The base alphabet consists of 21 letters: five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 16 consonants. The letters J, K, W, X, and Y are not part of the proper alphabet, and appear only in loanwords (e.g., ‘jeans') and foreign names.
The Italian alphabet has five vowel letters, (a e i o u). Of those, only a represents one sound value while each of the others has two. In addition, e and i indicate a different pronunciation of a preceding c or g.
Normally, c and g represent the plosives /k/ and /ɡ/, unless they precede a front vowel (i or e) when they represent the affricates /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ respectively.
In addition to being used to indicate a hard c or g before front vowels, h is also used to distinguish ho, hai, ha, hanno (present indicative of avere, 'to have') from o ('or'), ai ('to the', m. pl.), a ('to'), anno ('year'); since h is always silent, there is no difference in the pronunciation of such words. In loanwords such as hovercraft /ˈɔverkraft/, the h is still silent.
In Italian, grave, acute and circumflex accents may modify vowel letters.
The acute accent (´) may be used on é and ó to represent close-mid vowels when they are stressed in a position other than the default second-to-last syllable. This use of accents is generally mandatory only in the final syllable; elsewhere, accents are generally found only in dictionaries.
The grave accent (`) is found on à, è, ì, ò, ù. It may be used on è and ò when they represent open-mid vowels. The accents may also be used to differentiate minimal pairs within Italian (for example pèsca 'peach' vs. pésca 'fishing'), but in practice, this is limited to didactic texts.
The circumflex accent (^) can be used to mark the contraction of two vowels, especially a double, final ii may become î.
In general, Italian pronunciation is quite phonetic and straightforward with only a few exceptions.