an introduction to the
idiomatic expressions
exclamations and interjections


  • index
  • foreword
  • 1 - articles
  • 2 - prepositions
  • ~ 1 ~

    for an easier reference, the text has
    been organized in different pages
    (see the index below)
    last updating
    February 2004
    other pages
    | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

    ∑ INDEX ∑
    click on each topic to reach the relevant page

    1 - articles

    2 - prepositions

    3 - diphthongs and triphthongs

    4 - how to pronounce clusters "ce" and "ci"

    5 - changes of letters and clusters

    6 - the doubling of consonants

    7 - elisions and shortenings

    8 - vocative

    9 - verbs

    10 - general syntax notes  (unfinished)


    Even the most confident Italian-speaker may have a few problems in understanding spoken roman dialect, but much greater difficulties would be encountered in attempting to read it.
    Unlike other dialects (in Italy almost every city has its own), the structure of the sentence is rather similar to the Italian one, but in roman dialect many words are spelt and pronounced in a different way.
    The roman dialect spelling does not follow strictly standardized rules, but tries to reflect the actual pronounciation of the words as an average Italian speaker would read them. Therefore, the spelling follows the standard phonetics of written Italian.
    Sometimes the same word is spelt in different ways, either because its pronounciation changes according to the sentence, or because some authors prefer to leave the reader free of interpreting the pronounciation, so to avoid an excessive distortion of the standard Italian spelling, although this relies on the reader's knowledge of the sound of Rome's dialect.
    For this reason, in these pages the spelling privileges the actual pronounciation, although this may sometimes look a little awkward.

    The only two real differences with the standard Italian are a frequent use of letter "j", which always sounds like "y" in words like yolk, yawn, coyote, etc., and the use of accented vowels for "e" and "o", to indicate whether they have an "open" or "wide" sound (grave accent: è; ò) or a "closed" or "narrow" sound (acute accent: é; ó). Also in this case, the accent may be often omitted, but in these pages they are constantly used, for the sake of a correct pronounciation.
    Also the few clusters that somewhat differ from the standard Italian sound are fully discussed in the relevant paragraph.

    In any case, the language spoken in Rome is more similar to standard Italian than the dialects used in any other part of the country.

    This grammar refers to the original form of Rome's dialect, i.e. the one used in the early-mid 1800s, used by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli for writing his famous collection of 'Sonnets'). During the past two centuries, a few changes occurred, as in time dialects too evolve, as any other language does. Any difference found in modern roman is discussed in paragraphs marked by red lines.

    Sample words and sentences are shown both in Italian () and in dialect (), in separate columns, so to enable a direct and easy comparison between the two languages, along with the English translation.

    Nowadays, the practice of speaking in dialect suffers from being considered a rather negative, plebean custom; its traditional folk spirit is overlooked, although once it was the language spoken even by the noble and by the ruling popes.
    Therefore, the aim of these pages is to prevent Rome's dialect from being completely oblivioned, in spite of its many detractors, as together with many other 'minor' features, dialect and dialect literature indeed belong to the city's cultural heritage.



      - DEFINITE -
      the (masc. sing.)
      the (masc. sing.)
      the (masc. plur.)
      the (masc. plur.)
      the (fem. sing.)
      the (fem. plur.)

      - INDEFINITE -
      a (masc.)
      a (masc.)
      a (fem.)



      l'  or  i

      un  ('n)

      A further phonetic change occurs when two consecutive consonants, one belonging to the article and one to the following word, produce a sound that roman people judge as "unfamiliar", particularly r + l, r + r, n + l, and n + l. In such cases the first consonant is always dropped, and the second one is doubled, unless it is an "r".
      The following table shows all the possible combinations:

      er l...e' lagoe' llagothe lake
      un l...u' ll...un limoneu' llimonea lemon
      un m...u' mm...un murou' mmuroa wall
      un n...u' nn...un nodou' nnodoa knot
      er r...e' rospoe' rospothe toad
      un r...u' r...un ramou' ramoa branch

      Curiously, the aforesaid change is not found in Belli's sonnets. It is frequently used, instead, in the works of another famous dialect author, Giggi Zanazzo (1860-1911), whose style is reputed the closest to Belli's own.
      In today's spoken dialect, this phonetic rule is still commonly followed.

