A question is a sentence used to find out information, as opposed to sentences that make a statement, express an exclamation or deliver a command. Asking questions in Italian is simpler than in English and it is just a matter of intonation.
In this lesson, we will show you how to ask questions in Italian. Ready? Let’s get right into it!
The Italian interrogative clauses
To ask a question in Italian, you just need to add a question mark at the end of the sentence and use the right intonation.
Look at the following examples:
Alessio è nato a settembre
Alessio was born in September
Alessio è nato a settembre?
Was Alessio born in September?
As you can see, the sentence structure remains unchanged and we use the exact same words to ask a question. All you have to do is place a question mark at the end of the sentence and use a rising intonation of your voice.
When asking a question, the pitch of your voice rises toward the end of the phrase, usually on the final word.
Unlike in English, there is no inversion of the subject and predicate. You can place the subject at the end of the phrase, but this is by no means always the case. For example:
Gli studenti si comportano bene
The students are well behaved
Gli studenti si comportano bene? / Si comportano bene gli studenti?
Are the students well behaved?
Different kinds of interrogative clauses in Italian
In Italian there are three kinds of interrogative clauses:
1. Simple interrogative clauses, which are supposed to have a specific answer. Polar questions, also called yes–no questions, are designed to have a sì (yes) or a no (no) as an answer.
Do you speak English?
Are you happy?
Sei uscito ieri sera?
Did you go out last night?
2. Alternative questions, which give a choice of two or more answers.
Preferisci il panettone o il pandoro?
Do you prefer panettone or pandoro?
Veronica lavora in centro o in periferia?
Does Veronica work in the city or in the suburbs?
3. Rhetorical questions, which are posed only to make a point and are not supposed to be answered.
Non sembra anche a te che oggi sia una splendida giornata?
Doesn’t it seem to you that today is a wonderful day?
Italian question words
To ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, you generally have to use question words, a key piece of figuring out any language. The following are common Italian question words which never change their form:
The following are question words which do sometimes change their form:
In English, question words like what, where and when always come at the beginning of the sentence. Italian interrogatives usually come first in the sentence, but it is not compulsory.
If you want to emphasize what you are asking about, you can put a pronoun or a noun first.
Here are some examples:
Tu chi sei?
Who are you?
Lei cosa ne pensa, dottoressa Mellini?
What do you think, Dr. Mellini?
Martina e Ilaria dove pensano di andare a quest’ora?
Where do Martina and Ilaria think they are going at this time?
Prepositions such as “di”, “con”, and “a” always precede the question words. Unlike in English, a question never ends with a preposition in Italian.
Di dove sei?
Where are you from?
Con chi parlavi?
Who were you talking to?
A che cosa serve?
What’s it for?
Di chi è questa borsa?
Whose bag is this?
Italian question words, also known as interrogatives, are pretty similar to English. Here is a list.
Pronounced /kee/, chi means “who”, is invariable and refers only to people, either singular or plural. Here are some examples:
Who is speaking?
Chi è quella ragazza?
Who’s that girl?
Vado al supermercato. Chi vuole venire con me?
I’m going to the supermarket. Who wants to come with me?
Cosa? / Che? / Che cosa? (what?)
Che, pronounced /keh/, and cosa, pronounced /koh-zah/, are abbreviated forms of the Italian phrase che cosa (keh koh-zah), which means “what”.
Che, cosa and che cosa can be used on their own and are invariable, which means that they have the same form regardless of number and gender of the following nouns. Cosa and che are interchangeable and more frequently used as they are shorter and easier to say.
Here are some sample sentences:
Che cosa ha detto?
What did you say?
Scusi, che ore sono?
Excuse me, what time is it?
Che giorno è oggi?
What day is it today?
What do you want?
Che cosa and cosa can be combined with the verb essere (to be) and become che cos’ and cos’ when followed by a vowel.
Che cos’era che mi dovevi dire?
What was it that you had to tell me?
What is this?
Pronounced /koo-ahn-doh/, quando means “when” and is useful for asking about times and dates. Have a look at these examples to get an idea of how it works:
Quando andiamo in vacanza?
When are we going on holiday?
Quando parte l’aereo?
When is the plane leaving?
Quando vai in Giappone?
When are you going to Japan?
Pronounced /doh-vay/, dove means “where” and, just like cosa, can be shortened to dov’ when it is followed by a vowel.
Where do you live?
Where are you going?
Dov’è la stazione?
Where is the train station?
Dov’eri quando ti ho telefonato?
Where were you when I called you?
The Italian word perché, pronounced /pehr-keh/, is a little tricky, as it means both “why” and “because”. You can usually tell which one it is by listening to the intonation and by the context the word is used in.Here are some examples which use perché to mean “why”:
Perché sei qui?
Why are you here?
Perché non sei andato a scuola?
Why didn’t you go to school?
Perché non me l’hai detto?
Why didn’t you tell me?
Perché non vieni?
Why don’t you come?
