8 Italian Question Words [with Examples and Audio]

Question words are a key piece of figuring out any language.

How can you communicate effectively if you can never ask anything?

Italian question words (also known as “Italian interrogatives”) are pretty similar to English: Who, what, when, where, why, how, which and how much/many.

It’s not quite as simple as just translating the words from English, though.

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the eight main question words in Italian and how to use them to get all your questions answered.

Contents

Italian Question Words

Here are the eight main Italian question words that you should know:

ItalianEnglish
Chi? Who?
Perché? Why?
Dove? Where?
Come? How?
Che? What?
Quando? When?
Quale? Which?
Quanto? How many?

In the sections below, I’ll explain how to use each of these words and share some examples so you can see them in context. 

Chi? — Who?

Chi functions as a standard question word. For “whose,” you use the phrase di chi.

Let’ see some examples of both: 

ItalianEnglish
Chi è Lei? Who are you?
Chi è quella persona? Who is that person?
Di chi è quello? Whose is that?

With a slight change to che , it can also be used as a relative pronoun:

Lui è la persona che legge. (He’s that person who/that reads.)

Che is a homophone that has a few other meanings, which we’ll get to later on.

Perché? — Why?

The word perché is a little tricky because it’s actually a homophone. It commonly means “why,” but it can also mean “because.”

This might get a little confusing in sentences, so be sure to take note of the context to deduce which version is being used.

ItalianEnglish
Perché sei qui? Why are you here?
Perché solo? Why is he/she alone?
Sono felice perché è luglio. I'm happy because it's July.

Dove? — Where?

Dove will stand alone except when used before a verb that begins with an “e,” in which case you simply follow this formula: dove + è = dov’è.

Let’s see both forms in some example questions: 

ItalianEnglish
Da dove vieni? Where are you from? [Literally: From where do you come?]
Dove sono loro? Where are they?
Dov'è il treno? Where is the train?

Come? — How?

You might be familiar with this word from the well-known Italian greeting Come stai?  (How are you?). If you’re asking how something is, be sure to write it as com’è, as with dov’è.

Come can also be used to mean “as with” or “like.”

Take a look at how these different uses work in practice:

ItalianEnglish
Com'è il tempo? How's the weather?
Come lo sa? How does he know?
È rosso come una mela. It's red like an apple.
È intelligente come sua madre. She's smart like her mother.

Che?/Cosa? — What?

You might remember from earlier that che can be used to mean “who” as a relative pronoun. In the context of a question, however, it means “what.”

You can also tack on the word cosa to indicate a single question all on its own:  Che cosa? (What?)

Remember that cosa as a noun means “thing” or “it,” such as in the sentence Non mi piace questa cosa”  (“I don’t like this thing”).

While che and cosa can both mean “what” individually and together, the context in which they’re used can vary. Certain parts of Italy may opt to use che, while others tend to prefer cosa. It all depends on where you are and the regional dialect.

The end of cosa can also change to cos’è when that form of “is” comes after.

Let’s take a look at a few of the many ways to say “what”:

ItalianEnglish
Cosa vuoi? What do you want?
Che cosa fai oggi? What are you doing today?
Cos'è quello? What is that?

Quando? — When?

For use as a relative pronoun, quando is pretty simple and tends to not change.

Check out these examples: 

ItalianEnglish
Quando andiamo? When are we going?
Quando sta visitando? When is she visiting?
Andiamo quando il tempo è bello. We go when the weather is good.

Quale? — Which?

Note that both “which” and “who” as relative pronouns change into che in Italian.

This means that “The one which is blue” becomes “La cosa che è blu,”  just like it would be if the English sentence had used “who” or “that” instead of “which.”

Like question words such as come and dove, quale becomes qual è when used with the verb è. It’s incorrect to use an apostrophe between the two words so although it’s often done, don’t make it your habit!

ItalianEnglish
Quale vuoi? Which one do you want?
Qual è la sua casa? Which is her house?
Quale libro leggi tu? Which book are you reading?

Quanto? — How many?

This one may look a lot like quando, and they may be pronounced similarly, but these two words have very different meanings. Be sure to listen closely and take note of that one-letter difference!

Because quanto can be used to refer to multiple things, make sure to change the ending to reflect the number and gender of the subject.

For example, “How many apples?” becomes “Quante mele?”  while “How many dogs?” becomes “Quanti cani?”

Note that this rule does not apply to the phrase “Quanto costa?” as quanto becomes an adverb when placed next to a verb.

ItalianEnglish
Quanti anni hai? How old are you? [Literally: how many years do you have?]
Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?)How much does it cost?
Quante persone ci sono? How many people are there?

 

With some review and practice, you’ll be asking questions in Italian like a pro in no time at all!

To see these question words used in the context of authentic Italian media, you can check out a language learning program like FluentU.

So what are you waiting for? Brush up on your Italian interrogatives, then get out there are start asking some questions!

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