Qu- or cu-?

The letter combinations cu- and qu- are pronounced in a similar way:

il quesito ; il custode ; la qualità ; la cupola

the question; the custodian; the quality; the dome

Generally speaking:

  • the letters qu- are pronounced “kw” and are followed by a vowel. Typically, the u is pronounced less strongly and the emphasis falls on the following vowel.

il quadro ; la querela ; il Quirinale

the painting; the complaint; the Quirinal Palace

  • the letters cu- are generally pronounced “koo” and are followed by a consonant. Typically, the emphasis falls on the u.

il cumulo ; la cuccia ; la cute

the heap; the kennel; the skin

Some words are an exception to this rule and are written with cu- + vowel. There is no standard rule governing their pronunciation (some are pronounced “kw” and some “koo”), but these are the most common examples:

cui ; cuocere ; il cuoco ; il cuoio ; la scuola ; il circuito

whom, whose; to cook; the cook; the hide; the school; the circuit


  • there is never a double q in Italian, with only one exception:



  • all words deriving from acqua (water) and acquisto (purchase) are written with -cqu-, which has a more emphatic pronunciation, similar to a double c.

l'acquolina  ; l'acquirente  ; l'acquitrino  ; acquistare

the drool; the buyer; the marsh; to purchase

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