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Italian Diction: Phrasal Doubling

Introduction to Italian Diction

Much information in this presentation is taken directly from Evelina Colorni’s Singers’ Italian. A Manual of Diction and Phonetics.


When the final vowel of a certain words precedes a consonant within the phrase, this following initial consonant may have to be doubled, under specific circumstances and according to rules. The final vowel preceding such a consonant will also have to be shortened, as when a vowel precedes a double consonant within a word.


Ex. 1: “ruban tutti i gioielli,…” should sound like this:

[ruban tutti d͡ʒɔjɛlli]


In this example the underlined double consonants are also underlined in the IPA, however they are also written twice in the IPA and the actual Italian script. When a phrasal doubling occurs the doubled consonant is rarely doubled in the original Italian script, but must be doubled and underlined when notated in IPA.


Ex. 2 “Ma fatelo tacere” should sound like

[maf-fatɛlo tatʃerɛ]


Note how the doubled consonant in this example, the [f] of “fatelo”, is doubled because the preceding word, “ma”, triggers phrasal doubling. The [a] of “ma” is shortened so that the [f] of “fatelo” may arrive early to give the audible doubling when it is attached to the normal length of the [f] in the original word (“fatelo”).


The Rules of Phrasal Doubling

A phrasal doubling occurs when a word starts either with a single consonant or with the consonants bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, tr and:

  1. The word is preceded within the phrase by a strong monosyllable (see list on following page).
  2. The word is preceded within the phrase by a polysyllable stressed on the final vowel.
  3. The word is preceded immediately within the phrase by one of the disyllables: come, contra, dove, ove, qualche, sopra and sovra.
  4. Special words are found in vocal music texts: Dio, Dei, Dea, De and Maria (when the latter stands for the Virgin Mary). In these cases these words are doubled, not the words following them.


Monosyllabic Words That Cause Phrasal Doubling

(Rule #2)

a [a] prep.                                                             ma [ma] conjunction

ah! [a] interjection                                             me [me] disjunctive pron.

che [kɛ] pron., adj.                                             né, nè [ne] conjunction

ché, chè [ke] conjunction                                 no [nɔ] adv.

chi [ki] pron.                                                        o [o] conjunction

da [da] prep.                                                         o [o] interjection (invocation)

dà [da] v.                                                               oh! [ɔ] interjection (exclamation)

deh! [dɛ] interjection                                         più [pju] adv.

dì [di] n. or v.                                                       può [pwɔ] v.

do [dɔ] v.                                                               qua [kwa] adv.

e [e] conjunction                                                qui [kwi] adv.

è [ɛ] v.                                                                    re [re]

fa [fa] v.                                                                 sa [sa] v.

fé, fè [fe] n./v. and n.                                         se [sɛ] conjunction

fo [fɔ] v.                                                                 so [sɔ] v.

fra [fra] n. or prep.                                             sta [sta] v.

fu [fu] v.                                                                 sto [stɔ] v.

già [d͡ʒa] adv.                                                       su [su] prep.

giù [d͡ʒu] adv.                                                       te [te] disjunctive pron.

ha [‘a] v.                                                                tra [tra] prep.

ho [‘ɔ] v.                                                                tre [tre] number

là [la] adv.                                                             tu [tu] pron.

lì [li] adv.                                                               va [va] v.

vo’ [vɔ] v.


When any word beginning with a single consonant is preceded by these monosyllabic words you should double the single consonant. In addition to adding length to the consonant, be certain to also shorten the final vowel of each of these “trigger words. This rule should be your first step when scanning text for phrasal doublings.


Ex. 3 The phrase “Che fai?… la man?” should be pronounced

[kɛf-fai la man]

The [f] of “fai” is doubled because the preceding monosyllable of “che” triggers this. However, the [m] of “ma” is not doubled because “la” is not one of the monosyllables that triggers phrasal doubling. “Là” is different than “la” so be sure to pay attention to accents!


Polysyllables Stressed on the Final Vowel

(Rule #3)

         Many of the polysyllabic words found in Italian do not contain stresses on their final vowel. When a polysyllabic word is not accented on this final vowel it does not invoke phrasal doubling. Therefore, the second action to take when looking for phrasal doubling is to locate polysyllabic words with accents (especially when notated above the vowel) on their final vowel syllable.


