Say What? Seven Italian Words we Butcher in English

Italian is the most romantic, enticing language on the planet and lucky for us, many common words have immigrated into our world and are now part of our everyday language. However, many of those common Italian words and phrases are constantly mispronounced in English.

While I’m not one of those expats who get all riled up over erroneous “shoos” and misplaced S’s (paninis, anyone?), I would like to help my fellow travelers brush up on their Italian.

With that in mind, here are seven of the most mispronounced Italian words I hear here in the bel paese.

1. Capri
Quick, tell me. Are you thinking about the island or the pants? They are not, my friends, one in the same. Although most English speakers who travel to southern Italy … the ones I talk to anyway … pronounce the island “capree,” like the short-legged summer pants, Italians pronounce this word “cah-pree.” Click here to hear the word pronounced in Italian.

2. Stromboli
Similiar to Capri, this Sicilian island is often mispronounced because of where we put the accent. Instead of the English “stromBOEli,” you should say, Strom-bowl-ee. Click here to listen to the word in Italian.

3. Calzone
It’s much easier to correct your pronunciation of this stuffed “pizza,” type treat since the accent is more or less the same. To sound more Italian, just do as the Italians do, and pronounce the final “e” like “ay.” Listen the word here.

4. Biscotti
I honestly think it is pretty cute when English speakers refer to Italian cookies as “biscaati,” but it’s just plain wrong. Instead, you should pronounce the “O” like, well, an “O” and say bi-scott-tea. You can hear the word pronounced here.

5. Bruschetta
I was actually corrected in Beaumont, Texas a year or so ago when I ordered “brew-sket-ta” at a local Italian restaurant. While I didn’t argue the poor guy down, he was clearly wrong in pronouncing this appetizer “brooshetta.” Listen here if you don’t believe me or read this mini-rant over at

6. Panini and Cappuccini
Ahhh, the whole Italian plural thing will get me mocked in Texas every time, but English-speakers, when you are in Italy, you should order two “cappuccini,” or go out for “panini,” not “cappuccinos” and “paninos.”

7. Siesta
The Spanish language has made the “siesta,” or the mid-day nap a popular term in the US. However, in Italy, that middle of the day break is called a “riposo.” Impress the people you meet in Italy by referring to this treasured tradition by the appropriate name.

What other common words do you notice English-speakers mispronounce when they speak Italian?

Traveling to southern Italy? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip.

Photo: ClassWeb

14 Responses
  1. Complimenti! I always here people mispronounce ‘grazie’… forgetting to pronounce the ‘e’.

    As far as the bruschetta… hahaha… might be a lost cause eh?

    Reminds me of the time when Carlo and I were at a restaurant in Arlington (TX) and he ordered the pasta. The waitress asked if he wanted to add Chicken.. you should have seen the disgusted look on his face.. it was priceless! He looked at her and said.. (in his thick Italian accent) “I’m Italian.. we DON’T eat chicken with our pasta.” She looked at me and I nodded in agreement. Then when she came back she asked if he was really from Italy and wanted to know what it was like there.

    Ha, that is funny. P tried (and liked, he said) chicken with his pasta when he was in the US, but he has a hard time convincing the others around here that it is edible!

  2. I had the same experience at a wedding with Bruschetta. The server came around with a tray of mini bruschetta and I said out loud “oooh bruschetta!” and he corrected me and said “it’s pronounced “brushetta.” Then I said, “actually it’s is bruschetta – in Italian the ch makes a k sound.” He didn’t believe me and proceeded to aruge at which point I just left and went to look for the guy with the pigs in a blanket – LOL! I also really do not like it when people say grazi instead of grazie. I correct people all the time. Oh and my name. I am not Payola or Paolo. I am female hence the a at the end of my last name. Ok, rant over. LOL!

    That is hilarious! I also heard “geo-vani” on a TV show the other night instead of Giovanni. It was so funny. As an American, though, I have to forgive people for ‘grazi,” I had a hard time getting that one down, myself!

  3. ISCHIA!!!!! Nobody can pronounce it, they totally crucify it!
    (It’s Iss-kee-ah, not Eee-sha, Is-sha, Ee-shee-aah or anything else!)

    Oh, and also Amalfi, lots of Americans pronounce it with a U instead of an A, Amulfi…not sure why.

    Ha … amulfi is funny.

