutto e mozzarella.

Prosciutto e mozzarella! -Prosciutto e mozzarella, giusto, un altro antipasto classico. Come prosciutto e melone poi del resto, però la mozzarella...

Cured ham and mozzarella! -Cured ham and mozzarella, right, another classic appetizer. Like cured ham and melon, for that matter, but mozzarella...

Captions 22-23, Anna e Marika La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1

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Marito e moglie...

E poi tra moglie e marito è quasi impossibile sapere come vanno le cose.

And besides, between wife and husband, it's almost impossible to know how things go.

Caption 18, Il Commissario Manara S2EP11 - Uno strano incidente di caccia - Part 10

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 Destra e sinistra

Ci sono le botteghe a destra e a sinistra... C'è una macchina dietro!

There are shops on the right and on the left... There's a car back there!

Caption 39, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 5

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When we see è, that is, e with a grave accent (descending from left to right), then the meaning changes to "is," "it is," "he is," or "she is." In other words, it's the third person singular of the verb essere (to be).


You'll need this verb when asking and answering questions, such as "Who is that?" "What's that?"


"Chi è quella ragazza?"

"Who is that girl?"

Caption 41, Marika risponde Risposta 1 Pronomi e aggettivi interrogativi

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Sì, è vero, è una ricetta segreta,

Yes, it's true. It's a secret recipe,

Caption 6, Adriano L'arancello di Marina

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If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear that pronouncing è is a little different from e, but it's more important to understand the context and meaning than to get the pronunciation exactly right. It will come with time.  


Sometimes we need an acute accent on an e (rising from left to right) to show which part of the word is stressed. The most common example of this is perhaps the word for "why" and "because": perché. Keep in mind that the pronunciation is not the same as è. It's more like e, but above all, it's stressed. To hear multiple examples of how it's pronounced, see the Yabla dictionary and type in the word you want to hear. Anywhere you see the audio icon, you'll hear the word spoken, either by itself, or in context by clicking on it. 

Perché ti lamenti?

Why are you complaining?

Caption 7, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Ah, a proposito c'è un pane che proprio non mi piace che è quello Toscano perché è senza sale.

Ah, by the way there's a bread that I really don't like which is the Tuscan kind because it's without salt.

Captions 23-24, Anna e Marika Il pane

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In the previous example, you will also hear different e's. Note the very slight difference between the è in c'è and the e in che. But don't worry if you don't hear the difference. 


More about the double-duty word perché here.


Keep in mind that not all Italians pronounce their vowels exactly the same way. This happens in English too. Once you start hearing the differences, you'll see that it's kind of fun to guess where someone is from. 


See you in the next lesson!


2 basic verbs: essere (to be) and avere (to have)

In this lesson, we're going to look at two of the most common verbs in the Italian language: essere (to be) and avere (to have). They are both irregular verbs so they merit some special attention.


Here's how we conjugate essere (to be):

Io sono (I am)

Tu sei (you are)

Lei è (you are - polite form)

Lui è (he/it is)

Lei è (she/it is)

Noi siamo (we are)

Voi siete (you are plural)

Loro sono (they are)




And here is how to conjugate avere (to have):

Ho (I have)

Hai (you have)

Ha (he, she, it has)

Abbiamo (we have)

Avete  (you [plural] have)

Hanno (they have)


And here's an example of how they sound, in the first person singular:

Ciao, io sono Anna e ho quasi trent'anni. -Ciao, io sono Marika e ho trentasei anni.

Hi, I'm Anna and I am almost thirty years old. -Hi, I'm Marika and I am thirty-six years old.

Captions 1-2, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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There are some things to notice right away. If we look at the translation, we see that when we talk about age, the Italian verb is avere (to have) but in English the verb is "to be." That's a quirk. In Italian, you have an age and in English, you are an age. 


The second thing we might notice is that we see an h in the word ho, but we don't hear it. Yup, most of the time, the H is silent in Italian. It has an effect on other letters when following them, but at the beginning of a word, it's silent.


The third thing we notice is that Anna doesn't say io ho quasi trent' anni. Neither does Marika. That's because it's common and correct to leave out the personal pronoun because the conjugation of the verb already indicates who we're talking about. It's not always the case, but it is something to get used to and it happens with all verbs!


As you watch this video, you'll see that sometimes the personal pronoun is present, but it's often absent! Here's an example. Anna is clearly talking about Thomas, so she doesn't have to say lui è italiano. She can say è italiano.

Il mio fidanzato si chiama Thomas, ma è italiano.

My boyfriend's name is Thomas, but he's Italian.

Caption 20, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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They are still talking about Thomas, so Marika doesn't need the personal pronoun lui.

Ah, è proprio di Roma, alla fine.

Oh, he's really from Rome, in the end.

Caption 23, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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Here, Marika doesn't say the equivalent of "it." It's implied from the third-person singular conjugation of the verb essere (to be).