Here are some examples of perché used to mean “because”:
Oggi sono di buon umore perché c’è il sole
I am in a good mood today because it’s a sunny day
Lucrezia non è venuta al cinema perché aveva già visto quel film
Lucrezia didn’t come to the cinema because she had already seen that movie
Come mai (how come) is a synonym for perché and is a less direct way to ask “why”. Asking perché (why) sounds like you are demanding a justification, whereas come mai (how come) shows that you are interested in knowing the other person’s reasons for doing or not doing something. Come mai invites a longer answer than perché would.
Pronounced /koh-meh/, come is the Italian word for “how”. It is useful for asking about the state of things or the way something happened.
You might be familiar with it from the famous Italian greeting “come stai?”, which translates as “how are you?”.
Come lo sai?
How do you know?
Come si fa?
How do you do it?
Just like cosa and dove, come can be shortened to com’ when it is followed by a vowel.
Com’è il tempo?
How’s the weather?
Com’era Giulia da bambina?
How was Giulia as a child?
Pronounced /koo-ah-leh/, quale means “which” and agrees in gender and number with the nouns it goes with. Use it to ask for specific information about something or someone.You use quale with singular nouns to ask “which” or “what”.
Quale abito preferisci?
Which dress do you prefer?
Su quale icona devo cliccare?
Which icon should I click on?
Per quale motivo?
For what reason?
If the following word is è (is) or era (was), use qual without adding the apostrophe.
Qual è l’autobus per il centro?
Which is the bus to downtown?
Qual è la tua più grande qualità?
What’s your greatest quality?
Quale has a plural form: quali. Use quali with plural nouns.
Quali sono i tuoi hobby?
Which are your hobbies?
Quanto? (How much?)
Pronounced /koo-ahn-toh/, quanto means “how much” and changes according to gender and number of the nouns it goes with.
You use the masculine form quanto as an adjective with masculine singular nouns and the feminine form quanta, pronounced /koo-ahn-tah/, with feminine singular nouns.
Quanto tempo mi rimane?
How much time do I have left?
Quanta stoffa Le serve, signore?
How much fabric do you need, sir?
Quanto dura il volo per Glasgow?
How long is the flight to Glasgow?
Quanto has a plural form: quanti. Use quanti as an adjective with masculine plural nouns and quante with feminine plural nouns.
Quanti giorni mancano alla fine dell’anno?
How many days are left until the end of the year?
Quante notti vi fermate a Ravenna?
How many nights are you staying in Ravenna?
Quanti ne vuole, signora?
How many do you need, madam?
BEWARE: some common questions in Italian don’t begin with the question word you might expect.
Come ti chiami?
What’s your name?
Quanti anni hai?
How old are you?
Che tempo fa oggi?
What’s the weather like today?
Feeling overwhelmed by all these question words? With some practice you will be asking questions in Italian like a pro in no time.
Tag questions in Italian
Placed at the end of a sentence, a question tag, also known as question tail, turns a statement into a question and is used for checking information that we think we know is true.
Italian tag questions basically correspond to English question phrases like “aren’t you?”, “isn’t it?”, “didn’t you?”, “don’t they?” and so on.
Add the following phrases to the end of a statement and make your voice go up as you say them:
is it right?
Non è vero? / Nevvero?
isn’t it right?
is it right?
am I wrong?
No? / O no?
(is that right?) very frequently used in Northern Italy
Take a look at the following examples:
Tua cugina si chiama Marina, giusto?
Your cousin’s name is Marina, isn’t it?
Mi scriverai, no?
You will write to me, won’t you?
Jessica è italiana, o no?
Jessica is Italian, isn’t she?
Hai finito i compiti, vero?
You finished your homework, didn’t you?
Vieni anche tu, no?
You’re coming too, aren’t you?
Il tempo è brutto oggi, o sbaglio?
The weather is bad today, isn’t it?
Indirect questions in Italian
Questions such as “cos’è successo?” (what happened?) or “dove vai?” (where are you going?) are direct questions and can be phrased in a more roundabout way, in order to sound less direct and more polite.
Look at the following examples:
Dimmi cos’è successo, per cortesia
Tell me what happened, please
Ti dispiace dirmi cos’è successo?
Would you mind telling me what happened?
This type of questions are called indirect question.
Asking indirect questions in Italian is easy: all you have to do is add a phrase to the beginning of the direct question, for example you can add “può dirmi” (can you tell me) to the question “cos’è successo?” (what happened?).
Può dirmi cos’è successo, per favore?
Can you tell me what happened, please?
Here is a list of expressions that can be used to introduce an indirect question:
Dimmi perché l’hai fatto
Tell me why you did it
Vorrei sapere se c’è la taglia XS
I’d like to know if the XS size is available
Mi domando cosa pensano
I wonder what they think
Mi piacerebbe sapere come vi siete conosciuti
I’d like to know how you met
Ti dispiace dirmi cosa sta succedendo?
Would you mind telling me what’s going on?
Non capisco cosa intendi dire
I don’t understand what you mean
Mi potresti dire cos’è successo?
Can you please tell me what happened?
There you go. I hope this article was able to shed light on the topic of how to ask questions in Italian. Let's see some of your example sentences in the comments section!