Is it mandatory to write accented vowels to differentiate words that are written in the same way but that have different meanings?

For example is it correct to write:

Ieri ho mangiato una pesca

Oggi vado a pesca

or should I write:

Ieri ho mangiato una pèsca

Oggi vado a pésca

  • 2
    La nave non ha ancora levato l'ancora or cose che capitano al capitano (of course it would be better to change the wording). – egreg Nov 12 '13 at 16:59
  • 1
    While it's (usually) not mandatory, it is worth pointing out that it's not exactly a mistake either, AFAIK. – o0'. Nov 13 '13 at 9:03

No, in general, even when there are different meanings, words are written without accents. In these cases, context is the only way to desume the word meaning.

For a few words the accent is mandatory to give them a specific meaning: for instance, used as verb (verb dare, = to give), even when the meaning is clear from the context. Da could also be a preposition, so it's useful to discern the two cases.

Here there's a vademecum form Accademia della Crusca: Vademecum sull'accento: quando indicarlo e dove pronunciarlo.

When writing, not always you have to write the accent, actually the cases when it's mandatory are a few. [..] When writing, the accent is mandatory:

  • when the word has the accent at the end and is composed by more than one syllabe (la servitù emigrò in Perù)
  • on the following one-syllabe words: dà, dì, è, là, né, sé, sì, tè, ciò, già, giù, più, può, scià, but be aware that the first nine words of this list have some non accented equivalents that are written without accent.

[follows a list of these 9 + 9 words with relative meanings]

In general, in words like pesca, you can find the accent in dictionaries, where is shown to point out different meanings, but writing it in "everyday life" is an error.

In all the other words made by one syllable there is no written accent."

  • 1
    Can you include a relevant excerpt from the link you provided? – Sklivvz Nov 12 '13 at 15:16
  • Sure. I added what I believe to be the most important excerpt from the linked document. If you need further information about it, just feel free to ask :) – Lorenzo Marcon Nov 12 '13 at 23:48

No, we don't use accents to distinguish between words that are written the same way, but pronounced differently; the meaning and pronunciation of pesca (fishing or peach) are easily understood from the context. Actually, the fruit is pronounced pésca in many parts of Italy.

There are other homographic words that can be difficult to pronounce: capitano is a verb if pronounced càpitano (they happen), while it's a noun if pronounced capitàno (captain). Also ancora which is an adverb if pronounced ancóra (still, yet) or a noun if pronounced àncora. Another common word is principi: prìncipi is ‘princes’, while princìpi is ‘principles’.

I just read today on the newspaper a letter where the missing accent in princìpi is lamented. Actually the object is wrong: the vast majority of Italian words are accented on the penultimate syllable, so the graphic accent on princìpi would be absurd; I could understand accentuating prìncipi in case of possible ambiguity.

But in general, accents are not marked in Italian, except, curiously, when they fall on the final vowel of the word. It's a very old orthographic convention, reminding when the fall of a final syllable was marked: cittade or bontade became città and bontà. The apostrophe was later turned into an accent.

Of course there's no real reason, other than respecting history, to mark those accents now that the ‘full’ words are not used any more.

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