Italian has diphthongs when you put together two vowels, like in the word "uomo". As far as I understand a diphthong is not necessarily a glide, because a glide has to be less sonorous than a vowel. So I'm asking: are there real glides in Italian, and can you provide examples?

  • Surely, the 'i' in 'chiaro' or 'chiesa' and the like is a glide, as is the 'u' in 'quando' and the like? Jun 11, 2013 at 8:28
  • Why should UA in quando be a glide? They should be pronounced as a single item. In English, you get glides as single letters, right? Is Wet one of these? Jun 11, 2013 at 20:05
  • The question really is as Sjiveru outlines, then: in the first syllable of 'quando' /'kwando/, is the onset /kw/ and nucleus /a/, or is the onset /k/ and the nucleus /wa/? However, this really is well above my amateur paygrade. Jun 11, 2013 at 20:29
  • Actually, "quando" is divided into syllables as "quan-do" (two syllables), look up here: it.wiktionary.org/wiki/quando At the sound level U and A go together. My guess from this discussion here would be that in Italian glides may occur only as two vowels. Could you please provide an example of an English glide? Jun 12, 2013 at 7:29
  • I mean, of course "quando" is divided into syllables, with first syllable /kwan/. The question is, in terms of the divison onset + nucleus + coda, does /kwan/ divide as /k/ + /wa/ + /n/, in which case /wa/ is a diphthong and /w/ doesn't serve as a glide, or does /kwan/ divide as /kw/ + /a/ + /n/, in which case /w/ does serve as a glide, even if it is preceded by the stop /k/? As for English, the glides are the usual glides are /j/ as in 'yes' /jɛs/ and /w/ as in 'will' /wɪl/ or in 'quick' /kwɪk/, even if the /w/ in /kwɪk/ is preceded by the stop /k/. At least, this is as far as I know. Jun 12, 2013 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


It really depends on how the language treats those kinds of vowel-vowel pairs. If the 'uo' in 'uomo' is treated like a single vowel, then it's a diphthong; but if the 'u' is treated like a consonant, then it's a glide.

Basically, a diphthong is when a vowel-vowel sequence is treated like one vowel; and a glide is when one vowel in a vowel-vowel sequence is treated instead as a consonant. (Really, it's not that glides have lower sonority than vowels, it's that vowels have their relative sonority level reduced when they're used as glides.)

  • My problem is that, to me, the definition of relative sonority seems quite ambiguous. When you say "if the 'u' is treated as a consonant", do you mean that you don't stress it via sonority with respect to the 'o'? Jun 10, 2013 at 8:09
  • I think the point here is that sonority levels in this case are a product of the glide/diphthong distinction, not a cause of it. You'd find out whether or not it's a consonant based on whether its behaviour patterns more like other consonants rather than other vowels. It's kind of fuzzy and hard to tell, though (especially since in Italian /w/ and /u/ are both spelled 'u'). Basically, the question is - is 'uomo' CVCV (u-o-m-o) or VCV (uo-m-o)? The only way to answer that is to wander around the language looking for more data about u-vowel pairs.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 10, 2013 at 15:33
  • I would say it's the second. I've found this research here: academia.edu/2481999/… It basically furnishes a counterexample: "cliente", which should be cli-en-te. Jun 10, 2013 at 15:44

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