Tricky words in Italian: Italian homographs

Tricky words in Italian: Italian homographs

If you’re learning Italian, you have surely noticed that Italian has also some tricky words called homographs.

Homographs are words with the same spelling but that carry different meanings.

In Italian there are two types of homographs:

1. Words that have both the same spelling and the same pronunciation.
2. Words that have the same spelling but that are pronounced differently. Obviously, according to their pronunciation they mean different things.

In this article you’re going to learn the second ones.

Let’s simplify the concept of homographs making an example in English.

Think at the word desert. What does it mean?

If I pronounce désert with the accent on the first syllable, it can mean a waterlass and desolate land, and it’s a noun.

If, instead, I pronounce desèrt stressing the second syllable, it can mean to illegally leave the armed forces, and it’s a verb.

Usually the context can help us understand their meaning even if they’re pronounced wrongly.

However, sometimes a wrong pronunciation might lead to comic situations or misunderstandings.

So, let’s see the Italian pronunciation of some of these tricky words and also some of their meanings.

Attention: for each Italian homograph I’m going to add only some of the possible English equivalents. To learn all the possible English equivalents you can look the Italian words up in a dictionary.


Stressing the first syllable, àncora means anchor. Stressing the second syllable, instead, ancòra means again, still.


1. Il capitano diede l’ordine di gettare l’ancora
The captain gave the order to drop the anchor

2. Stai ancora dormendo?
Are you still sleeping


If you stress the first syllable, prìncipi means princes. If you stress the second syllable, instead, princìpi means principles.


1. Al galà saranno presenti tutti i principi d’Inghilterra
All the princes of Engliand will attend the gala

2. Sto leggendo un libro sui principi della fisica
I’m reading a book about the principles of physics


Stressing the first syllable, càpitano means they happens. Stressing the third syllable, instead, capitàno means captain.


1. Ultimamente mi capitano cose strane
Unusual things have been happening to me lately

2. Edward John Smith era il capitano del Titanic
Edward John Smith was the captain of the Titanic


If you stress the first syllable, lèggere means reading. If you stress the second syllable, instead, leggère means light, light-weight.


1. Dovresti leggere più libri
You should read more books

2. Tu puoi portare quelle scatole, sono leggere
You can carry those boxes, they’re light-weight


Stressing the first syllable, dèsideri means they you wish/you desire. Stressing the third syllable, instead, desidèri means wishes/desires.


1. Ti darò tutto ciò che desideri
I’ll give you everything you desire

2. Puoi esprimere tre desideri
You can make three wishes


If you stress the first syllable, pèrdono means they lose. If you stress the second syllable, instead, perdòno means forgiveness, absolution.


1. Senza una cartina si perdono sempre
Without a map they always get lost

2. No, non ti perdono, non ti perdonerò mai per quello che hai fatto
No, I’m not forgiving you, I will never forgive you for what you did


Stressing the first syllable, vòlano means they fly. Stressing the second syllable, instead, volàno means badminton.


1. I pinguino non volano
Penguins don’t fly

2. Ieri abbiamo giocato a volano
Yesterday we played badminton


If you stress the first syllable, pàgano means they pay. If you stress the second syllable, instead, pagàno means pagan.


1. Queste compagnie non pagano i dipendenti
These companies don’t pay their employees

2. Zeus era una divinità pagana
Zeus was a pagan God

Did you already know these eight tricky words? Is the Italian pronunciation of these words difficult for you?
Are you learning Italian? Do you know some other tricky words in Italian?


Original images by Pezibear and Clker-Free-Vector-Images

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