E quindi non è proprio la vacanza scelta da me,

And so, it's not a real holiday chosen by me,

Caption 12, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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Here's an example of the second person singular of essere (to be):

Mamma mia quanto sei bella.

Wow, you're so beautiful.

Caption 45, Volare - La grande storia di Domenico Modugno Ep. 1 - Part 27

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Here's an example of the second-person singular of avere (to have): 

Quanti anni hai? -Ventuno.

How old are you? -Twenty-one.

Caption 8, Amiche sulla spiaggia

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Here's an example of the second-person plural of essere:

Voi siete davvero un gruppo molto bello.

You are, really, a very nice group.

Caption 17, Anna e Marika Il verbo essere - Part 1

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And here's an example of the second-person plural of the verb avere:

...per riciclare al meglio la frutta che avete in casa best recycle the fruit you have at home

Caption 92, Andromeda Marmellata anti spreco - Part 2

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Here's an example of the first-person plural of essere:

Non riesco ancora a crederci, siamo i primi al mondo!

I still can't believe it. We're the first in the world!

Caption 6, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 23

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And here's an example of the first person plural of avere:

Noi abbiamo amici da tutto il mondo.

We have friends from all over the world.

Caption 9, Adriano Matrimonio con Anita - Part 3

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And to finish, here's an example of the third-person plural of essere and avere:

Il flauto, il violino spesso... sono talmente acuti che vanno al di sopra del pentagramma.

The flute, the violin, often... are so high that they go above the staff.

Caption 33, A scuola di musica con Alessio - Part 3

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Molti di loro dormono con gli animali accanto al letto per riscaldarsi e non hanno neanche le scarpe per andare a lavorare, ma sorridono.

Many of them sleep with the animals next to the bed to warm up and they don't even have shoes to go to work, but they smile.

Captions 36-38, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 12

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Both essere and avere are used as helping verbs, so it's pretty important to learn them. Hope this lesson has helped!


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Magari — A Magic Word

Sounding like a native speaker is quite a challenge. Magari (maybe) is a word that can help your spoken Italian become more natural—almost like magic!  


Think of all the ways you say “maybe” in English: 

may or might (potrei, potresti, potrebbe, which is the present conditional of the verb potere [to be able to])

perhaps (forse)  

could be (può darsi, possibilmente)

possibly (forse, può darsi) 


Magari can work for all these meanings. As an adverb, magari basically means “maybe,” as in this telephone exchange between Lara, Lara’s aunt, and Commissioner Manara. He is calling to see how Lara is, and mentions he might (magari) stop in later. Lara’s aunt is thrilled—but Lara, not so much. She grabs the phone and tells him so. Ho detto magari (I said maybe), he protests: 


No, volevo solamente sapere come sta.

No, I was just wondering how she is.

Magari passo a farle visita più tardi.

Maybe I'll drop by to visit her later.

Captions 35-36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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Eh sì, certo... -No, no, dammi il telefono!

Oh yes, sure... -No, no, give me the phone!

Non ci pensare neanche.

Don't even think of it.

-Ho detto magari.

-I said maybe.

Captions 39-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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But in the following example, the waiter at the lakeside restaurant has suggested to a woman that, given the very hot sun, she might like to jump in the water. Her reply, Magari! in a phrase all by itself, said with a certain emphasis, expresses a wish that something were true. She’d love to dive in, but doesn’t know how to swim. (“I’d love to, but...”  or, on a more colloquial level, “Yeah, right! I don’t even know how to swim!” or ”If only [I knew how to swim]!”)


Un tuffo?

A dive?

Magari! Peccato che non so nuotare.

I wish! Too bad I don't know how to swim.

Captions 12-13, Una gita - al lago - Part 3

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Magari is a word that can temper something you say and you can add it just about anywhere in a sentence. In Amiche - Anna e Marika raccontano..., we are at the close of a conversation between Marika and Anna, talking about their lives. Instead of just saying, ora facciamo i saluti (now let’s say goodbye), or allora ciao (well, goodbye), Marika softens it with magari, turning it into a suggestion rather than a statement or an order.




-Ora facciamo i saluti magari. -Mmh.

-Now maybe we should say goodbye. -Mm.

Captions 41-42, Amiche - Anna e Marika raccontano...

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Learning tip: 

Magari is a word that slips off the tongue with ease, and Italians use it often in conversation. As you try talking to yourself in Italian (a great exercise!), experiment with using it when in English you would say, “Maybe I’ll...”  “I just might...” “Yeah, right!” “Yeah, if only it were true,” or “I think I will...”  

It also works in the negative: magari, no (better not, maybe not, I wouldn’t).

Sometimes magari just adds a little something to the phrase; other times it is essential. To see more examples of how it is used in conversation, you can do a search of the Yabla videos: Click here and you'll see all instances magari highlighted. You can then go and watch the videos to get a more complete picture.

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