Italian Language/pronunciation


Dear Lauren,  

My question concerns pronunciation of the “open e” in words and expressions such as the verb “è” (it is) and the expression “Che cos’è?” (What is it?)

The “e” in both “è” and “Che cos’è?” are clearly identified as having the “open e” sound (as the “e” would sound in the English words “elf” or “met” ), but yet when I hear the “e” in “è” and “Che cos’è ?”  pronounced by native Italian speakers on sites such as Forvo and Rosetta Stone, they are definitely being pronounced with the “closed e”  sound (sounding like   the “a” in the English words “fate” or “make”)

But, in other Italian words the “open e” does sound like the “e” in the English words “elf” or "met"  such as the first e in the Italian adverb “bene”.

I was wondering  -  would you mind giving me your opinion on how to proceed with this.  Should I strive to make the open e sound for these words?  Or, should I try to copy what I hear on Forvo and Rosetta Stone?  

Thank you



Hi Rich,

To answer your question, I would assume that the difference you are hearing in sound is down to the different accents of Italian speakers that talk. Depending on where they are from in Italy, the 'e' sound is likely to be pronounced in a slightly different way.

Regarding the “e” in both “è” and “Che cos’è?, I am more inclined to pronounce it like Rosetta Stone in a a closed manner such as the sound of 'a' in 'fate' or 'make'. This is the way I have heard it spoken more often in Italy and the way that sounds far more natural to me.

However, words like 'bene' are definitely used with the open 'e' of 'elf' and 'met'. Unfortunately, there is no concrete rule in this case as accents tend to differ. I would say, however, that that is a slight advantage for us non-native speakers as even if we do not have the pronunciation spot on, we can always act as if we are aiming for a particular Italian accent/dialect.

Word of note -  Central Italy (Tuscany, Lazio, Marche, Umbria and L'aquila)do tend to distinguish clearly between long and short sounds but Northern and Southern Italy do not have such clear distinctions.

Hope this helps,
Kind regards,

Italian Language

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Lauren O' Hagan


Although not my mother tongue, I have spoken Italian fluently for more than 12 years so I am very confident to answer any questions about the Italian language. I am also competent in Roman Dialect if there are any questions relating to this.


MA Applied Linguistics First Class Honours in Modern Language Studies (Linguistics, Italian, Spanish) Received the top grade in the whole of UK for GCSE Italian, receiving a letter of congratulations from the Italian Consulate Completed my two-year A Level in 1 year with a grade A country. Carried out many translation jobs for a wide range of clients and topics including self-help, literature and exam papers. For personal reference, I have also translated Federico Moccia's Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo and 2 of Francesco Totti's book.

El Pensador, University of Bristol

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