Ex. 4 The phrase “Pietà ti prenda” should be pronounced as

[pjɛtat-ti prɛnda]

Note that the final syllable of “pietà” ends with an accented [a]/(à), which is then the trigger for phrasal doubling of the initial [t] of “ti”. For this second rule the direction of the accent on the polysyllabic “trigger word” is of no importance.


Exceptional Disyllables that Trigger Phrasal Doubling

(Rule #4)

         As noted in the rules above there are several disyllables which also trigger phrasal doubling, but which do not fall into the category of polysyllables with a final stressed vowel. They are as follows: come, contra, dove, ove, qualche, sopra and sovra. These words should be treated in the same manner as the monosyllables which invoke phrasal doubling and should thus be part of the first step in locating these moments in given phrases.


Ex. 5 The phrase “Il bimbo ove sia?” should be pronounced as

[il bimb-o-vɛs-sia]

In this example the disyllable “ove” creates phrasal doubling on the initial consonant, [s] of “sia”.


Ex. 6 The phrase “Dove sono” should be pronounced as


In this example the disyllable “dove” creates phrasal doubling on the initial consonant, [s] of “sono”.



The Words Dio, Dei, Dea, Dee and Maria


Rather simply put, when one of these words occurs in Italian vocal music singers should always double the initial consonant. In other words, each of these words is always stressed and always pronounced with an initial doubled consonant of [d] or [m].


Ex. 7 The phrase “Ave Maria” and the phrase “Santo Dio, come si fa?”

Should be sung: [avɛm-maria] [santɔd-diɔ komɛs-si fa]


In the first phrase of “Ave Maria” the singer should double the [m] of “Maria” and should also be certain to shorten the [ɛ] at the end of “Ave” to keep better time. In the second phrase of “Santo Dio, come si fa?” the singer has two phrasal doublings. The first is doubling the [d] of “Dio” because it is an exceptional self-doubling word. The second instance in this phrase occurs where the singer should double the [s] of “si” as it directly follows the trigger disyllable of “come”.

In-Class Group Phoneticization


1. Circle all the phrasal doubling trigger words in the Italian script. (Circle them whether or not they trigger the following word)

2. Fill in the correct IPA symbols for the vowels and consonants. Double consonants them where phrasal doubling rules dictate they should be.

3. Circle any exceptional words and then double their consonants in the IPA below them.


Rodolpho’s first act aria, “Che gelida manina”, from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème.

Che          gelida          manina, se          la          lasci                   riscaldar

[ kɛ    d͡ʒɛlida         manina        se      lla        laʃi             riskaldar  ]


Cercar che          giova?          Al          buio          non          si          trova.

[t͡ʃɛrkar        kɛ      d͡ʒova           al       bujo  non    si       trova    ]


Ma                   per          fortuna è          una          notte          di          luna

[ma                   pper          fortuna          e‿una          nɔtte  di          luna]


e qui          la                   luna                   l’abbiamo                   vicina.



Aspetti          signorina,          le dirò                   con          due          parole



Chi          son,          chi son, e          che faccio          come vivo. Vuole.          Chi son?



Sono          un          poeta.          Che          cosa          faccio?          Scrivo.



E          come                   vivo?                   Vivo.



In          provertà          mia          lieta          scialo          da gran          signore



Rime          ed inni d’amore.          Per sogni          e per chimere



e per          castelli in aria…          l’anima ho          milionaria.



Talor          dal mio forziere…. Ruban tutti I gioielli



due          ladri:                   gli occhi          belli.



V’entrar          con          voi pur ora,          ed I miei          sogni                   usati



e I bei sogni miei tosto si dileguar!



Ma il   furto  non          m’accora…    poichè          v’ha          preso stanza



la          dolce          speranza!                   Or che mi conoschete… parlate voi,



deh!          partlate.          Chi siete?                   Vi piacca dir!




Phrasal Doubling Examples (for in-class verbal/vocal exercises)

Introduction to Italian Diction (.doc format)

IPA Solutions (from above “Che gelida manina” example)

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