Why, in American English, is the word Italy is pronounced /ˈɪdəli/ and not /ˈɪtəli/?
What is the rule that is followed in the pronunciation of Italy to make the letter t pronounced like a d? Why is the same rule not followed for Italian, which is pronounced /əˈtæljən/ or /ɪˈtæljən/?

4 Answers 4


First two questions: The pronunciation of some American English consonants can be quite different from British English, in particular for R and T. A t in the middle of a word can be pronunced as a soft d in American English (think of bottle, cattle, etc.). See here, for example, for examples of this.

Third question: Why it does happen for Italy and not for Italian is clearly a matter of stress. If the stress is on the t, it usually keeps its pronunciation and is not changed into a soft d. Thus /ˈɪdəli/ but /əˈtæljən/. Another example is (taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary, in US English pronunciation): tautology (/tɔˈtɑlədʒi/) vs tautological (/ˈˌtɔdlˈɑdʒəkəl/), which clearly demonstrate that.

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    It may be worth mentioning the glottal stop here which is characteristic of Northern English (my native tongue). The same rules apply as you outlined, but rather than the D sound there is, in fact, no sound!
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 15:11
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    @Dancrumb: Ah, but the glottal stop is just as much (or as little) a sound as any other occlusive consonant! Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 15:17
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    @Cerberus: I knew someone would pick me up on whether a glottal stop is a sound or not :o)
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 15:17
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    The “soft” t sound of American English is usually described phonetically as a flap or tap and is represented in IPA with the “fishhook r” [ɾ] rather than [d].
    – nohat
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 19:02
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    @nohat: Aye, good work.
    – Orbling
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 19:25

Not all Americans do, and not consistently.

Flap-t (/d/ instead of /t/) often happens between vowel sounds or after a vowel and before a liquid.

The t in "-teen" is always pronounced as t. As Henry mentions the reason is that flap rarely happens in stressed positions. As it doesn't happen in Italian.

Here's good explanation of T pronounced D.

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    The flap rarely happens at start of a stressed syllable, as in Italian. It is more common in an unstressed syllable, as in Italy.
    – Henry
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 8:43
  • Absolutely right.
    – Manoochehr
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 8:47
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    Consonant softening (voiceless plosives becoming voiced, etc.) is normal in human language, although it is more likely (or, probably, simply faster to occur) between unstressed vowels. Writing -- artificially crystalising pronunciation -- is not the normal state of affairs. That's why pasta e fagioli comes out pastafazool, or capicola is pronounced something like gabbagool, in many Italian dialects. (And yes, I did understand that you meant it doesn't happen in the word Italian -- I'm just using Italian words to demonstrate that it isn't an English phenomenon.)
    – bye
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 18:04
  • @Stan Rogers: Italian dialects are not dialects of Italian; they are completely different languages. To make an example, in some places of northern Italy they speak a dialect of the Western Lombard or Eastern Lombard; in other places, they speak Ladino.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 20:14
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    @Stan Rogers Capicola is not a word used in any dialect spoken in Italian, as far as I know; Capicolla is rather a word used in Canada.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 13:02

There's no /d/. It's /ɪtəli/ pronounced [ɪɾəli], with alveolar flap in the pronunciation corresponding to phonemic t. It really is helpful, folks, to distinguish between phonemes and phones for a question like this. If the schwa is lost in casual pronunciation, since you can't say a flap right next to an [l] (the tongue tip has to come back down for a flap), the flap becomes [d]: [ɪdli] (which does not happen in my pronunciation, but I've heard it).


The determination of the sound is usually in rhythm. Different English dialects have different rhythms for words, which causes letters to get assimilated, softened, and dropped.

If you pronounce the t as t instead of d in a word like butter, the rhythm will be out of sync with American pronunciations. This is the same reason Brits often pronounce literally, litch-rally or lit-rally instead of lid-erally like Americans. They don't soften their t's and the rhythm of the e is faster in British English. As a result the t sound is either emphasized or assimilated into the ch sound.

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