      All roman articles whose first letter is "l" (lo, la, li, le) tend to drop it, especially in the spoken language:

      the bride
      the streets
      the rag
      the rocks
      la sposa
      le strade
      lo straccio
      li scoji

      changes into →
      changes into →
      changes into →
      changes into →
      'a sposa
      'e strade
      'o straccio
      'i scoji

      Note that 'a, 'e, 'o, 'i have the same sound as simple vowels (a, e, o, i), yet their duration is slightly lengthened.

      This same change also occurs in forming compound prepositions (see below, and following MODERN DIALECT note).

    2. In roman dialect the simple prepositions remain similar to those of standard Italian, with only three changes: di ("of"), which changes into de, con ("with"), which is shortened into co, and per ("with"), which is shortened into pe. Note that the last two are spelt without an apostrophe in Belli's classic roman dialect, while most following authors use an elision, co' and pe', i.e. with an apostrophe.


      The table disregards the eventual doubling of the first consonant or other phonetic changes, which may occur when the prepositions are used in a sentence, i.e. when they follow other sounds (words).

      Instead the compound prepositions (i.e. simple preposition + definite article) differ from Italian ones more evidently.
      When the following word begins with a consonant most of them break up into their components (compound prepositions followed by a vowel are discussed further on):

      The following table summarizes all cases.

      the text in blue is in standard Italian, as a reference.

        ARTICLE ŗ
      (GLI + cons.)
      (LE + cons.)
      (GLI / LE + vow.)
        DE (DI)derde lode lade ll'de lide lide lede ll'
        A (A)ara loa laall'a lia lia leall'
        DA (DA)darda loda lada ll'da lida lida leda ll'
        IN (IN)ner
      in der
      ne lo
      in de lo
      ne la
      in de la
      ne ll'
      in de ll'
      ne li
      in de li
      ne li
      in de li
      ne le
      in de le
      ne ll'
      in de ll'
        CO (CON)corco loco laco ll'co lico lico lecoll'
        SU (SU)sur
      in sur
      su lo
      in su lo
      su la
      in su la
      su ll'
      in su ll'
      su li
      in su li
      su li
      in su li
      su le
      in su le
      su ll'
      in su ll'
        PE (PER)pe'rpe lope lape ll'pe lipe lipe lepe ll'
        TRA (TRA)tra ertra lotra latra ll'tra litra litra letra ll'
        FRA (FRA)fra erfra lofra lafra ll'fra lifra lifra lefra ll'

      When the simple preposition co ("with") is followed by the indefinite article un ("a"), it may change into cor for phonetic reasons:

      with a knife
      with a stone
      with a new dress

      con un coltello
      con un sasso
      con un vestito nuovo

      co 'n cortello  but sometimes  cor un cortello
      co 'n zasso  but sometimes  cor un zasso
      co 'n vestito nÚvo  but sometimes  cor un vestito nÚvo

      The form cor un... is the less common of the two.

      • Often preposition cor (i.e. Italian col) is spelt cór, to distinguish it from còr (i.e. còre = "heart").
        However, in roman dialect it is very unlikely for the word còre to be shortened into còr. Therefore, in my opinion the custom of adding an acute accent above the "o" is quite useless; nevertheless, it may remind the reader that in pronouncing the roman preposition cor the vowel "o" should have a very "narrow" or "closed" sound , whereas in the word còre it has a "wide" or "open" sound.

      • Due to loss of the letter "l" by the definite articles (as already said in the relevant paragraph), de lo, co lo, etc. are now pronounced according to the following phonetic rule: while the article drops its "l", the last vowel of the compound preposition (de; co; etc.) turns into the same following vowel, i.e. it is repeated.

        of the bride
        in the stadium
        in the streets
        around the woods
        due to the strike by boat

        de la sposa
        ne lo stadio
        ne le strade
        pe li bboschi
        pe lo sciopero
        co la bbarca

        changes into →
        changes into →
        changes into →
        changes into →
        changes into →
        changes into →
        da'a sposa
        no'o stadio
        ne'e strade
        pi'i bboschi
        po'o sciopero
        ca'a bbarca

        The double vowel separated by an apostrophe should be pronounced without any voice interruption, as if it was one long sound.

      • The preposition su ("on") does not change its vowel:

        on the road
        on the mountains
        on the roofs

        sulla strada
        sulle montagne
        sui tetti

        su'a strada
        su'e montagne
        su'i tetti

    an introduction to theROMAN DIALECT
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