Which letters in which situations are silent? I read Italian orthography article but it does not complete (for example it does not mention silent i).

  • 2
    I know it's what's written on Wikipedia, but I wouldn't call it a "silent i", unless you think that the h in chat is silent too. It does modify the pronunciation of the surrounding letter.
    – Denis Nardin
    Mar 18, 2017 at 4:43
  • 1
    I'd take everything I read on Wikipedia with a grain of salt. A silent letter (in Italian, muta) is one that is effectively not pronounced, as h in hanno, or i in cieco. As Denis says, one that modifies the sound of another letter (as the i in giacca) isn't silent.
    – DaG
    Mar 18, 2017 at 8:17
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    And it is also false to say that in Italian h is always silent: think about ce versus che.
    – DaG
    Mar 18, 2017 at 8:19
  • We have a different definition of 'silent' -- by my one, the h in che and the i in cieco are silent. Mar 19, 2017 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


In the word giorno the letter i has essentially the same role as the h in che. We don't “pronounce” the i, which just denotes using the palatal sound for g like in gesto: /ʤ/. You can call it “silent”, if you wish, but its role is just “orthographic“: it's like a diacritic, but it's written next to the letter it modifies. Anyway, a silent letter seems to be one that stands for no sound, in Italian only h.

Depending on the speaker, the realization of the phoneme /ʤ/ can vary, but there is definitely no diphthong involved.

There is also no diphthong in già and giù; they are written with an accent for orthographic uniformity with più and piè, where a diphthong exists. A similar case is ciò.

This “orthographic i” is used after c or g to denote the palatal sound when followed by a, o or u:

ciabatta, rancio, ciuffo, giacca, giorno, giusto

Conversely, the “orthographic h” is used to denote the “hard“ sound when c or g are followed by e or i:

chela, china, alghe, fanghi

The i in cieco has a different nature: it's not pronounced in most of Italy, but it is (at least weakly) where the phenomenon of mobile diphthong is still alive (for instance the region of Naples). The “rules” of the mobile diphthong requires it appears in cieco but not in cecità. Notwithstanding the fact that most Italians don't pronounce the diphthong in cieco, the orthography maintains it.

The i is also “orthographic” when the trigraph gli is followed by another vowel: daglielo.

  • egreg, are you sure that such is and hs can actually be considered silent? If so, half the letters in English orthography should be considered such as well, while I believe the definition, both for English “silent” and Italian muta, is quite stricter, limited to cases such as “b” in “doubt” and “h” in hanno.
    – DaG
    Mar 18, 2017 at 14:08
  • ...or “D” in “Django”.
    – DaG
    Mar 18, 2017 at 14:14
  • 1
    @DaG I'd call it “diacritic”, maybe, or “orthographic”. Changed accordingly.
    – egreg
    Mar 18, 2017 at 14:26

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