  4. Must me something with Texans and their “brushetta” 🙂 I had the same experience many times here. And I always end up getting corrected when I order anything in its original language: bruschetta becomes brushetta, praline becomes prailine, croissant becomes I-don’t-even-know-what. And since I am a foreigner (German), I usually also get a half-amused, half-pitying look that I still don’t get it after living here for 7 years. 🙂

    Talking about brushetta… Marco and I once ordered bruschetta in a hotel in Houston on the way home after a trip in Europe. When the waiter brought a huge plate with dark bread, much salad, and layers of cold cuts, we said that he must have gotten it wrong. We told him we wanted the bruschetta. Guess what! It was the bruschetta 🙂 We had a good laugh at ourselves for expecting what we would have gotten in Europe. Silly foreigners!


  5. Oddiomio/ where do I begin??

    GNOCCHI (nyo-kee) pronounced usually GA-NAH-KEE
    CAPPUCCINO – pronounced CAP (as in baseball) ACHINO
    STEFANO – If you can say Stephanie, you can say Stefano. Just. Do. It.

    And, my usual, Miss Grammar moment, “Okay – say PIZZERIA – PIZZA-REE-YA. Good. Now, say, TRATTORIA – Trot-TORE-EEYA. No, try again…Pizzeria, Trattoria, Pizzeria, Tratt…!

    He he …

  6. The first words that came to mind were ‘bruschetta’ & ‘grazie’ as well. Of course I’m only more cognizant now because I’m intensely studying the language come una donna matta. Don’t get me started on ‘that thar kiANTti’ (Chianti)…

    Ha! I am thinking a follow-up post is in order!

  7. Hmmm, I always thought Capri was correctly pronounced differently among the two languages though it is spelled the same. Kind of like Firenze and Florence (though obviously those aren’t spelled the same). I don’t think it’s wrong to say Florence when you’re speaking in English, and I don’t think it’s wrong to use the American (and British?) pronunciation of Capri when speaking English. Same with Milan, Rome, Turin, Genoa, etc.

    Actually, a better example is Paris. Would it be wrong in France to speak to someone in English and call it Pair-iss instead of Pah-ree? I think of Capri as doing the same thing.

    But on a related note, if I take over the world, cities and places will have one name and will be pronounced the same in all languages. Tougher in places not using the same alphabet, so it will be spelled differently of course, but should still be pronounced the same. So then it would be pronounced CAH-pree everywhere since the Italian pronunciation would win.

    My fave butchering of Italian by Americans we overheard in the airport in Roma (or Rome!) — an American was seen reading out of a guidebook to someone who worked there and he said dove (like the bird) luskitta (l’uscita). OMG, we were so amused/mortified that we didn’t even offer to help.

    That’s pretty funny. Like you, when I take over the world, city/country, etc names won’t change. You make a point about it “correct” in English, though. I don’t guess we’d correct someone for saying Rome instead of Roma. Still, Capree just sounds *so* wrong! 🙂

  8. Adria

    Raa-GOAT-a cheese.
    Or ree-COAT-a

    Just try and blend those two a bit. You’ll get there.

    Also my first name has always been pronounced like Adrian but without the N. Should be “Au-dree-uh”.

  9. Sam

    Hearing Americans crucify the Italian language when I’m holidaying in Italy always makes me cringe. I’ve even been corrected by an American when I said “per favore” but I was correct & they were not (the Italians in the store told me!!) they were telling me to pronounce it as “pah- for- vah- ray” crazy!
    I cringe at Pistachio. In English we say pis-ta-sheo but why can’t we say pis-tah- kio?

  10. I thought Capri had been correctly noticable diversely on the list of 2 different languages however it is spelled the identical. Kind of like Firenze along with Florencia. When i don’t think it’s completely wrong to state Florencia as soon as you’re chatting within Uk, along with When i don’t think it’s completely wrong to utilize the particular Us. pronunciation of Capri as soon as chatting Uk.

  11. Nico

    Any Italian will tell you by excellence the most mispronounced word by Americans is Grazie, They totally ignore the last letter. It’s an “Italian e” not an “English e”.

  12. Sharon

    Since I lived in Spain and taught Spanish for almost forty years, I was delighted to find your website. I was looking for the Italian pronunciation of “biscotti.” My husband insists it is “Scot” in the middle. I am glad to know the proper Italian. Spanish and Italian are very close, as you probably know. I love to listen to Italian…maybe this website will help me to pronounce it correctly!

  13. Arlene

    My Italo-Americano husband is taking a Renaissance art class at a junior college in Roseville, CA. The instructor who, by the way has never been to Italy, insists on calling Michelangelo’s scupture the “pee ay tah” instead of Pieta” (Pee ay TAH.
    I didn’t ask hime if she also says: Michael Angelo.

Leave a Reply