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When I was learning a bit of Italian before my first trip there, I learned that "grazie" was pronounced with three syllables, the final syllable like a quick long a sound (in English). However, when there, I never heard that, but heard "grazi" (two syllables) or some other word replacing "thank you". (In movies, I only hear "grazi" as well, e.g. beginning at 9:08 here.)

It made me feel self-conscious as an American that I wasn't even sure how to say "thank you" properly in Italian. I tried them both, but felt wrong either way.

I speak Spanish and French, and both studied and taught Latin, so am not a stranger to non-English sounds in Romance languages.

Can anyone enlighten me on why I didn't hear people using three syllables when saying thank you in Italian? (Grazie.)

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    The link to the video on Max.com doesn't work from Italy. Nov 6, 2023 at 11:05
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    Now that's funny! I would have sworn that I hear three sylables, but now I can count the two syllables too, even in my terrible accent. This must be just a quirk of perception between people with different native languages. Anyway, for learning how to say it properly, I would suggest using Forvo. In this case they don't have a pure "grazie" entry but many phrases such as "molto grazie" (it.forvo.com/word/molte_grazie/#it). You'll be able to learn pronouncing the right sound there, no matter how your brain tries to chop it up analytically.
    – rumtscho
    Nov 6, 2023 at 15:11
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    Thanks to both commenters! @rumtscho, thanks for that valuable resource. I've listened to a dozen different people say grazie and now feel that some people actually do have three syllables, but only because they seem to separate the g from the r. (like ga ra' zi.) How odd. I would have never thought that. Nov 6, 2023 at 17:39
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    Interesting question. As an American living in Italy (Bergamo) I always hear three syllables (grah-zi-eh) and I'm only now learning that it is two syllables (grah-zyeh), though here in Italy I've never heard the "graz-ee" as many Americans who don't know better seem to say ( I think it was in some old movies) Nov 7, 2023 at 18:18
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    @John_Krampf - That's really interesting! I never heard "grah-zyeh", but can imagine it, and will listen for it. I would love to be living in Italy. I only been three times, and it's not nearly enough time in such a lovely country. Nov 7, 2023 at 20:00

3 Answers 3

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The Italian word grazie has most definitely two syllables. The “i” letter denotes here the semivowel which in IPA is denoted by /j/, so “ie” is a diphthong, as in piede or vieni, not two separately emitted vowels.

You may double-check on the DOP, the historical “Dizionario italiano d’ortografia e di pronunzia” (here for “grazie”: https://www.dizionario.rai.it/p.aspx?nID=lemma&rID=844058&lID=1031577) or the dipi, “dizionario di pronuncia online” (https://www.dipionline.it/ ; apparently, you cannot link to a specific entry).

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  • Thank you. I winder why so many language learning sited use three syllables. :sigh: Nov 6, 2023 at 17:44
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The reason you don't hear three syllables is simple: native speakers don't pronounce it like that. As DaG says, we say grazie with two syllables.

The suggestion to pronounce it as “GRAHT-see-yeh” is directed at foreigners who do not pronounce the final "e". Think of it as an intermediate step: it's better than "grazi", but still not quite correct. If you are a beginner you should probably go for it, but not if you are at a more advanced level.

And by the way, in my opinion the 3-syllable version shouldn't have a "y" in that third syllable: “GRAHT-see-eh” seems better to me.

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  • Thanks so much! (Oops. Multo grazie.) :) Nov 6, 2023 at 17:44
  • I thought more about this, about the "y" sound, and I'm beginning to understand. I think that's why I was uncomfortable with my pronunciation, too much "y". I'll be listening for this as well. Thanks again. Nov 7, 2023 at 20:16
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A non-authoritative suggestion from a non-Italian.

The 'ie' part is a diphthong, one neither a Brit [me] nor an American would properly recognise from their own language.

Perhaps if you think of it, rather than a three syllable graht-see-ay instead try the two syllable graht-syeh [or syə to keep it really short]. That will force the diphthong, getting the 'sy' to roll together nicely without trying to force another vowel in between.

You can already say it, if you think carefully - "We saw carts yesterday." already contains it… or even invent the fictitious animal, the 'graht' - "We saw grahts yesterday."

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    Thank you! I grew up speaking French, which has a fair number of strange sounds, but the worst part is that the sites I was using pronounced it as I wrote in my question. :p Nov 7, 2023 at 11:56
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    «The 'ie' part is a diphthong, one neither a Brit [me] nor an American would properly recognise from their own language.»: As a non-English/American: even if it is not considered as a diphthong in English, isn't that sound quite similar to the beginning of “yes”?
    – DaG
    Nov 7, 2023 at 15:02
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    @DaG - sure we have a similar sound - hence my example, just so not so readily recognisable in 'ie'. My emphasis was really to reduce the tendency to add the extra vowel in the middle & instead glide smoothly from the 's' to the dipthong.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 7, 2023 at 15:05
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    @DaG The diphtong in yes is /jɛ/, as opposed to the diphtong in grazie, which is /je/. The "closed e" sound is actually closer in most accents to the English KIT vowel, than to the DRESS vowel, which is presumably many English speakers feel that words in Italian containing /e/ contain /i/ instead (cf. "Giuseppi").
    – Denis Nardin
    Nov 7, 2023 at 16:58
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    @Tetsujin IPA for English has all sorts of problems, but it is vastly superior for non-native speakers to the ... things.. that native speakers do to communicate pronunciations to each others. We could have a long discussion about phonetic vs phonemic value of vowels etc., but this is definitely not something to be done in comments...
    – Denis Nardin
    Nov 7, 2023 at 19:11

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