In the Know: 8 Italian Question Words for Inquiring Minds
Can you ask me a question?
No, that wasn’t a typo.
Can you? In Italian, I mean.
If you can’t, then this post is for you.
Question words are a key piece of figuring out any language.
After all, questions are one of the easiest ways to learn new things. 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 are the ones that you’ll need to get down if you want to start learning your Italian interrogatives.
It’s not quite as simple as just translating the words from English, though.
Want to figure out how to work these special little words? Keep reading to learn all about them!
8 Italian Question Words for Inquiring Minds
Each Italian interrogative below includes a guide to its use and a link to hear its pronunciation.
Let’s ask our way to fluency with Italian question words!
It’s important to know who you’re talking to or about. This is why it’s good to know the Italian question word Chi?
Something worth noting about this word is its spelling: Traditional Italian doesn’t have the letter “k” in its alphabet, so the hard “kuh” consonant sound is formed by the letter combination “ch.” That means that this word is pronounced like “key,” not “chee” as an English speaker might assume.
You can use chi in the same way as the English word “who” in the sense that it has two main uses.
While it functions as a standard question word, it can also be used as a relative pronoun (as in, “He’s that person who reads.”) However, note that the word changes slightly in this second context.
Rather than the standard chi, it becomes the word che, which has the same meaning as “that” (as in “He’s that person that reads.”)
Here’s what that looks like in Italian:
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.
Here are some sample sentences with chi:
Chi è Lei? (Who are you?)
Chi è quella persona? (Who is that person?)
For “whose,” you use the phrase di chi. For example:
Di chi è quello? (Whose is that?)
Sometimes you just want to figure out the reason behind something. For that, we use the Italian word for “why,” perché (hear it pronounced on Forvo—remember that the “ch” letter combination makes a hard “k” sound!).
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 context. Using common sense to deduce which version’s being used is the best route to understanding.
Here are some sample sentences which use perché to mean “why”:
Perché sei qui? (Why are you here?)
Perché solo? (Why is he/she alone?)
And an example of perché used to mean “because”:
Io sono felice perché è luglio. (I am happy because it’s July.)
No, not the bird. This one’s pronounced “doh-vay.”
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.
This word can be important when it comes to things like getting directions or finding your way around. Dove is therefore especially important to pick up if you plan on traveling in Italy!
Here are some sample sentences:
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?)
Here’s another one that looks deceptively like an English word it has no relation to. The Italian word for “how” is pronounced “koh-meh.”
Come is useful for asking about the state of things or the way something happened.
You might be familiar with it from the well-known Italian greeting “Come stai?” This translates to “how are you?” If you’re asking how something is (as in, using è) 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 these sample sentences:
Com’è il tempo? (How’s the weather?)
Come lo sa? (How does he know?)
And here’s a look at how to use it its second context:
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?)
Remember that rule about the “ch” sound in Italian? That’s coming back into play here. The Italian word for “what” is che, which is pronounced “kay.”
Che is a flexible little word. You might remember from earlier that it can be used to mean “who” as a relative pronoun. In this context, however, it’s a homophone that means “what.”
You can also tack on the word cosa to indicate a single question all on its own:
Che cosa? (What?)
It helps to remember that cosa is a homophone too. It can be used as a noun to mean “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 travel on the regional dialect.
Both of these words, however, do fit the bill and can even function together as shown above.
The end of cosa can also change to cos’è when that form of “is” comes after.
Here are some sample sentences to give you an idea of its many forms:
Cosa vuoi? (What do you want?)
Che cosa fai oggi? (What are you doing today?)
Cos’è quello? (What is that?)
Don’t let the “qu” trip you up. This one’s pronounced “kwan-doh.”
Quando is useful for asking about times and dates. Make sure you learn it just in case you have any appointments or meetings to ask about!
For use as a relative pronoun, quando is pretty simple and tends to not change.
Take a look at these sample sentences to get an idea of how it works:
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.)
This word has another use of “qu” to make a sound similar to quando. This word, meaning “which,” is pronounced “kwah-lay.”
Quale is useful because it can help you distinguish between things.
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!
To figure out how this works in a question, let’s look at examples of quale in action:
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?)
Be careful! This one may look a lot like quando, and they may be pronounced similarly (“kwan-toh”), but these two words have very different meanings. Be sure to listen closely and take note of that one letter difference.
Quanto is particularly useful when it comes to, well, quantifying.
This means anything that requires knowing specific amounts or numbers, such as when you go shopping and want to know the price of an item. It can also be helpful when asking particular personal questions like inquiring about age.
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.”
To make sure you get this right, double-check your singular and plural lessons and how masculine and feminine endings work.
Note that this rule does not apply to the phrase “Quanto costa?” as quanto becomes an adverb when placed next to a verb.
To take a closer look at how this word gets used, check these example sentences:
Quanti anni hai? (How old are you? [Literally: how many years do you have?])
Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?)
Quante persone ci sono? (How many people are there?)
These may seem like a lot, but with some work and studying, you’ll be asking questions in Italian like a pro in no time at all. Go out and successfully interrogate in Italian!